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Paraguay travel guide - Travel S Helper

Paraguay

travel guide

Paraguay, formally the Republic of Paraguay (Spanish: Repblica del Paraguay; Guarani: Tet Paraguái), is a landlocked nation in central South America. It is bounded on the south and southwest by Argentina, on the east and northeast by Brazil, and on the northwest by Bolivia. Paraguay is located on both sides of the Paraguay River, which flows north to south across the nation. Due to its central position in South America, it is sometimes referred to as the South American Heart (“Heart of South America”). Paraguay is one of two landlocked nations outside of Afro-Eurasia (the other being Bolivia). Paraguay is the Americas’ smallest landlocked nation.

The indigenous Guaran had inhabited Paraguay for at least a millennium prior to the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Christianity and Spanish culture were brought to the area through Spanish immigrants and Jesuit missions. Paraguay was a Spanish Empire territory on the outside, with few metropolitan centers and inhabitants. Following its independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay was governed by a succession of dictators that mostly pursued isolationist and protectionist policies.

Following the catastrophic Paraguayan Conflict (1864–1870), the nation lost between 60% and 70% of its people to war and illness, as well as about 140,000 square kilometers (54,054 square miles), or almost one-quarter of its land, to Argentina and Brazil.

Throughout the twentieth century, Paraguay endured a series of authoritarian regimes, culminating in Alfredo Stroessner’s 1954–1989 military dictatorship. He was deposed in an internal military coup, and for the first time in 1993, open multi-party elections were arranged and conducted. A year later, Paraguay co-founded Mercosur with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.

As of 2009, Paraguay’s population was projected to be about 6.5 million, with the majority residing in the country’s southeast area. Asunción, the capital and biggest city, is home to almost a third of Paraguay’s population. In contrast to the majority of Latin American countries, Paraguay’s indigenous language and culture, Guaran, continue to be very prominent. Residents identify primarily as mestizo in each census, indicating years of intermarriage between the various ethnic groups. Guaran, along with Spanish, is recognized as an official language in the nation, and both are extensively spoken.

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Paraguay - Info Card

Population

7,359,000

Currency

Guaraní (PYG)

Time zone

UTC–4 (PYT)

Area

406,796 km2 (157,065 sq mi)

Calling code

+595

Official language

Spanish, Guarani

Paraguay | Introduction

Weather & Climate in Paraguay

Paraguay is generally warm most of the year. The Tropic of Capricorn runs through the city of Belén in northern Paraguay, dividing the country into a tropical zone in the north and a temperate zone in the south. The hottest time of the year is from November to February, when daytime temperatures can reach around 45°C and high atmospheric pressure makes walking on the road difficult. Winter (June to September) is pleasantly warm (around 20-25°C) during the day, usually sunny and dry, but often cold at night with occasional morning frosts. January is the warmest month with an average maximum temperature of 36°C, and July is the coldest month with an average minimum temperature of 9°C.

Eastern Paraguay can be very wet, while western Paraguay (the Chaco) is dry. There is no real rainy season, but from September to November electrical storms become more frequent and off-road travel can be more difficult. The climate generally follows the prevailing winds, with the viento sur (south wind) bringing cooler temperatures from Patagonia and the viento norte (north wind) bringing warmer temperatures from the tropics.

Geography Of Paraguay

With a total area of 406,752 km², Paraguay is divided by the Paraguay River into two well differentiated natural regions: the Eastern or Oriental region and the Western or Chaco region, each with its own fauna, flora and special characteristics.

Although Paraguay is a landlocked country, it is irrigated by numerous rivers, streams and lakes, all of which are part of the Rio de la Plata basin. The two most important rivers are the Río Paraguay, which divides the country in two, and the Río Paraná, which forms the border with the state of Paraná in Brazil and the provinces of Corrientes and Misiones in Argentina.

Overall, Paraguay is a fairly flat country; while its western neighbours, Argentina and Bolivia, have mountains above 6,000 metres, Paraguay’s highest point is Cerro Tres Kandú, at 842 metres.

Demographics Of Paraguay

The population of Paraguay is unevenly distributed across the country, with the vast majority of the population living in the eastern region, near the capital and largest city, Asunción, which accounts for 10% of the country’s population. Less than 2% of the population lives in the Gran Chaco region, which includes the departments of Alto Paraguay, Boquerón and Presidente Hayes and represents about 60% of the territory. About 56% of Paraguayans live in urban areas, making Paraguay one of the least urbanised countries in South America.

