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An air of mystery hangs over this little-visited pocket of South America, a country of farmland, forest and folklore. Landlocked Paraguay has had a strange history of charismatic leaders, steadfastness and isolation.

Outside the capital, Asunción, head to the south where the remains of Mission settlements built by Jesuits in the 18th century lie among lush, tropical forest near the banks of the Río Paraná. The Chaco – a vast, cross-border plain extending into Argentina and Bolivia – is inhabited by a handful of Mennonite communities, indigenous peoples and the odd military outpost.

But where the people are few, the wildlife is plentiful – cross the marshes and the thorny wilderness where jaguar, puma and tapir prowl and the trees are filled with a wealth of twittering, glittering birdlife.

Wherever you roam in Paraguay, you need to try maté (a tea-like drink) – the locals love it even more than the British love a cuppa. Drinking maté is such a way of life here that it is not unusual to see a leather-clad biker speeding on his mean machine, Thermos under one arm, maté gourd in hand, pouring as he rides.

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Paraguay might lack the well-known sights of South America’s big hitters. However, Chris Moss finds an unmissable and forgotten world amid the Chaco’s wetlands and wildlife
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Wanderlust recommends

  1. Visit a Mennonite farm in the little-visited scrublands of the Chaco – home to puma, jaguar and myriad bird species
  2. Share a gourd of maté with the locals – anywhere, anytime
  3. Tour the Itaipú Dam, largest in the Americas – it’s free on the Paraguayan side, and you could include a visit to the Monday Falls near Ciudad del Este
  4. Go bargain hunting in Asunción
  5. Float along the Río Paraguay, dropping a line to fish for piranha
  6. Play cowboy with the working estancieros on a ranch

Go steady with public displays of affection – Paraguay is quite conservative. Avoid buying souvenirs made from wood or endangered species. Public toilets are rare in Paraguay so make use of them when you see them.

Latest Paraguay articles

Spanish, Guaraní
5.6 million
Int. dial code
Time zone
GMT-4 (GMT-3 October to March)
230 V
Guarani (G). Credit cards and travellers cheques are accepted but rarely outside of Asunción. ATMs are not common in smaller towns. Changing larger notes can be tricky so hang onto small notes and change: you’ll need them.
Paraguay travel advice
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

When to go

May to September is the Paraguayan winter, with warm, dry days and cooler nights. It’s the best time to see the Chaco: roads are passable and the countryside is greener. There are also fewer mosquitoes and the pink flamingos start to arrive.

International airports

Asunción Airport (ASU) is 9km from the city.

Getting around

Roads are generally good (although not in the north Chaco). Bus travel is inexpensive, with numerous companies plying the main routes from Asunción’s Terminal de Omnibus. Regular passenger boats serve the River Paraguay.


Plenty of clean, comfy guesthouses and hostels are to be found, especially in Asunción, although many of them have seen better days. In the Chaco, accommodation is harder to find: ask around. Carrying your own mosquito net in Paraguay is a good idea. Camping facilities are few and far between but ask nicely and most places will let you pitch your tent.

Food & drink

Besides the ubiquitous chipa (maize bread with filling), Paraguayan beef is premium quality and all-you-can-eat barbecues are common and cheap, served with local favourites such as sopa paraguaya (maize bake with onions and cheese), filled pasty-like empanadas (patties), palmitos (palm hearts) and boiled yucca. When bored of maté, try caña (cane spirit) and the German-style pilsners such as Brahma and Baviera.

Health & safety

Paraguay is one of Latin America’s safest countries for travellers, but take care in downtown Asunción late at night and avoid demonstrations. Ciudad del Este, on the border with Brazil, has a high crime rate: it’s inadvisable to stay there overnight. There’s a low risk of malaria in Paraguay, but take plenty of insect repellent as dengue infected mosquitoes are found. Consult your GP or travel clinic before you to ensure you have the right jabs and malaria prophylaxis, if necessary.