Paraguay

South of Asunción

Ruta 1 runs south from Asunción to Encarnación and the Argentine border. This is an attractive area of fertile landscapes, sleepy towns and the historically important Jesuits settlements, the ruins of some of which have been extensively restored and have interpretive exhibits.

Itá (Km 37) is famous for rustic pottery, but also sells wood, leather and textile items including hammocks. You can visit the workshop of Rosa Brítez, a local ceramics artist and Paraguay's most famous artisan, recognized by UNESCO. Its church, San Blas, was built in 1585 and the town has a lagoon which is reputed never to dry up.

Yaguarón

Founded in 1539, Yaguarón, Km 48, was the centre of the Franciscan missions in colonial times. At the centre of the town, marooned on an island of green, mown grass, stands the church of
San Buenaventura
, with its external bell-tower. The simplicity and symmetry of the exterior is matched by the ornate carvings and paintings of the interior. The tints, made by the
indígenas
from local plants, are still bright on the woodcarvings and the angels have Guaraní faces. Built in Hispano-Guaraní Baroque style by the Franciscans between 1755 and 1772, it was reconstructed in 1885 and renovated in the late 20th century. Stations of the Cross behind the village lead to a good view of the surroundings.

Museo Dr José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia
, with artefacts from the life of Paraguay's first dictator, 'El Supremo', plus paintings and artefacts from the 18th century. The 18th-century single-storey adobe building with bamboo ceilings and tiled roof belonged to Francia's father. Fiesta patronal is in mid-July.

Paraguarí and around

Founded 1775 (Km 63), the north entrance to the mission area, at the foot of a range of hills. Its restored church has two bell towers, separate from the main structure. Buses between Asunción and Encarnación stop here. There is an interesting Artillery Museum inside the nearby military base with cannons and artefacts from the Chaco War. You can stroll to the top of Cerro Perõ for views from the cross on top. More challenging is a one-hour climb through dense forest to the summit of Cerro Jhu, ask for directions in Barrio San Miguel behind the abandoned train station. Paraguarí retains many customs from its Spanish founders, and is seen as Paraguay's capital of bullfighting.

Supucaí
, 25 km east of Paraguarí, the terminus of the recently extended tourist train from Asunción, is the location of the
workshops
, where you can see wood-burning steam locomotives. There are also some cheap
hospedajes
.

Northeast from Paraguarí 15 km is
Chololó
, with a small but attractive series of waterfalls and rapids with bathing facilities and walkways, mainly visited in the summer.

Parque Nacional Ybycuí

At
Carapeguá
, Km 84 (
hospedaje
on main street, basic, friendly; blankets and hammocks to rent along the main road, or buy your own, made locally and cheaper than elsewhere), a road turns off to Acahay, Ybycuí and the
Parque Nacional Ybycuí
, www.salvemoslos.com.py/. For camping get a permit from the Environmental Department, Madame Lynch 3500, in Asunción , 67 km southeast. One of the most accessible national parks, if you have a car, and one of the few remaining areas of rainforest in eastern Paraguay, it contains 5,000 ha of virgin forest, founded in 1973. Good walks, a beautiful campsite and lots of waterfalls. At the entrance is a well set out park and museum, plus the reconstructed remains of the country's first iron foundry (La Rosada). Crowded on Sunday but deserted the rest of the week. Guides available. The only shops (apart from a small one at the entrance selling drinks, eggs, etc, and a good T-shirt stall which helps support the park) are at
Ybycuí
, 30 km northwest.

The Jesuit missions

In 1578 Jesuit missionaries came to what is now the border region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to convert the Guaraníes to Christianity. The first mission was established in 1610 at San Ignacio Guazú. Together these two groups developed a pioneering economic and social system that emphasized collaboration and, to some extent, integration between the two societies. In 1767, by decree of Charles III of Spain, the missions were abandoned and local wealthy landowners took the Guaraníes as slave workers. Thirty missions, or
reducciones
, were built. Eight of these remain in Paraguay in varying states of repair and three have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

San Ignacio Guazú and around

At Km 226, this is a delightful town on the site of a former Jesuit
reducción
(
guazú
is big in Guaraní). Several typical Hispano-Guaraní buildings survive. Each Sunday night at 2000 a folklore festival is held in the central plaza, free, very local, “fabulous”. The
Museo Jesuítico
, housed in the former Jesuit art workshop, reputedly the oldest surviving civil building in Paraguay, contains a major collection of Guaraní art and sculpture from the missionary period. The attendant is very knowledgeable, but photos are not allowed. Nearby is the
Museo Histórico Sembranza de Héroes
, with displays on the Chaco War.

Santa María de Fé
is 12 km northeast along a cobbled road. Here there is another fine
museum
, in restored mission buildings containing 60 Guaraní sculptures among the exhibits. The modern church has a lovely altarpiece of the Virgin and Child (the key is kept at a house on the opposite side of the plaza). There is a good local artesanía shop.

At
Santa Rosa
(Km 248), founded 1698, only a chapel of the original church survived a fire. The chapel houses a museum; on the walls are frescoes in poor condition; exhibits include a sculpture of the Annunciation considered to be one of the great works of the Hispanic American Baroque (ask at the parroquia next door for entry). Buses from San Ignacio Guazú.