For most of its history, Paraguay has received immigrants due to its low population density, especially after the demographic collapse that resulted from the Paraguayan War. Small groups of people of Italian, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Arab, Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, Brazilian and Argentinean origin also settled in Paraguay. Many of these communities have retained their language and culture, especially the Brazilians, who are the largest and most prominent immigrant group, numbering about 400,000. Many Brazilian Paraguayans are of German, Italian and Polish origin. There are an estimated 63,000 Afro-Paraguayans, representing 1% of the population.

There is no official data on the ethnic composition of the Paraguayan population, as the Paraguayan Office of Statistics, Surveys and Censuses does not ask questions on race and ethnicity in the censuses, but does ask questions on the indigenous population. According to the 2002 census, indigenous people represented 1.7% of the total population of Paraguay.

Traditionally, the majority of the Paraguayan population is considered mixed (mestizo in Spanish). HLA-DRB1 polymorphism studies have shown that the genetic distances between Paraguayans and Spanish populations are closer than between Paraguayans and Guaranies. Overall, these results suggest the predominance of the Spanish genome in the Paraguayan population. According to the CIA World Factbook, Paraguay has a population of 6,669,086, of which 95% are mestizos (mixed Europeans and Amerindians) and 5% are designated as “others”, which includes members of indigenous tribal groups. They are divided into 17 different ethnolinguistic groups, many of which are poorly documented. Paraguay has one of the largest German communities in South America, with about 25,000 German-speaking Mennonites living in the Paraguayan Chaco. German settlers founded several towns such as Hohenau, Filadelfia, Neuland, Obligado and Nueva Germania. Several websites promoting German immigration to Paraguay state that 5-7% of the population is of German origin, including 150,000 people of German-Brazilian origin.

Religion

Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism, is the dominant religion in Paraguay. According to the 2002 census, 89.9% of the population is Catholic, 6.2% is evangelical Protestant, 1.1% identifies with other Christian sects and 0.6% practices indigenous religions. A US State Department report on religious freedom cites Roman Catholicism, Evangelical Protestantism, Traditional Protestantism, Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative and Reform), Mormonism and the Baha’i faith as important religious groups. It also mentions a large Muslim community in Alto Paraná (due to immigration from the Middle East, especially from Lebanon) and a large Mennonite community in Boquerón.

Language In Paraguay

Both Spanish and Guarani are official languages. Most people in Paraguay speak Spanish and there is very limited use of English. Outside Asunción and the major cities, you will only hear Guarani. Because of the extensive use of Guarani, even those who have managed to learn Spanish do not always speak it very well.

In Paraguay, Guarani is almost always spoken as a mixture of Guarani and Spanish, known as Jopara, which means “mixed” in Guarani. The Guarani numerical system is rarely used and is almost always replaced by the Spanish numerical system.

In Paraguay, we use “vos” instead of “tu”. There is a small change in the conjugation, but not so big that you will not be understood if you use tu. This vos is NOT the same as vosotros. The verb stem does not change when you use vos, and the ending is always stressed. For example, “tienes” becomes “tenés”, “puedes” becomes “podés”, “vienes” becomes “venís”, etc.

In the northern and eastern parts of Paraguay, Portuguese is widely spoken. In some places, Nueva Esperanza (80% Portuguese speakers), Katuetè (60%), the majority speaks Portuguese, almost always the result of Paraguayans born in Paraguay or first generation Brazilian immigrants. There are many cases of Paraguayans born during the period of Brazilian immigration who speak only Portuguese at home, although they are also fluent in Guarani, but speak very little or no Spanish.

There are also a number of Mennonite communities in Paraguay that speak ordinary Low German and High German.

Economy Of Paraguay

Paraguay’s macroeconomy has some unique characteristics. It is characterised by a historically low inflation rate – 5% on average (in 2013 the inflation rate was 3.7%), international reserves amounting to 20% of GDP, and a public external debt twice as high. In addition, the country benefits from 8,700 MW of clean, renewable energy production (current domestic demand is 2,300 MW).

Between 1970 and 2013, the country had the highest economic growth in South America, with an average rate of 7.2% per year.

In 2010 and 2013, Paraguay had the highest economic growth in South America, with GDP growth rates of 14.5% and 13.6%, respectively.

