Paraguay travel guide
There’s a saying in Paraguay that people who visit always cry twice – once when they arrive and once when they leave. And you can see why emotions might run high in this lesser-travelled South American nation, whose beautiful, beguiling and baffling character is made all the more alluring by its relative obscurity.
After years in the wilderness – Paraguay has long been politically as well as geographically isolated – the country is gradually opening up to the outside world. Its tourism infrastructure remains undeveloped, but patient and pioneering travellers are rewarded for their endeavours.
Boasting an intoxicating blend of crumbling colonial cities, exotic natural wonders and indigenous tribes, visitors to Paraguay can also expect a warm welcome from the locals, who are unerringly polite, interested in outsiders and liberal with their dinner invitations (expect football chat to be on the menu).
Most travellers begin their Paraguayan adventure in the capital, Asuncion. A charming, colonial city, it’s one of South America’s more endearing capitals and is blessed with neoclassical façades, pretty piazzas and tree-lined boulevards.
It is also a place of contradictions; expensive sports cars whizz along crumbling cobbled streets, while traditional street vendors ply their trade in the shadows of modern shopping malls. Inequality is hard to ignore.
Outside the capital, Paraguay’s true beauty is revealed. The east is characterised by sweeping savannahs and dense forests, which are peppered with sleepy colonial towns barely changed since the turn of the 20th century.
Crumbling Jesuit missions and yerba maté plantations can be found in the southeast corner, while the largely unexplored northern region is blanketed by steamy marshes, shimmering lagoons and dense rainforests, which harbour exotic species such as the elusive puma.
And then there’s the wild, western region of Chaco; one of South America’s great wilderness areas, it is home for many of Paraguay’s indigenous people, who live largely traditional lives amongst a myriad of spectacular flora and fauna.
406,752 sq km (157,048 sq miles).
6,725,430 (UN estimate 2016).
16.7 per sq km.
President Horacio Cartes since 2013.
President Horacio Cartes since 2013.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Street crime like bag snatching and pick-pocketing, on public transport may occur. Many foreigners choose to use taxis in preference to public transport for security and convenience. Muggings and robberies (occasionally armed) also take place. Keep valuables, spare cash and spare credit cards in a safe place. Take care when withdrawing money from ATMs and where possible use machines that are not on the street. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or wearing expensive jewellery. Consider carrying cash and bank cards in separate pockets and only take with you the money you need at the time.
Take sensible precautions to safeguard your possessions. Keep essential items like mobile phones or wallets out of sight. Leave your passport and other valuables in a safe place.
Try to keep away from isolated or poorly lit areas at night and avoid walking in downtown Asunción, Ciudad del Este and Pedro Juan Caballero alone during nighttimes.
In recent years a small number of high profile kidnappings have occurred. Although foreigners are not routinely targeted, you should remain vigilant.
If you need to report a crime you must go to the nearest police station. You can also contact the Tourist Police in Asunción at (595 21) 446-608 or (595 21) 449-020; in Ciudad del Este
(595 61) 502-715; Encarnacion (595 71) 204-102 and in Salto del Guaira (595 46) 243-575.
A small guerrilla-style group calling itself the EPP (Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo) operates in the northern part of the Department of San Pedro and southern part of the Department of Concepción. Take extra precautions if you travel to these areas. The EPP typically targets police, military and large landowners. They steal cattle and kidnap for ransom. Their attacks can be violent, including the use of explosives and firearms. In August 2016, eight Paraguayan soldiers were killed in a suspected EPP attack in Concepción. A breakaway faction of the EPP called ACA (Asociación Campesina Armada) is involved in similar illegal activities and operates in the same areas as the EPP.
Take care when visiting public venues. Markets are often located in narrow streets and can be crowded. Safety regulations may be non-existent or poorly-enforced. Food stalls burning fuel and poor electricity standards present a constant fire risk; in 2004, a major fire at a supermarket killed 400 people and in April 2015 a fire in Mercardo de San Lorenzo destroyed 150 stalls
Groups of demonstrators may sometimes block major roads throughout the country, including international routes used by local residents and tourists, resulting in considerable delays.
You can use your UK driving licence or an International Driving Permit while in Paraguay if you are visiting as a tourist. You must have your driver’s licence, passport and entrance stamp with you while driving. If you hire a car, take out adequate insurance. Driving standards are poor and traffic accidents, particularly involving motorcycles, are frequent. Many motorcyclists drive with no crash helmets and no lights at night.
There are regular police checks nationwide, usually to check the vehicle and drivers’ documents (passport, entrance stamp, driving licence) and perform breathalyser tests. These are particularly frequent in Asunción, its neighbouring cities and the San Pedro and Concepcion Departments. Take extra care when travelling in and around these areas. Take care when travelling in the departments of Alto Parana, Concepcion, San Pedro, Amambay, Salto del Guaira, Canindeyu and the border with Bolivia where illegal cross-border activities are common.
Paraguay’s network of surfaced main roads is limited and of variable condition. Minor and rural roads remain unsurfaced and often become impassable during the rainy season and major paved roads (including in Asunción) are prone to flooding during heavy rain. Large potholes are a hazard on most roads including in Asunción. Avoid driving on country roads at night, which can be particularly hazardous.
Stop signs, traffic lights and speed limits are often ignored and road signs indicating hazards are lacking in many areas. Road signs are generally poor and can be confusing, even for local drivers.
Many taxis and most of the bus companies do not meet European standards and rarely have functioning seat belts. Road rules and etiquette of driving in Paraguay do not always match those of the UK.
The Terminal de Omnibus Asunción is the main terminal for long distance journeys. The bus station has security but you should keep a close eye on your belongings and be aware of your surroundings.
Boat trips and excursions are available on the main rivers, but many vessels don’t meet European health and safety standards. Be cautious when swimming in rivers as many have strong currents. Avoid swimming in the River Paraguay around Asunción, which is highly polluted. Seek the latest official advice before swimming in the popular tourist destination of Lake Ypacaraí, close to Asunción.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The British Embassy in Paraguay reopened in 2013. The Embassy can only provide emergency consular assistance to British nationals in Paraguay. Routine assistance and other services for British nationals are provided by the British Embassy in Buenos Aires.
For emergency consular assistance only, please contact the Consular Officer in Asunción BE-Asunción.Enquiries@fco.gov.uk during office hours. Outside of office hours, please call +595 21 614 588 or the British Embassy in Buenos Aires +54 11 4808-2200.