Paraguay

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Paraguay is a landlocked country in the heart of South America, bordering Argentina to the south and west, Bolivia to the northwest and Brazil to the east and northeast. Not a major travel destination and dwarfed by its giant neighbours Brazil and Argentina, an air of mystery hangs over Paraguay, a country of farmland, nature and folklore. With roughly 440,000 sq. km. it is a country rich in natural resources: the world's largest drinking water reservoir (the Guarani Aquifer) is beneath its soil and the biggest hydroelectric producer (the Itaipú Dam) is on its border with Brazil. (less...) (more...)

Population: 6,623,252 people
Area: 406,752 km2
Highest point: 842 m
Coastline: 0 km
Life expectancy: 76.60 years
GDP per capita: $6,200
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About Paraguay

History

The original inhabitants of Paraguay were the indigenous. The Guaraní were the most significant indigenous group inhabiting what is now Eastern Paraguay, living as semi-nomadic hunters who also practised subsistence agriculture. The Chaco region was home to other group of indigenous tribes such as the Guaycurú and Payaguá, who survived by hunting, gathering and fishing.

In the 16th century Paraguay, formerly called "The Giant Province of the Indies", was born as a result of the encounter of Spanish conquerors with the native indigenous groups. The Spaniards started the colonization period which lasted for three centuries. Since the foundation of Asunción in 1537, Paraguay has managed to keep a lot of its indigenous character and identity. Nowadays, the mestizos (Spanish + Amerindian) account for more than 80% of the country's 6.6 million inhabitants and Guarani is, side by side with Spanish, the country's official language.

In the past, Franciscan and Jesuit missions mingled with the Guaranis' dream of Yvy maraë´y, a land without evil, and produced singular societies. The ruins of the Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad de Parana and Jesus de Tavarangue, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and several villages throughout the country, are witnesses to that peaceful past. On 15 May 1811 a revolution ended the Spanish colonial rule and this day is celebrated as Paraguay's independence day.

Shortly after independence came the paranoid dictatorship of Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (1814-1840) who, convinced of plots to kill him, declared that the buildings in Asunción had to be low enough so that he could see who was on the roof while riding his horse and that at every street corner he should be able to see in all four directions so that would-be assassins would have nowhere to hide. The destruction of colonial buildings that didn’t fit in with this scheme robbed Asunción of some architectural gems.

But Paraguay also has a history of wars, having fought with all its neighbours. It was one of the richest countries in the mid-19th century ( the only one in America to have railways at that time) before the disastrous 1865-70 War of the Triple Alliance. Paraguay was invaded by the allied forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay and after 5 years of heavy fighting and utter destruction, the country surrended. The result was the loss of two-thirds of all adult males and a great part of its territory.

A unique event was the scene of the first ever attempt at Communism when 700 people sailed from Balmain, Sydney Australia in 1893 to found "New Australia." A split occurred soon after arrival when some of the arrivals started mingling with the local ladies who were suffering a lack of men due to the War of the Triple Alliance. Two-thirds of the immigrants eventually returned to Australia but around 2,000 Paraguayans can trace their heritage to Australia.

To complete the fighting with its neighbours, in the 1930s another war broke out, the Chaco War of 1932-35 engaged Paraguay with Bolivia over the possession of the Chaco region. When the war ended, large and economically important areas of the Chaco that belonged to Paraguay were given to Bolivia as part of the peace treaty of 1938.

After World War II Paraguay received many immigrants, who fell in love with the people's hospitality and decided to stay and call Paraguay their home. New colonies of Germans, Russians, Italians, Ukrainians, Japanese and Mennonites were established in different parts of the countryside areas of Paraguay.

The 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner was overthrown in 1989 and, despite a marked increase in political infighting in recent years, democratic governments have been in power since then. Modern Paraguay is largely based upon political uncertainty and economic hardship. Since the early 1980s, Paraguay is making the difficult decision to move to a more modern market economy. In recent years, the economy has grown and democratic elections have taken place. While Asuncion is filled with new economic prospects and construction, much of the country remains underdeveloped, consisting of deficient infrastructure.

Climate

Paraguay is generally hot for most of the year. The fact is that the Tropic of Capricorn passes through the city of Belén in Northern Paraguay, dividing the country into a tropical area to the north and a temperate one to the south. The hottest time of year is from November to February when daytime temperatures can peak around 45ºC and high atmospheric pressure makes just walking along the street a tough task. Winter (June to September) is pleasantly warm during the day (around 20–25ºC), generally sunny and dry but frequently cool at night with the occasional morning frost. January is the hottest month with an average maximum temperate of 36ºC, and July is the coldest with a minimum average of 9ºC.

Eastern Paraguay can be very humid, while western Paraguay (the Chaco) is dry. There is no real rainy season, but from September to November electric storms become more frequent and travelling off-road can be more difficult. The climate generally follows the prevailing winds, viento sur (southerly winds) bringing cooler temperatures from Patagonia and viento norte (northern winds) bringing hotter weather from the tropics.