Paraguay is the world’s fourth largest producer of soybeans, second largest producer of stevia, second largest producer of tungsten oil, sixth largest exporter of maize, tenth largest exporter of wheat and eighth largest exporter of beef.

The market economy is characterised by a large informal sector that includes the re-export of imported consumer goods to neighbouring countries and the activities of thousands of micro-enterprises and urban street vendors. Nevertheless, the Paraguayan economy has diversified considerably over the past decade, with the energy, auto parts and clothing sectors being the most dynamic.

The country also has the third largest free trade zone in the world: Ciudad del Este, behind Miami and Hong Kong. A large part of the population, especially in rural areas, lives from agricultural activity, often on a subsistence basis. The large informal sector makes it difficult to obtain accurate economic data. The economy grew rapidly between 2003 and 2013, as increased global demand for commodities, combined with high prices and favourable weather conditions, supported the expansion of Paraguay’s commodity exports.

In 2012, the government of Paraguay introduced the MERCOSUR (FOCEM) system to stimulate the economy and job growth through a partnership with Brazil and Argentina.

Industry and manufacturing

Paraguay’s mineral industry generates about 25% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 31% of the workforce. The production of cement, iron ore and steel is widespread in Paraguay’s industrial sector. Industrial growth has been driven by the maquiladora industry, with large industrial complexes located in the eastern part of the country. Paraguay has created many incentives to attract industries to the country. One of these is the “Maquila Law”, which allows companies to set up in Paraguay with minimal tax rates.

In the pharmaceutical sector, Paraguayan companies now cover 70% of domestic consumption and have started to export medicines. Paraguay is rapidly supplanting foreign suppliers to meet the country’s pharmaceutical needs. Strong growth has also been observed in the production of edible oils, clothing, organic sugar, meat processing and steel.

In 2003, manufacturing accounted for 13.6% of GDP and the sector employed about 11% of the working population in 2000. The main manufacturing sector in Paraguay is the food and beverage industry. Wood products, paper products, hides and furs and non-metallic minerals also contribute to the production figures. The steady growth of manufacturing GDP in the 1990s (1.2% per year) laid the groundwork for 2002 and 2003, when the annual growth rate rose to 2.5%.

Social issues

According to various estimates, 30-50% of the population is poor. In rural areas, 41.20% of people do not have a monthly income to meet their basic needs, while in urban centres the figure is 27.6%. The richest 10% of the population have 43.8% of the national income, while the poorest 10% have 0.5%. The economic recession has exacerbated income inequality, particularly in rural areas, where the Gini coefficient rose from 0.56 in 1995 to 0.66 in 1999.

Recent data (2009) show that 35% of the Paraguayan population is poor, of which 19% live in extreme poverty. Moreover, 71% of them live in rural areas of the country.

Similarly, the concentration of rural land in Paraguay is one of the highest in the world: 10% of the population controls 66% of the land, while 30% of the rural population is landless. Immediately after the fall of Stroessner in 1989, by mid-1990, some 19,000 rural families occupied hundreds of thousands of hectares of unused land that had previously belonged to the dictator and his supporters, but many of the rural poor remained landless. This inequality led to great tension between the landless and the landowners.

Entry Requirements For Paraguay

Visa & Passport for Paraguay

Citizens of Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela) as well as Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia do not need a passport to enter the country, only an identity card (cédula de identidad). All other visitors to Paraguay must have a valid passport. Visas are not required for visitors from the European Union, Central and South American countries, South Korea, Japan, Israel and South Africa. A visa is required for citizens of Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. Travellers of all other nationalities should check the visa requirements for their country with the nearest Paraguayan embassy before travelling to Paraguay.

Visas must be obtained in advance from the Paraguayan embassy or consulate, as they are not available on arrival. The tourist stamp is valid for 90 days.

How To Travel To Paraguay

Get In - By air

Paraguay has no national airline and, despite its central location in South America, air services are not numerous. Currently, the only intercontinental flight is the twice-weekly Air Europa service between Madrid and Asuncion. Most foreign travellers therefore have to change planes in São Paulo (for those coming from North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia), in Buenos Aires or Santiago (for those coming from Australia and the Pacific), and in Lima or Panama (for those coming from Central America and the Caribbean). The main international airport is Silvio Pettirosi (ASU), 10 km from the capital Asunción.

Currently, the following airlines offer direct flights to Paraguay:

TAM (from Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Lima and Santa Cruz de la Sierra).

