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.