Geography

With a total surface area of 406,752 km², Paraguay is divided by the Paraguay River into two well-differientiated natural regions: the Eastern or Oriental Region and the Western or Chaco Region, each one with their own fauna, flora, and particular characteristics.

Although Paraguay is landlocked, the country is watered by numerous rivers, streams, and lakes, which are all part of the Rio de la Plata river basin. The two principal rivers are the river Paraguay, which divides the country in two, and the river Paraná, which forms the frontier with Paraná state in Brazil and with Corrientes and Misiones provinces in Argentina.

Overall Paraguay is a quite flat country; while its western neighbours Argentina and Bolivia include mountains higher than 6,000 m above sea level, the highest point in Paraguay is Cerro Tres Kandú with a height of 842 m.

Activities

  • Cruise on the Paraguay River. Cruise on a luxury wooden boat from Asunción ports to the Pantanal and Chaco area. NOTE: Due to maintenance work on the ship cruises have been suspended since March 2013.
  • Walk through the historic Asunción city center. Many former grand buildings are suffering from great decay, but if you look past graffiti walls, you can imagine Asunción's past splendour. At nights, you can take a cab ride and enjoy it fully illuminated. There are many bars, restaurantes in this area.
  • Paraguay Safari. Safaris expeditions in Paraguay for people who want to know and live a wildlife experience. Trained guides in the biology area, with knowledge of the fauna and flora contained in each ecoregion of the country.

Food

Paraguayan food is one of the most diverse in South America. Paraguayans usually enjoy typical food several times a week all year round. You'll find much of the standard South American cuisine here with some Brazilian influence as well. Paraguayan food isn't particularly spicy, so those who can't tolerate spices won't have problems here.

Paraguay has a tradition for beef which is normally good quality and cheap. Grilled meat (asado) is the thing to eat. Pasta is also popular as are the street stalls selling panchos (hot-dogs), hamburgers, empanadas and similar fast-food. Vegetables, salad and other types of meat are not that common but available. In restaurants you normally get manioc as a side dish for free (similar to bread in other countries).

Local specialties

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

  • Chipa-a bread baked in an outdoor oven or "tatacua", usually made out of mandioca (manioc) flour. Mandioca is often substituted for potatoes. Mandioca, or Mandi´o in Guarani is similar to a potato, and is normally eaten boiled but can be fried. It is eaten almost everyday by Paraguayans, and many have it growing on their land.
  • Mbeju is a mandioca starch and Paraguayan cheese based flatbread.
  • Pastel madi'o is a manioc pastry stuffed with "So'o ku'í" or minced meat.
  • Sopa Paraguaya is a form of corn bread are two of the most well known. Sopa means soup, so it is an unusual experience to be actually eating a solid soup, probably the only one in the world.
  • Tortillas in Paraguay are different than in other places in Latin America. It is more like a fried dough (made with Paraguayan cheese).
  • Payagua mascada (Guarani for chewing gum for dogs but has nothing to do with that) is a tortilla also made with manioc and beef (high in proteins and calories).
  • Try Sopa So'o if you get the chance--it is Paraguayan cornbread with bits of pieces of meat often marinated with garlic and lime.
  • Pira caldo is a soup consisting of catfish, tomatoes, fat and spices
  • Asado (BBQ) is great, and prices are quite reasonable - PYG20,000 Guaranis (USD4) will get you an all-you-can-eat buffet at many nice places. PYG5,000 is enough to pay for a hamburger.
  • Also highly popular are empanadas (meat/egg stuffed in a pastry and baked) and milanesa (breaded and fried chicken/beef/fish) - these are considered fast food, and are also found in other countries in the region. If you order a hamburger at a restaurant, expect it to come topped with a fried egg.

Drinks

Tap water in Asunción, and possibly Ciudad del Este, is potable. Tap water in the rest of Paraguay should be treated to make it safe for drinking. There have been efforts by PLAN International to bring safe, potable water to communities in rural areas (if there is such water available, it is safe to drink). Ask before drinking water in rural areas however--many Paraguayans will claim their water is safe to drink even if it's not purified.

Mate/Tereré

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

Mate is usually enjoyed in the early mornings and late evenings especially during cold days in winter. Terere is enjoyed year-round, though not during lunch time and past sunset, as many recommend. Still, you can see every type of Paraguayan (from construction workers to business executives) carry their terere set during all times. It is a social activity so the cup is passed around - with in between a refill for each person. If you are offered either you should accept at least one cup. If you can get used to the taste and participate, locals will be appreciative.Often, herbs are added to the tereré water (locally called 'remedios' or 'yuyos', which cure different ailments). For example, adding coconut to one's mate is supposed to help with headaches. The taste is best described as earthy, like a bitter green tea, and it will take getting used to before you can enjoy it.