Get In - By train

There is a new rail shuttle between Encarnación, Paraguay, and Posadas, Argentina. The service connects the two sides of the international border in 10 minutes by crossing the Paraná River on the San Roque González de Santa Cruz International Bridge.

Get In - By bus

There are bus services to and from various cities in South America. You can take a bus from Santiago, Chile; São Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cordoba, Argentina; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Montevideo, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The buses are very modern and some of them have seats that turn completely into beds. In Spanish they are called cama. The inclination of the half-camas for the most part.

The bus to and from Bolivia crosses the Chaco. Only one bus company makes the trip, from Santa Cruz to Asunción, with possible stops in Villamontes (Bolivia) or a few kilometres from Filadelfia (Paraguay), but generally for the same price. Note that tourists have to bargain, prices are at least 45 USD (payable in local currency or USD). The trip takes at least a full day, easily more. Note that the bus from Santa Cruz passes Villamontes around 02:00.

The bus from Ciudad Del Este (Paraguay), on the border with Brazil, is generally cheaper to get to Rio or São Paulo than the bus from Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil). To get to Puerto Iguazú (Argentina), many buses go through Brazil (without Brazilian border control) for only 10 ARS or 10,000 PYG. It is best to go to the border in advance to get an exit stamp for Paraguay as not all buses stop, otherwise ask before you jump on a bus.

Get In - By boat

The Aquidaban boat leaves Concepción regularly once a week and travels up the Paraguay River to Bahía Negra, stopping at all the Paraguayan ports north of the border with Brazil. These boats are not designed to accommodate large numbers of passengers, so expect a stifling crowd, but you can buy just about anything on board, even cold beer.

How To Travel Around Paraguay

Get Around - By taxi

Taxis are the most efficient and reliable means of transport, although you can probably also get there by bus, or colectivo as the Paraguayans call it. Taxis are expensive compared to other prices in Paraguay, and in Asunción, fares are determined by the taximeter. Tipping in taxis is not common among locals (although drivers appreciate it). Expect a small surcharge on the fare if you take a taxi late at night or on Sundays.

There are no meters outside Asunción, so you should agree on a price before entering. Negotiating a price can be useful, as tourists have been charged up to US$10 for a five-minute ride. To avoid disputes, always ask the concierge at your hotel what the actual fare is.

Get Around - By car

Highways connect all major regions of Paraguay, but most have only one lane in each direction. You may encounter toll booths along the way. The police can stop you for any reason and will expect bribes. Locals say that the most common way to avoid spending too much money on bribes demanded by the “polícia caminera” (traffic police) is to give them a small guarani note when shaking hands with them when they stop your car.

Also, if they ask, it is advisable to play dumb until they let you off with a warning and NOT to admit that this is your first time driving through Paraguay. Avoid paying bribes (called coimas in Paraguay) as this can only harm the country. Say that you have no money on you and that you did not know it was not allowed. If you have really done something wrong, you must pay the fine and always ask for a receipt.

Please note that you are only likely to have such problems with the police on rural roads. These problems do not tend to occur in the more affluent areas of the big cities, where you can have a slightly more ‘pleasant’ relationship with the police.

Get Around - By bus

Buses are the most common form of public transport. There are many companies operating different routes. You should check which one serves your destination. If you are travelling from Asunción, the bus station website has information on fares for all destinations and bus companies, as well as departure times. The website is only in Spanish and there is no information on timetables for trips to Asunción.

Some of the intercity bus companies are :

Destinations in Paraguay

Regions

  • Gran Chaco
    The great wild and semi-arid plains of the northwest of the country.
  • Paraná Plateau
    The forested highlands of eastern Paraguay, along the Paraná River, where the second largest city, Ciudad del Este, is located, right across from the Iguaçu Falls.
  • Paraneña North
  • Southern Paraneña
    This is the centre of the country’s population, in and around Asunción.

Cities

  • Asunción – the capital
  • Areguá
  • Ciudad del Este – this bustling border town is also Paraguay’s gateway to the Iguazu Falls.
  • Concepción
  • The Incarnation and its Jesuit mission The Holy Trinity of Parana and Jesus of Tavarangue
  • Filadelfia – the county seat of Boquerón, founded as a Mennonite settlement.
  • Pilar
  • Villeta

Other destinations

  • New Australia – a late 19th century Australian colony in the southern part of the country.
  • San Bernardino – Paraguay’s busiest resort, east of the capital.
  • Trinidad – a small village near Encarnación, famous for the Jesuit ruin Santísima de Trinidad de Paraná, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Paraguay.

