South America’s Small, Land-locked Paraguay

Paraguay maté straws

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.

Slightly down at the heels, most of Paraguay looks like it’s heyday was a while ago. 📸: B.Jedlinski


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!

The dam spreads across 8 km of water
A fine looking dam, or damn fine looking? Chris at Itaipu Dam

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.

Marcelo’s AirBnB was our home away from home for 3 days!

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.

The harp is an important instrument to Paraguayans- they hold the world record for most number of harps played in one concert
Palacio del Lopez, Asunción
Museum of Sacred Art

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.