Where to go

The capital,
, a city of some 1.4 million inhabitants, stands on a bay on the eastern bank of the Río Paraguay and is the largest city in the country, with Ciudad del Este to the far east in second place, followed by four smaller cities, all now suburbs of Asunción itself: Luque to the immediate north, San Lorenzo and Capiatá to the east, and Lambaré to the south. Asunción is the political and commercial heart and much of its architecture dates from the early 19th century. Paraguayan history is marked by bloody wars and charismatic dictators but what really sets this country apart is the warmth and tranquillity of its people. Paraguayans are proud of their Guaraní culture, which includes widespread use of the indigenous language still taught in schools today.

East and south of Asunción
is the fertile agricultural part of the country. The towns and villages are quiet and traditional in their way of life. Many have unique crafts associated with them. There are also many signs of the Jesuit heritage, which is best exemplified in the ruins of the reductions at Santísima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangüé, named as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1993 (along with a third, Santos Cosme y Damián), close to the city of Encarnación. From here you can cross the Río Paraná to the Argentine city of Posadas in the province of Misiones. Paraguay's eastern border with Brazil has several frontier posts, but the principal one is Ciudad del Este, a duty-free shopper's paradise (or hell, depending on your point of view). Across the Friendship Bridge from Ciudad del Este is Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, where you can visit Itaipú, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, and the magnificent Iguaçu Falls.

North of Asunción
there is one main town, Concepción, and the most direct route there is by river boat from the capital. Since the boat ride takes at least a day, the quickest way is via the Chaco, along part of the 400-km Trans-Chaco Highway. Beyond Concepción, the Río Paraguay leads to the Brazilian Pantanal, but access is by road rather than by river these days.

The Gran Chaco
takes up the western half of the country. Divided into three departments, Presidente Hayes (also known as Bajo Chaco), Boquerón and Alto Paraguay (or Alto Chaco), the
Chaco begins as a marshy palm savanna, but becomes an increasingly impenetrable and hostile thorn forest as it approaches the border with Bolivia. The Trans-Chaco Highway crosses the Chaco and, apart from scattered military outposts, the main centres are the Russian Mennonite communities in the Middle Chaco, based around Filadelfia, Loma Plata and Neu-Halbstadt
, and the former military base of Marsical Estigarribia. The Chaco is the best place in Paraguay to see wildlife, especially birds, but you should not venture off the beaten track in this empty area.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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