Accommodation & Hotels in Paraguay

It is certainly not difficult to find good accommodation in the major cities and it seems reasonably cheap if the parameter is the dollar or the euro. The exception, however, is Ciudad del Este. In Ciudad del Este, the cheapest accommodation is near the bus station, with double rooms for less than €10, in an area that is also pleasant in the evening. It’s easy to find cheap accommodation, but if you’re looking for something more qualitative and have the money, you’ll have better luck in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina or Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil.

Things To See in Paraguay

  • The capital, Asunción, is home to many of the country’s attractions.
  • In Trinidad you can visit the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Paraguay: the Jesuit missions La Santisima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesus de Tavarangue.
  • In the town of Santani (San Pedro), there is a fountain that does not run dry. In the town museum there is also a large snake skin.
  • The Itaipu dam, near Ciudad del Este, which is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world in terms of energy produced.

Things To Do in Paraguay

  • Cruise on the Paraguay River. Cruise on a luxurious wooden boat from the ports of Asunción to the Pantanal and Chaco region. NOTE: Due to maintenance work on the ship, cruises have been suspended since March 2013.
  • Take a walk through the historic centre of the city of Asunción. Many of the once magnificent buildings are in a state of disrepair, but if you look past the graffiti, you can imagine the former glory of Asunción. At night you can take a taxi and enjoy the city fully illuminated. There are many bars and restaurants in this area.
  • Safari in Paraguay. Safari expeditions in Paraguay for people who want to know and experience the wildlife. Guides trained in the field of biology, with knowledge of the fauna and flora included in each ecoregion of the country.

Food & Drinks in Paraguay

Food in Paraguay

Paraguayan food is one of the most varied in South America. Paraguayans are used to eating typical dishes several times a week throughout the year. You will find much of the standard South American cuisine, as well as some Brazilian influence. Paraguayan food is not particularly spicy, so those who can’t stand spices will have no problem here.

Paraguay has a tradition for beef, which is generally of good quality and cheap. Grilled meat (asado) is what you should eat. Pasta is also popular, as are street stands selling panchos (hot dogs), hamburgers, empanadas and other fast food. Vegetables, salads and other meats are not as common, but are available. In restaurants, you can usually get free cassava as a side dish (like bread in other countries).

Local specialities

You must try the traditional Paraguayan cuisine, which includes dishes like the following:

  • Chipa – a bread baked in an outdoor oven or “tatacua” and usually made from mandioca (cassava) flour. Mandioca is often used instead of potatoes. Mandioca, or mandi’o in Guaraní, looks like a potato and is usually eaten boiled, but can also be fried. Paraguayans eat it almost daily and many grow it on their land.
  • Mbeju is a flatbread made of mandioca starch and Paraguayan cheese.
  • Pastel madi’o is a cassava paste filled with “so’o ku’í” or minced meat.
  • Sopa Paraguaya and a form of cornbread are two of the most famous. Sopa means soup, so it is an unusual experience to eat a solid soup, probably the only one in the world.
  • Tortillas in Paraguay are different from other places in Latin America. It is more of a fried dough (made with Paraguayan cheese).
  • Payagua mascada (Guarani for dog chewing gum, but has nothing to do with it) is a tortilla also made of manioc and beef (high in protein and calories).
  • Try Sopa So’o if you get the chance – it’s a Paraguayan cornbread with chunks of meat, often marinated in garlic and lime.
  • Pira caldo is a soup made with catfish, tomatoes, fat and spices.
  • The asado (barbecue) is excellent, and the prices are quite reasonable – for PYG20,000 guaranies (US$4) you get an all-you-can-eat buffet in many nice places. PYG5,000 is enough for a hamburger.
  • Empanadas (meat/egg stuffed in batter and baked) and milanesa (breaded and fried chicken/meat/fish) are also very popular. These dishes are considered fast food and can be found in other countries in the region. If you order a hamburger in a restaurant, expect it to be topped with a fried egg.

Drinks in Paraguay

Tap water in Asunción and possibly Ciudad del Este is safe to drink. In the rest of Paraguay, tap water has to be treated to make it drinkable. PLAN International is working to bring clean water to communities in rural areas (if it exists, it is safe to drink). However, be sure to ask before drinking water in rural areas – many Paraguayans claim that their water is safe to drink, even if it is not purified.

