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Paraguay for Visitors

Two regions: Great differences!

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Paraguay rio Parana

Paraguay rio Parana

Teresa Koen

For many years Paraguay, known as the "empty quarter" of South America, was closed to tourism for political reasons. The country suffered under the dicatorship of General Stroessner who used torture, murder, political purges, and fake elections for 35 years to to remain in power. Looking at the Palacio de Gobierno was at one time punishable by death. Since his downfall in 1989, successive governments have removed many of the repressive measures and even though the country has seen presidential instability since then, the country is now much freer and open. You may now even photograph government buildings.

The absence of tourism hasn't been all bad. Vast stretches of the country are still in a natural state. The western portion of the country covers more than 60% of Paraguay. This is the wilderness of the Gran Chaco, which provides a rewarding experience for ecologists and nature hunters. The cities retain a flavor of the past with lovely pockets of colonial architecture and for students of indigenous civilizations, the Guarani traditions are still strong.

The country has a riverside capital, Asunción, Jesuit missions, several national parks and the vast arid Chaco - one of South America's great wilderness areas with abundant wildlife. Visiting Paraguay is cheaper than visiting Argentina but more expensive than Bolivia. Budget travelers will find good value in lodgings and restaurants.

Spanish is the official language but you'll hear Guarani everywhere you go. The Guarani Indians are a vital force in Paraguayan history and culture and you'll appreciate their spirit when you visit the Jesuit Ruins. Two of the seven Reduction sites are listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by Unesco but all the ruins are tourist attractions.

Chances are you will fly into Silvio Pettirossi aiport, 10 miles from Asunción, rather than an overland crossing from Argentina, Brazil or Bolivia. Check flights from your area to Asunción. You can also browse for hotels and car rentals.

Arriviang from Bolivia is particularly difficult due to road conditions and road blocks and is not recommended. You might opt for the on again off again river trip down the Paraguay from Corumbá in Brazil. Once in Paraguay, you'll have several choices to travel within the country. Líneas Aéreas de Transporte Nacional (LATN) and Transportes Aéros Militares (TAM), the airforce passenger service, provide reasonably cheap flights to destinations in northern Paraguay and some parts of the Chaco. You can take a helicopter flight over the Chaco. However, be aware that some of the safety measures practiced elsewhere may be missing.

Bus service is a good way to get around to most of the country. You can choose a servicio directo stopping only at scheduled stops or the servicio removido which you can flag down as necessary. You might want to schedule plenty of time for a ride on one of the ancient wood-burning trains. These are of great interest to railway buffs and offer a very inexpensive if slow means of travel. The service may be shut down for months at a time so plan accordingly. The exception is the short run from Asunción to Areguá Areguá on Lago Ypacaraí which is higher and cooler and therefore a pleasant resort area.

You can rent a car, but be prepared to share the road with ox carts and livestock. Another alternative is one of the river boats that use the Paraguay river to a number of ports. The Río Paraguay is the third largest river in the western hemisphere and joins the Parana and the Río de la Plata rivers to give Paraguay an outlet to the sea.

The river bisects the country in two distinct regions. As mentioned, west of the river is the Chaco, a largely infertile and sparsely populated tract of land occupying over half of the country. Temperatures are high in the Chaco and the rainfall is erratic. Here you'll find the Mennonites of Paraguay where Mennonite Farmers settled around Filadelfia. Their main products are dairy foods and cotton. You'll also see the remants of fortifications from the War of the Chaco at Fortín Toledo and the Parque Nacional Defensores del Chaco. This park is inaccessible unless, under certain circumstances, you can arrange a round trip with park rangers. Wherever you travel in the Chaco make sure you take plenty of water, food and emergency supplies with you. Even though 60% of the country is Chaco there are 1563 miles of navigable rivers in Paraguay and there are ferry links with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.

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