Southwest to Pilar

Ruta 4 (paved) from San Ignacio goes southwest to
Pilar
, on the banks of the Río Paraguay. Capital of Neembucú district, the town is known for its fishing, manufacturing and its historical Cabildo. This area saw many bloody battles during the War of the Triple Alliance and you can visit
Humaitá
, with the old church of San Carlos,
Paso de Patria
,
Curupayty
and other historic battle sites.

Ayolas, Santiago and San Cosme

From Ruta 1 Km 262 the road leads to the reduction at Santiago and the town of
Ayolas
standing on the banks of the Aña Cuá river.
Santiago
is another important Jesuit centre (1669) with a modern church containing a fine wooden carving of Santiago slaying the saracens. More wooden statuary in the small museum next door (ask around the village for the key-holder). There is an annual
Fiesta de la Tradición Misionera
, 2-3 February. Beyond is
Ayolas
, good for fishing and influenced by the construction of the Yacyretá dam. There is an archaeological museum and, 12 km from Ayolas,
the
Refugio Faunístico de Atinguy
, run
as a research
and educational facility by the
Entidad Binacional Yacyretá
(EBY) to study the fauna affected
by the dam.
EBY also has a biological reserve on the
island of Yacyretá
itself, www.eby.gov.py
. Cross the river to Ituzaingó, Argentina (linked via road to Corrientes and
Posadas). Follow the unpaved road from Ayolas
to the
San Cosme y Damián
reducciones
or leave Ruta 1 at Km 306. When the Jesuits were
expelled from Spanish colonies in 1767, the
church and ancillary buildings
, were unfinished. A huge project
has followed the original plans. Some of the
casas de indios
are s
till in use.

Encarnación

A bridge connects this busy port, the largest town in the region (founded 1614), with the Argentine town of Posadas across the Alto Paraná. The old town was badly neglected at one time as it was due to be flooded when the Yacyretá-Apipé dam was completed. Since the flooding, however, what is not under water has been restored and a modern town has been built higher up. This is less interesting than the lower part, once the main commercial area selling a wide range of cheap goods to visitors from Argentina and Brazil. The town exports the products of a rich area: timber, soya, mate, tobacco, cotton, and hides; it is fast losing its traditional, rural appearance. The town is a good base for visiting nearby Jesuit mission sites. Given its proximity to the border, the cost of living is higher than in most other parts of Paraguay. The
tourist office
, is very helpful and has a street map. In the afternoon maps are available from the Municipalidad, Estigarribia y Kreusser, Oficina de Planificación.

Border with Argentina

The new San Roque road bridge connects Encarnación with
Posadas
. Formalities are conducted at respective ends of the bridge. Argentine side has different offices for locals and foreigners; Paraguay has one for both.

Santísima Trinidad del Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangüé

Northeast from Encarnación along Ruta 6 towards Ciudad del Este are the two best-preserved Jesuit
reducciones
. These are both recognized as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites (whc.unesco.org/en/list/648). The hilltop site of
Trinidad
, built 1706-1760, has undergone significant restoration. Note the partially restored church, the carved stone pulpit, the font and other masonry and relief sculpture. Also partially rebuilt is the bell-tower near the original church (great views from the top). You can also see another church, a college, workshops and indigenous living quarters. It was founded in 1706 by Padre Juan de Anaya; the architect was Juan Bautista Prímoli. For information or tours (in Spanish and German), ask at the visitor centre. The Jesuito Snack Bar at the turn off from the main road has decent food. 1 km from Trinidad is
Ita Cajón
, an enormous clearing where the stone was quarried for the Jesuit
reducción
.

About 10 km northwest of Trinidad, along a rough road (which turns off 300 m north from Trinidad entrance) is
Jesús
, now a small town where another group of Jesuits settled in 1763. In the less than five years before they were expelled they embarked on a huge construction programme that included the church, sacristy, residencia and baptistry, on one side of which is a square tower. (Camping is permitted at entrance to ruins.) There is a fine front façade with three great arched portals in a Moorish style. The ruins have been restored. There are beautiful views from the main tower.

German colonies on the road to Ciuidad del Este

From Trinidad the road goes through or near a number of German colonies including
Hohenau
(Km 36) and
Parque Manantial
, www.manantial.itapua.net. The park is in a beautiful location and has two pools (open 0830-2200), a good restaurant, bar, very nice camping ground and complete facilities (US$5.75 per day including use of a swimming pool and all facilities), horse riding, tour of the countryside by jeep and cross country tours to the nearby Jesuit ruins. It's a good place to stop off on the way to Ciudad del Este. Owner Rubén Pretzle is always willing to help visitors, whatever the problem. Major credit cards accepted and local and national phone calls can be made at no extra charge.

The next colony is
Obligado
; it has an ATM in the centre of town. About 5 km further north
is
Bella Vista
(Km 42, also has ATM), where it's possible to visit various yerba mate plantations. The most geared up for visitors is Pajarito
, www.pajarito.com.py.

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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