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March 18th, 2014

Paraguay: a beginner's guide

Asunción is older than Buenos Aires, but it, and indeed Paraguay as a whole, has remained something of a backwater.

Top five attractions 

  • The Itaipu dam (the one that got switched off in November 2009, plunging southern Brazil into darkness) is one of the world's biggest.
  • The Jesuit Missions of Trinidad and Jesús are not touristy and are as impressive as any in Argentina.
  • The Gran Chaco, settled by Mennonites, is a vast stretch of savannah, scrub and swamp.
  • Parque Nacional Ybicuy, the last rainforest in the country, has some good hiking trails.
  • A passenger boat ride down the Río Paraguay, from Asunción to Concepción – take a rod and hook a huge dorado.

Best city 
Asunción, a capital but with the proportions of a small town and possessed of a somewhat decadent beauty; quite a large number of elegant 19th-century buildings remain, as well as imposing monuments – many of them honouring dictators. 

Souvenir to buy 
Colourful doilies called ñanduti. 

Quirky Paraguay 
Everything in Paraguay is pretty quirky, but one colourful moment in history was the founding in the late 1880s, by Elisabeth Nietzsche (sister of the philosopher) and Bernhard Foerster, of Nueva Germania, a pure Aryan community, in the Paraguayan jungle.

‘At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig’ by John Gimlette. Witty, fact-packed narrative written after extensive travels in this much-ignored nation.

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