Mate/Terrata

The most common drink in Paraguay is mate made from yerba mate (mate herbs), which is similar in style to tea but different in preparation. The addition of sugar is not common in Paraguay. The infusion is prepared by pouring the dry yerba into the cup and then adding water: the hot water version is called mate (preferred in Argentina and Uruguay), while the cold water version is called tereré and is a local favourite. When hot, it is more common to drink it as tereré, served in guampas which may be made of wood or hollowed out bull horns and drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla.

Mate is usually consumed early in the morning and late at night, especially on cold winter days. Terere can be enjoyed all year round, but not at lunchtime or after sunset, as many recommend. Yet you can see all types of Paraguayans (from construction workers to businessmen) carrying their terere kit at all times. As it is a social activity, the cup is passed around, refilling it each time. If you are offered both, you should accept at least one cup. If you can get used to the taste and join in, the locals will be grateful. Herbs are often added to the tereré water (locally called “remedios” or “yuyos” which cure various ailments). The addition of coconut to mate, for example, is said to help relieve headaches. The taste is rather earthy, like a bitter green tea, and it takes some getting used to before you can enjoy it.

Drinking mate or tereré is certainly one of the social customs of Paraguay. The shops close around noon for a siesta and a game of mate/terre with friends.

Another way to prepare it is to boil the yerba on the fire with sugar, then strain it before serving it with milk. It tastes like a bit of smoked tea. In this form it is called cocido, which simply means “cooked”.

Other non-alcoholic drinks

  • The coffee is mainly of the Italian variety.
  • Gaseosa means soft drinks of all kinds. All the usual brands are available. Try the local guarana.
  • Pulp is a very popular Paraguayan soft drink. You can buy it in supermarkets or order it in various restaurants and bars. The original is Pulp Naranja, made with real orange juice.
  • Mosto helado is made from sugar cane and is very sweet. It is sometimes mixed with lime juice to make an “aloja”. You will find street carts selling mosto near the Centro area and in the countryside.

In Paraguay, orange juice and other fruit juices, unless freshly squeezed, are almost always reconstituted from dehydrated concentrate. This applies to all non-refrigerated Tetra Pak juices. Note that the dehydration process destroys the vitamin C and, unlike in the West, ascorbic acid cannot be added after reconstitution, so these fruit juices may not contain any appreciable amount of vitamin C. Check the packaging, buy fresh juice (freshly squeezed by a street vendor or the Purifru brand in the refrigerated section) or take advantage of the wide variety of fresh fruit available on many street corners.

Alcoholic beverages

  • Beer is widely available, as are many spirits. The local beer is Brahma or Pilsen.
  • Paraguayan liquor is similar to rum and is known locally as Caña. It is made from sugar cane.

Money & Shopping in Paraguay

Paraguay has a very rich and varied handicraft, from silver filigree (luque) to fine cotton lace in the form of Ñanduti (itaugua), everything is present. Also leather goods with local embellishments “repujado” (Atyra) and embroidery ao poi, encaje yu. Clay pottery (Ita) and weaving are also very popular, cheap and beautiful. Leather footballs are sold and handmade in the town of Quindy.

Currency

The currency is the Guarani (ISO code 4217: PYG). As of November 2015, it is the least valued currency in the Americas with 1 EUR = 5.997 PYG and 1 USD = 5.661 PYG.

Banknotes in denominations of PYG 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 are in circulation.

The sign for the currency is ₲. Before exchanging money, always check the exchange rate quotations on the Internet or in several major newspapers.

Awards

Paraguay has recently been ranked by several studies as the cheapest country in the world based on purchasing power parity. Prices in Paraguay are very low and a budget traveller will be able to get by on just US$7-14 per day, or even less if camping. A simple, clean hotel room outside Asunción should cost no more than US$10.

Tipping

Service charges are included in the bill, and tips are rare.

Festivals & Holidays in Paraguay

Date English name
1 January New Year’s Eve
March/April Maundy Thursday/Birthday
March/April Good Friday
May 1st Labour Day
14 and 15 May Paraguayan independence
12 June and beyond Ceasefire in Chaco
15 August Foundation of Asunción
29 September Victory day at the Battle of Boqueron
8 December Maid of Caacupe
25 December Christmas Day

Traditions & Customs in Paraguay

It is still considered polite for men to shake hands when they meet. Between a man and a woman or two women, it is customary to shake hands and give a kiss on each cheek. Similarly, when meeting people, they don’t ask how you are, but if everything is fine (“¿todo bien?”). The answer to that is always, yes everything, and you, (“si estoy bien y vos?”) Even if you are having a terrible day, when someone asks you, like an acquaintance in the street, you always answer yes everything.

