The 'forgotten' country, Paraguay sits landlocked between South America's tourist favourites of Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, and is generally overlooked by all except the most intrepid travellers and eco-tourists.
Paraguay is unique in South America in that it largely resisted the cultural devastation wrought by the Spanish conquistadors and has retained its native pre-Colombian culture among its Guarani people. Since becoming a republic in 1811 a series of dictatorships have marred its progress, but today Paraguay has a relatively peaceful democracy and is fairly prosperous thanks to its thriving agricultural economy.
Those who take the trouble to fly into the capital, Asuncion, will find a large, relaxed city full of Latin American atmosphere and historical interest. The city's rich 450-year history is reflected in the downtown architecture, including the Cathedral, as well as some modern marvels like the beautiful Lirico Theatre, dozens of night spots, vast shopping malls and some excellent hotels and restaurants.
Rivers are the lifeblood of this country, which has no railways, and a popular trip for tourists is to take a scenic cruise from Asuncion to Concepcion, a town about 130 miles (210km) north of the capital, and back, along the wide, lazy River Paraguay. The more adventurous make expeditions to the western Chaco region, where some fascinating German Mennonite communities and indigenous Guarani people still live as they have for centuries, and hundreds of species of flora and fauna can be discovered among the marshes.
Paraguay is a travel book still to be written, and a country full of treasures yet to be showcased, but those who enjoy exploring unspoilt wilderness without much in the way of modern amenities or tourist infrastructure will find a holiday in Paraguay a truly memorable experience.
The currency of Paraguay is the Guarani (PYG). United States
dollars are also widely accepted. Visitors are advised to use banks
or official Bureaux de Change for exchanging money rather than
street exchange kiosks because there are many counterfeit notes in
circulation. Travellers cheques are more easily exchanged with
proof of purchase receipts. Credit cards are not widely accepted,
but some hotels and touristic restaurants take MasterCard, Visa and
American Express. There are numerous ATMs in urban centres, which
take Cirrus, Maestro and Visa cards, but visitors who use them are
advised to be cautious and vigilant because of the risk of crime.
Banks are open on weekdays only between 7.30am and 11am.
|PYG 1 =||US$ 0.02||Â£ 0.01||C$ 0.02||A$ 0.02||R 0.18||EUR 0.02||NZ$ 0.03|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
Paraguay has several health risks for visitors, especially those who intend touring the countryside and having contact with the local population. Typhoid vaccination is recommended for all except those who do not plan to eat outside of major restaurants and hotels, or cruise passengers, as diseases from food and water are the leading cause of illness in travellers, and the most common cause of 'traveller's diarrhoea'. Visitors should not drink water unless it has been purified, and avoid any food that is not freshly prepared and well cooked. Be cautious of food and beverages from street vendors. A Yellow fever vaccination is compulsory for anyone arriving from an infected country, and recommended for all travellers. Malaria is endemic to certain regions of Paraguay, namely the departments of Alto ParanÃ¡, CaaguazÃº, and CanendiyÃº. A major outbreak of dengue fever occurred in early 2007, with many deaths having been reported, including in the capital, Asuncion. Dengue fever is on the increase. Insect protection measures are essential, and malaria prevention tablets recommended. Hospitals, pharmacies and medical facilities in Asuncion are adequate, but elsewhere in the country are unsanitary and under-equipped. In the event of serious illness, evacuation to a country with better facilities will be necessary, therefore travel health insurance is highly recommended. Doctors and hospitals usually expect payment in cash.
Those requiring visas must apply to the nearest Paraguayan consulate. Travellers need to have six months' validity on their passports. Immigration officials may impose restrictions other than those officially stated. Vaccinations against yellow fever are required for passengers arriving within six days of leaving or transiting infected areas.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Paraguay Tourist Board, Asuncion: +595 (0)21 494 110.
Foreign Embassies in Paraguay
Although AsunciÃ³n lacks traditional tourist attractions like distinctive geographical landmarks, sandy beaches, or significant monuments, it has its own kind of charm for those on holiday in Paraguay. The downtown area is as dirty and dilapidated as you might expect of a former South American police state, with peeling colonial and beaux-arts buildings dotted with interesting museums and a few scattered monuments, and chaotic traffic belching exhaust on crowded streets.
Yet AsunciÃ³n has a lively spirit, and though its suburbs lack the old-world colonial look of the downtown area, they boast shopping malls, good restaurants, and lively nightlife, especially in the northeast towards Villa Morra.
Sightseeing in AsunciÃ³n is pleasantly accomplished on a sunny day with a walking tour of the downtown area; key sights include the Versailles-style Palacio de Gobierno the National Cathedral, the Casa Viola museum and the Botanical Gardens. The Mercado Quatro is a whole neighbourhood of market space, and is a great place to buy souvenirs in AsunciÃ³n.
The political, cultural, and economic heart of Paraguay, AsunciÃ³n is worth a visit of several days. It also makes a great base for excursions to Ciudad del Este and Iguazu Falls, which is located only 201 miles (324km) away on the border of Argentina and Brazil.
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