Drinking mate or tereré is most definitely one of the social customs of Paraguay. Shops will close around noon for a siesta and for a round of mate/tereré with friends.

Another variation of preparation is to boil the yerba on the stove with sugar then strain it before serving it with milk. It tastes a bit like smoked tea. In this form it is called Cocido, which simply means "cooked".

Other non-alcoholic beverages

  • Coffee is mostly of an Italian variety.
  • Gaseosa means fizzy drinks of any description. All the usual brands are available. Try the local Guarana.
  • Pulp is a very popular Paraguayan soft drink. You can buy it a supermarkets or order it in various restaurantes and bars. The original is Pulp Naranja, made with real orange juice.
  • Mosto helado is extracted from the sugar cane and very sweet,sometimes mixed with lime juice to make an 'aloja'. You can find street carts selling mosto near the centro area and in the countryside.
  • In Paraguay, orange juice and other fruit juices, unless squeezed fresh, are almost always reconstituted from dehydrated concentrate. This applies to all unrefrigerated Tetra-Pak juices. Note that the dehydration process destroys vitamin C, and unlike in the West, ascorbic acid may not be added back after reconstitution, thus these fruit juices may not contain any appreciable amount of vitamin C. Either check the packaging, buy fresh juice (freshly squeezed from a street vendor, or Purifru brand in the refrigerator cabinet), or enjoy the wide variety of fresh fruit available on many street corners.

Alcoholic beverages

  • Beer is widely available, as are many liquors. The local beer is Brahma or Pilsen.
  • Paraguayan hard liquor is similar to rum and is known locally as caña. It is made out of sugar cane.

Shopping

Paraguay has a very rich and diverse craftmanship, everything from silver filigree (Luque) to cotton fine lace in the form of Ñanduti (Itaugua) is available. Also leather goods with local “repujado” embellishments (Atyra) and ao poi, encaje yu embroidery. Clay ceramic (Ita) and weavery is also very popular, cheap and beautiful. Leather soccer balls are sold and hand made in the town of Quindy.

Currency

The currency is the guarani (ISO 4217 code: PYG). As of Aug 2013 it is the least valued currency in the Americas at USD1 = PYG4,370 and €1= 5,781.

Banknotes in denominations of PYG2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 circulate.

The currency sign is ₲. Always check the exchange rate quotations on the internet or several major newspapers before exchanging money.

Prices

Paraguay has been recently ranked by several research studies as the cheapest country in the world, measured through Purchasing Power Parity. Prices in Paraguay are very low and a budget traveller will be able to get by on as little as USD7-14 a day and even less if camping. A clean, single hotel room out of Asunción should not cost more than USD10

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Paraguay on Wikivoyage.

Cities in Paraguay

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Asunción is the capital and economic centre of Paraguay.

Interesting places:

  • Palacio de los Lopez
  • Asuncion Cathedral
  • Panteon Nacional de los Heroes
  • Plaza de Armas
  • National Congress
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Ciudad del Este is a city in Paraguay. It is mainly a shopping destination for Brazilians and Argentinians.

Interesting places:

  • Friendship Bridge
  • Republic Lake
  • San Blas Cathedral
  • Antonio Oddone Sarubbi Stadium
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Interesting places:

  • Church of Altos
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Trinidad is a small village in Paraguay featuring the ruins of a Jesuit Mission. It's 30 km from Encarnación along Ruta 6.

Interesting places:

  • La Santisima Trinidad de Parana
  • Trinidad Jesuit Ruins
panoramio Photos are copyrighted by their owners

Points of Interest in Paraguay

  • The capital Asunción hosts a large part of the country's sights.
  • In Trinidad you can see the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Paraguay; the Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesus de Tavarangue.
  • There is a well in the city of Santani (San Pedro) that does not go dry. The town's museum also contains a large snakeskin.
  • The Itaipu dam near Ciudad del Este which is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, measured by generated power.

Palacio de los Lopez - Asuncion

Friendship Bridge - Ciudad Del Este

La Santisima Trinidad de Parana - Trinidad

Shopping Salto - Salto del Guaira

Acaray Park - Hernandarias

Asuncion Cathedral - Asuncion

Panteon Nacional de los Heroes - Asuncion

Plaza de Armas - Asuncion

National Congress - Asuncion

Universidad Nacional de Asuncion - Asuncion

Defensores del Chaco Stadium - Asuncion

7 Saltos Monument - Salto del Guaira

Republic Lake - Ciudad Del Este

Trinidad Jesuit Ruins - Trinidad

San Blas Cathedral - Ciudad Del Este

Mercosur Shopping Mall - Salto del Guaira

Antonio Oddone Sarubbi Stadium - Ciudad Del Este

Universidad Catolica Nuestra Senora - Asuncion

panoramio Photos are copyrighted by their owners
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