Paraguay seems to be the forgotten country of South America! Nestled amongst its neighbors, it’s easy to overlook this fairly small nation. But Chris and I are nothing if not completionists, so we didn’t want to skip it. And since we were headed to Bolivia anyway, Paraguay was on the way.
After visiting Iguazu Falls on both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides, we wanted to give the Paraguayan side a chance. We crossed the border into Ciudad del Este, and got a taxi up to Itaipu Dam, on the Paraná River. The largest hydro-electric dam in the world (by some measures?), you can go on a free tour by showing up at their visitors center (get there before 4:30 pm!). The dam supplies 90% of Paraguay’s power, and 15% of Brazil’s. Impressive! We enjoyed our bus tour around the dam and seeing its inner workings. If you go at nighttime on the weekends, they put in a light show at the dam. Fun to watch!
From Ciudad del Este, busses leave several times a day to the capital of Paraguay, Asuncion. At the height of their summer season, it was hot and muggy there. We found a cute little AirBnB to stay in, and enjoyed the air conditioning, Netflix, and washing machine. Perched high in our sixth-floor apartment, we could look out over the leafy tree tops of Asunción and take in the city from above. Several bars and eateries dotted our neighborhood of Tacuari, just out of the central downtown area.
We did take a walking tour of downtown Asuncion, and our Guru guide gave us a good overview of the history of the area. Like a lot of South American cities, it’s hard to see what’s behind high brick walls and gated entries. Our guide took us inside several of the classic Spanish Colonial architecture style buildings and we got to find out what was inside them.
Probably the most important thing we did in Paraguay was learn how to drink maté there. In Argentina, they drink it with very hot water, but in Paraguay, they drink it with cold water and sugar. We found a maté seller in the park, and got a pitcher of cold (hopefully filtered) water and a cup of loose herbs ((Paraguayans also tend to use fresh herbs, while Argentinians settle for dried). Using their special maté straws, we sat in the Plaza de la Libertad and sipped the slightly bitter tea, just like the locals.
We could choose between taking a 3-times-a-week, 18 hour bus through Paraguay’s western Chaco (outback), and Bolivia’s eastern Chaco, or taking a bus south into Argentina for a quick visit, and then heading to Bolivia. We still had some Argentinian pesos to spend, and who doesn’t love one more steak dinner? So we hopped on an overnight Norte de Bis bus from Asuncion to Salta (via Resistencia), and spent a few more days in northwestern Argentina. You can read about that here. And then: Bolivia!
Have you visited Paraguay? What was your favorite part? I wish that we’d had time to visit the Jesuit ruins near Encarnacion, but by the time I read about them, we were already on the other side of the country.
As it is the world’s eighth largest country, it’s difficult get a trip through Argentina into just one blog post. And to add Uruguay in as well! But I will do my best to give the highlights and most pertinent information from our month here in this beautiful part of South America.
Our Antarctic cruise docked in Ushuaia on Thanksgiving Day, and after making it clear to us that yes, we really needed to leave the boat (or pony up a quick $4000 for the next sailing), we found our guesthouse and set about to getting our land legs back. We took a local bus to Tierra Del Fuego National Park and did some hiking out there ($15 US for the round trip bus tickets, and $10 US/ 3000 pesos for the entry to the park). The park borders the Straits of Magellan, with the snowy peaks of Chilean mountains visible just a few miles away. Later, we listened to the sounds of an entire town cheering as Argentina scored in the World Cup. We also visited the Western Union to get some cash (the “Blue Dollar” rate for USD is twice as good as the “official” ATM rate). Armed with – literally- fat stacks of cash, and nowhere to go but north, we took a night bus up to Calafate.
Calafate is the home to several of Patagonia’s national parks, including the Perito Moreno glacier. As our bus rolled through mile after mile of pampas, we saw plenty of rheas (a type of ostrich), guanacas (a type of camelid that looks like a llama), rabbits, sheep, and mara (long-legged relatives of the guinea pig). Calafate is a cute little town filled with great parrilladas (grills) and North Face clothing outfitters, there are endless opportunities in Calafate to get out and enjoy nature. From hiking, to boating, to horseback riding, the Argentinian side of Patagonia does not disappoint. And the long days in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer make it easier to fit it all in.
It’s nearly the same price for the public bus to the Perito Moreno National Park as it is for a tour shuttle, so we opted for Caltour to pick us up, take us the 80km to the glacier, and return us to town four hours later ($25 USD for the bus, and about $13 entry/4000 pesos). While out at the park, visitors can walk along boardwalks that face the huge glacier, waiting for a loud crack! and a chance to film the ice calving, and they can opt for a boat that gets up and close (but not too close) to the glacier at the waterline.
From Calafate we faced a choice. We could take a 24 hour bus ride along “Route 40” to the picturesque town of Bariloche, in Argentina’s Lake District, and then another 21 hour bus to Buenos Aires… or we could take a 3 hour flight. We decided on the flight.
Buenos Aires is a lively city, that barely seems to sleep. It has a very European feeling to it, in large part due to the huge numbers of Italians who migrated there during the early part of last century. The Italian heritage of the city can be felt in the high percentage of bookshops, coffee culture, pizza, and ice cream.