Even if you are given food, you are obliged to eat it and say that it is good (rico in Spanish). Saying the opposite to someone you don’t know can be considered cheeky and rude.

Conversation

In Paraguay, due to the small number of tourists and foreigners, people may joke or make fun of you when you first meet them. This is not meant to be rude, but simply to acknowledge the differences between you and them, and should not be interpreted in an offensive way. Paraguayans, like Argentines, have a very biting sense of humour, especially in the cities and among the young.

It is very difficult to find people who speak English in most parts of the country, but if you are very patient and try to communicate in Spanish or with signs, most Paraguayans will try to help you. Those who can will often seek you out and start a conversation themselves, eager to try their English. People are very friendly and helpful and are happy to meet a foreigner.

Punctuality and perception of time

Paraguayans have little awareness of the value and importance of time. Nothing runs on time, and being a few minutes late to a meeting is not uncommon and is considered rude. Flights and buses are almost always expected to be late.

Culture Of Paraguay

Paraguay’s cultural heritage can be traced back to the many intermarriages between the first male Spanish settlers and the indigenous Guaraní women. Their culture is strongly influenced by various European countries, including Spain. Therefore, Paraguayan culture is a fusion of two cultures and traditions: a European culture and a southern Guaraní culture. More than 93% of Paraguayans are of mixed race, making Paraguay one of the most homogenous countries in Latin America. One of the characteristics of this cultural fusion is the widespread bilingualism that remains today: more than 80% of Paraguayans speak both Spanish and the indigenous Guaraní language. Jopara, a mixture of Guaraní and Spanish, is also widely spoken.

This cultural fusion is expressed in arts such as embroidery (ao po’í) and lace (ñandutí). Paraguayan music, consisting of polkas, galopas and languorous guaranias, is played on the indigenous harp. Paraguay’s culinary heritage is also strongly influenced by this cultural fusion. Many popular dishes incorporate cassava, a local staple similar to the yuca root found in the southwestern United States and Mexico, along with other indigenous ingredients. A popular dish is sopa paraguaya, similar to a thick cornbread. Another notable food is chipa, a bread-like roll made from cornmeal, cassava and cheese. Many other dishes are made with various cheeses, onions, peppers, cottage cheese, cornmeal, milk, spices, butter, eggs and fresh corn kernels.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of a new generation of Paraguayan novelists and poets such as José Ricardo Mazó, Roque Vallejos and Nobel Prize nominee Augusto Roa Bastos. Several Paraguayan films were made.

Conservative values prevail within the family. In the lower classes, godparents have a special relationship with the family, as they are usually chosen for their favourable social position in order to give the children additional security. They are owed special respect and, in return, the family can expect protection and patronage.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Paraguay

Stay Safe in Paraguay

There are not many big cities and if you use common sense and street smarts you are unlikely to get into trouble. The police are notoriously corrupt and if you are stopped for any reason you will almost certainly be asked to pay a bribe. In Asunción, most police officers are not corrupt. Crime is common in the cities, although not as prevalent as in other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Buenos Aires.

Ciudad del Este is a hotbed of illegal activity, such as money laundering and counterfeiting, but this should not affect your travels. However, you should always keep an eye on your pockets and purse here, as in any other major city. As long as you are not involved in drug dealing (accidental or otherwise) and are wary of pickpockets, you should be safe most of the time.

Stay Healthy in Paraguay

  • Hospitals in Paraguay range from decent to unhealthy and unequipped. If you get seriously ill, try to go to the best hospital, even if it takes a bit longer – you may not find surgical gloves in the worst hospitals.
  • There are many stray dogs running around the streets – avoid them. They will not usually bother you.
  • You can get a foot flea known locally as a spade (Tunga penetrans), which usually gathers around the toes. They lay eggs in your feet if left unattended. The best way to get rid of them is to pierce the area with a sewing needle and pour hydrogen peroxide over the area, then dig up the bug. If you have caught one, you may notice itching or tenderness in your feet.
  • Paraguay is in the risk zone for the two most common mosquito-borne tropical fevers: Dengue and Yellow Fever.

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