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In Part 1 of our Paraguay guide we shared our experiences of travelling to Ciudad del Este, Encarnacion, Trinidad Jesuit Ruins and Parque Nacional San Rafael. In this post we continue our journey through this little visited country and share what we learned along the way.
San Ignacio is a small town located between Encarnacion and Asuncion. We stopped to visit the Jesuit museum and to relax at the San Ignacio Country Club. There’s not much to see in the town but it’s pleasant to wander around and enjoy being the only tourists. After asking directions four times we finally found the Jesuit musuem in a beautiful old building. Needless to say we were the only visitors but a guide came along to show us around. Religious artefacts aren’t really our thing but, like at the Trinidad ruins, having the place to ourselves added to the attraction.
How to get here: Most buses between Encarnacion and Asuncion stop here. It took about 2 hours from Encarnacion.
Where to stay: San Ignacio Country Club is a rural hotel just off Ruta 1 between Encarnacion and Asuncion. It’s at the turn off
for Santa Maria (where you can visit another Jesuit museum) 3 or 4 km outside of San Ignacio. We paid 250,000 G (US$52) per night for the both of us including all meals. Again we were the only people staying here (it gets busier in summer) and we had all the facilities of this lovely resort to ourselves.
The thatched roof bungalows are comfortable and there’s wifi (unusual for rural Paraguay), a swimming pool, tennis court, table tennis, pool table, open fireplace and extensive grounds to relax in. This isn’t some anonymous resort though – it’s very much a family run place with an informal vibe. Gustavo the owner is extremely friendly and welcoming and his wife Ana María cooks delicious home-cooked meals. You’ll meet their sons and the various family animals – ponies, sheep and hens that wander around the grounds.
Where to eat: San Ignacio Country Club provide good home-cooked meals.
San Juan Bautista
San Juan Bautista is another small town on the route between Encarnacion and Asuncion just an hour north of San Ignacio. There aren’t any tourist sites but it’s an attractive place to wander and meet the locals. We had an excellent first couchsurfing experience here and enjoyed some of the festivities during June’s San Juan Festival – fire ball (yes, football with a blazing ball) was a highlight.
How to get here: Most buses between Encarnacion and Asuncion stop here.
Where to stay: We couchsurfed but there are some cheap hotels.
Where to eat: If there are local festivals taking place you’ll be able to try traditional food. If not the options seem to be junk food (hotdogs etc) so we self-catered.
Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital is a rather strange place. We arrived at 7pm on a Sunday night and the streets in the centre of the city were deserted – we heard this is because most people live out in the suburbs.
This creates an awkward divide in the city. The centre has most of the historic sites and museums but to visit the best restaurants (or big shopping centres) you have to head to the suburbs. After figuring out the bus routes and driving for at least 40 minutes through the traffic you are dropped off in a soulless world of shopping malls and busy dual carriageways – definitely not pedestrian friendly.
We never really warmed to the city although it was fun to visit the crazy Mercado 4 – a den of market stalls selling mounds of fruit and vegetables, clothes, electronics and anything else you might need. We had been assured by our Peace Corps friends that it had the cheapest prices in town. It was a world away from the sterilised shopping malls of the suburbs.
How to get here: It’s the transport hub of the country so you can get buses from practically everywhere.
Make sure you pick up a city map at the tourist office near the main square and ask about bus routes – it’ll help you find your way around the suburbs.
Where to stay: We stayed at Hotel La Espanola for 100,00 G (US$20) a night. The room was comfortable and the water hot but the lack of natural light and terrible breakfasts were a bit depressing. Alternatively Black Cat is the only hostel in the country and has good reviews but only has dorm beds.
Where to eat: For Mexican cravings head to Hacienda Las Palomas (Senador Long 644) near Shopping Mariscal Lopez and follow it up with gorgeous ice-cream at nearby Heladería 4D (Avenida San Martin y Andrade) – both in the Villa Mora suburb.
We also had decent empanadas, salads and sandwiches at Bolsi (Estrella y Juan Batista Alberdi) in the centre of town near Plaza de los Héroes.
Granja El Roble
From Asuncion we headed north on a seven hour bus trip to Concepción. The trip takes you through the bleak Chaco region so I found the scenery less pretty than the green countryside of the south. The second part of the journey is very bumpy as work is being done on the road.
In Concepción we arrived too late to take the bus to Granja El Roble so we turned down a ride in one of the many horse and carts and opted for a taxi for the 16 km journey. El Roble is a farm run by German Peter who has lived in Paraguay for 20 years and his Paraguayan wife Andresa with their three children.
A simple wooden hut cost us 200,000 G (US$40) per night including all meals. At this relaxed place you eat your meals with the family and can do as much or as little as you like. It’s a working farm with hens, pigs and cows as well as the family pets – a capybara, monkey and puppy.
The wildlife reminds you that you are in the middle of nowhere – we shared our hut with numerous small frogs in the bathroom, a possum in the thatched roof, the occasional large ant, a large spider and many baby spiders, a big black beetle and too many mosquitoes.
How to get here: The bus from Asuncion to Concepción takes 5-7 hours. If you get there before midday during the week you can catch a lift with Peter, or take the bus towards Belen before 4 pm or pay 100,000 G for a taxi.
Other Places to Visit in Paraguay
The boat wasn’t running when we were in Concepción but an adventurous option would be to take the three day journey on a cargo boat up to Bahia Negra to visit the Paraguayan Patanal where you can see lots of wildlife without the tourists that you get on the Brazilian side. Read about Uncornered Market´s trip on part of this river journey to know what you are letting yourself in for.
Another option in the summer would be to visit Laguna Blanca. The white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of this lake look more like the Caribbean than land-locked Paraguay, and you can rent kayaks or horses, relax on the beach or go birdwatching.
There is no dedicated guidebook to Paraguay but you will find short chapters on it in the Rough Guide to South America On A Budget or Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring. Update: Natalia from Discovering Paraguay has now written a guidebook to Paraguay.
You can also read about Uncornered Market’s experiences in Paraguay.
If you are visiting Paraguay we highly recommend that you read At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig by John Gimlette – part history and part travelogue it’s a fascinating insight into the country’s crazy past. For a lighter read I also enjoyed The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck about the infamous Eliza Lynch, an Irish woman who became the mistress of Paraguay’s President Lopez.
Summers are hot and the best time to visit the lakes, but we visited in the winter. It was mostly sunny during the day with temperatures in the low 20s celsius. It gets warmer as you go north and Concepcion was hot during the day. Winter nights are cold everywhere – about 10 degrees celsius, but it feels colder as nowhere has heating.
We ended up spending an average of £36 a day for the both of us during our three weeks in Paraguay. It wasn’t as cheap as we expected – not much cheaper than Argentina. Next month we’ll be sharing a full breakdown of our spending during five months in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.