We wound up spending eight days in Buenos Ares and were able to experience a few different neighborhoods. We visited Boca, home to BA’s most famous soccer team, and the nearby Plaza Dorrega for a milonga (an outdoor tango show). We had a walk through the Mercado San Telmo, eating a delicious choripan (chorizo sausage on bread, with a chimichurri sauce). We took a walking tour around the Palermo area and Recoleta, and saw Eva Peron’s grave, and another walking tour that taught us about different street art movements.
For a couple of nights, we stayed in a private room at the Viajero Hostel, which was a really fun place to stay. We met some other travelers, took an empanada-making class, a tango lesson, sang in a karaoke night, and enjoyed a pizza tour of the city. Nearby, we visited the Ataneo Grand Splendid Bookstore, voted “most beautiful bookstore in the world” by National Geographic (and by me).
It’s easy to take a ferry ride to Uruguay, so when we were ready to leave Buenos Aires, we booked tickets with Bosquebus ferry ($100 USD by credit card online, or half that if paying the blue dollar rate in cash). We had time to visit the Puerto Madero nature reserve while waiting for our ferry, and then we were off to Colonia, Uruguay!
You can visit the small historic city of Colonia in just one day from Buenos Aires, but we stayed two nights and enjoyed strolling around the cobblestone streets, rhododendrons exploding everywhere, and trying out their “national” dish of chivito (a thinly cooked steak, with mozzarella, ham, tomatoes, mayonnaise and black or green olives, and commonly also bacon and fried or hard-boiled eggs, served as a sandwich in a bun). Colonia is definitely high on my list of places to see, a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires.
From Colonia we took a bus to Montevideo, where we stayed for four days. You can also take a Bosquebus straight from BA to Montevideo, but it takes longer, and if you have to choose, I suggest Colonia. The bus between the two takes about 3 hours with stops, 2 of you catch an express. We arrived at Tres Cruces bus terminal, found our hotel (it felt strange to deal with credit cards again after using cash in Argentina), and signed up for a GuruWalk walking tour.
Most of Uruguay’s 3.5 million residents live in Montevideo, but it is still not a super crowded capital city. There is plenty of shopping, the city is lined with beaches (on the Rio de la Plata, not the ocean), and there is a cute little historic center. They claim to have south Americas oldest working theater. I particularly liked their indoor port market, constructed from an old iron London train station. Our favorite experience there was when we happened upon a huge Candombe parade, featuring 25 local groups practicing their Carnival routines with drums, flags, dancers, and more. Wow! It was breathtaking.
From Montevideo, we took a six hour bus north to Salto, to visit the hot springs. Pro tip: take the public shuttle bus from Salto to Hot Springs Daymán, not a taxi! It leaves every half hour and takes just 15 minutes, and costs 50 pesos each person. We were mainly using Salto as a place to break our long journey north, but I did really like the town, and the hotel owners were incredibly kind and let us stay for a very late check out, as we had a night bus. We soaked in the thermal waters as long as we could. We crossed the border back into Argentina at Salto/Concordia, and took a night bus from Concordia north to Puerto Iguazu (13 hours, 15,000 pesos or $50 USD).
Arriving in Puerto Iguazu, the most northern city in Argentina, it was noticeable hotter and more humid than anywhere else we’d been so far. Luckily, we got a hotel with a pool, and were able to cool off in the water. The public bus runs to the Iguazu Falks National Park every thirty minutes, so it was easy to catch a bus and visit the park on our own (entry 4000 pesos/ $12 USD at the Blue Dollar rate). And… wow. It is impressive. The sheer magnitude of water forming the falls, 3 km wide and 80 meters tall, is astounding.
The following day, we took a bus over to the Brazilian side. And if I had been impressed the day before? Wow. Seeing the “Devil’s Throat” from the Brazilian side was incredible.
And with that, we’d gone from the southern-most city in Argentina to the northern-most. There’s no way to see all of this great country, but we tried our best. Now it’s on to Paraguay, and then Bolivia. Stay tuned!
(Edited 12/20 to add Salta). We wound up taking a night bus from Asuncion, Paraguay, and re-entering Argentina for a few days more days en-route to Bolivia. We arrived in Salta and spent a couple of days exploring this medium-sized city. We joined a walking tour that meets every night (Mon-Fri) at 6 pm in front of the cathedral and that helped us get oriented. Our guide also suggested dinner at El Charrua, which was probably the best steak dinner we had in Argentina. While we were in town, Salta had a free museum night, and we visited three of them. The most interesting, to me, was the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, which features three of the child sacrifices from the Incas. Both creepy and fascinating, from a sociological and archaeological perspective!
The next day was the final game of the World Cup, and of course Argentina was playing. What a game! We needed to take a bus towards Bolivia, so we watched with our bus mates and we all cheered as Argentina won. Champions of the world!! When we arrived in Humahuaca, our final city in Argentina, the entire town was gathering to celebrate.
The next day we spent a quiet day in Humahuaca. From the old town you can see the Andes mountains, and an area called “The Hills of 14 Colors”. The cobblestone streets and small buildings, along with the dark eyes and dark hair of the inhabitants were an indication that Bolivia was just a few miles away. The next day, we took a two hour bus, and arrived at the Bolivian border.