Why go backpacking in Paraguay?
Backpacking in Paraguay is something often missed in favour of more established countries nearby. This is a shame, as Paraguay has a lot to offer a traveller seeking something a little different, and will always reward even a brief visit with long-lasting memories.
If you’re after a novel country, with mixed heritage, old-age traditions, and incredible landscapes, then just pour yourself a cup of tereré,iced herbal tea, and introduce yourself to Paraguay. This South American country is nestled in between Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil and is the perfect stop-over country on a South American gap year.
Things to see
Paraguay’s main claim to fame is the gigantic Itaipu Dam, one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world! A dam doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but seeing it is a completely different experience, especially for one as mighty as this. The dam lies on the border with Brazil, not too far away from the magnificent Iguazu and Monday Falls, and reaches nearly 650 ft. Basically, if you’ve always wanted to see cascading water then Paraguay is the ideal destination.
One of the best things about South America is its fascinating history, and there are plenty of intriguing ruins to marvel over. Situated on top of a hill in the mountainous town of Encarnacion, lies the impressively preserved Jesuits reduccion. It’s believed that these historic ruins were built in the 1700s after the Jesuits, the ‘The Society of Jesus’ arrived from Spain to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. You can walk around the tall buildings and through the court yards to really get a feel for how the people of Paraguay used to live.
Next on the itinerary of course should be a tour to spot some of the incredible wildlife. The Gran Chaco lies on the Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia border covering three different types of terrains, and has some of the highest temperatures in the continent. What makes the Gran Chaco so special is that it is almost untouched. Only a small percentage of the population attempt to live here and it has seemingly gone unnoticed by mainstream tourist companies, leaving the animals and vegetation to thrive. The Middle Chaco is a great area to view wildlife; onlookers can peer through the bottle trees and cacti to spot jaguars, armadillos and all different kinds of monkeys.
If you are spending a couple of days in Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion, then all you’re going to need is a map, a good pair of walking shoes, and enough change in your pocket to sit at a café and watch the world go by. The 19th century Government Palace is a great building, covering a huge expanse, this white building cannot be missed – especially at night when the lights turn on and it glows in the darkness. Another incredible building is the Panteon Nacional De Los Heroes, a monument for the fallen men during the Paraguayan War where you can go in to pay respect to the dead. For a more upbeat day-trip, those who like to follow their inner hippy should head to the colourful streets of Loma San Jeronimo. Filed with music, shops, cafes and bustling people this is the ideal place for anyone wanting to practice their photography or just meet some friendly locals.
Things to do
Paraguay is culturally intriguing as it is split down the middle by the mighty Paraguay River which meanders through Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. The two regions of Paraguay are called the Oriental and the Occidental, but you can sit right in the middle by sailing down this mighty river in a slow boat. Watch locals fishing, squint through the water to see the incredible marine life and enjoy the gentle bobbing of the stream.
If you’re a bigger fan of dry land, then wake up early and spend your days hiking through the Ybyui National Park. This is the most established National Park in Paraguay and offers guided tours through the thick forests to the Guarani and Mbocaruz waterfalls.
To meet a very odd mix of cultures, heard to the Gran Chaco region. Here you can take public transport to Filadelfia, and no, that’s not the phonetic spelling of Philadelphia, it is in fact a little German town. That’s right. Paraguay has an incredibly diverse nation, with not only Spanish settlers but also German immigrants from the Soviet Union who settled in the 1920s. This brings us on the Oktoberfest…
Bet you weren’t expecting that one! Similar to Argentina, Paraguay has a large population of German descendants who loved Paraguay so much that they found wives and decided to stay. Oktoberfest in Paraguay is celebrated at the same time as the Munich celebration in Germany, which is usually towards the end of September. The main festival takes place in the capital, Asuncion where the German relatives raise a stein to celebrate their heritage.
This is one of Paraguay’s most celebrated festivals and is very similar to Rio De Janeiro’s own festivities. Held in February when the weather is hot, the capital and surrounding towns come to life with pageants, costumes, parades, dancing and music.
If you want to go to a unique festival then consider the Tran-Chaco rally. Running since 1970, this event sees beat up cars taking on the challenging landscapes of the Gran Chaco. Be prepared for loud noises, dust clouds and grimacing at crashes. It’s the one time of the year where the Gran Chaco becomes integrated with modern civilization.