One of two landlocked countries in the entire continent of South America, Paraguay has earned itself the moniker the “Heart of South America.” Not only for its literal geographic centrality in the region, but for its passion and fervor, meaning that emotionally, too, this country sits at the heart of the history and culture of Latin America. Even though it is non-coastal, it certainly does not lack access to water, hosting the main trunk of the Paraguay River. This waterway dissects and divides the nation into two strikingly different geographical regions, both deserving exploration in their own right.
To the west is the Chaco region, a huge plain that stretches across 60 percent of the country, yet is home to only five percent of the population. It is mostly an untouched wilderness, although here you will find a curious settlement that is home to descendants of a breakaway group of German Mennonites. To the east of the river is the Paranena region, which offers a different, sub-tropical climate, and in turn different lowland forest vegetation where poking through the jungle you will reach the mighty Iguazu Falls at the edge of Paraguay, the widest cascade system in the world. A trip to the falls is well worth it for the sheer visual splendor, possible from the city of Ciudad del Este, a stone’s throw away. Many visitors like to take advantage of visiting the tri-nation area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay that surrounds the falls in a single day.
The Parana River, which is the second longest river in South America after the Amazon, flows southbound and flanks the east of Paraguay, forming the border with Brazil before swinging round and hugging the south of the country to form a border with neighboring Argentina before finally reaching the confluence with the Paraguay River. Connecting the Parana from the north, the glorious Paraguay River flows from the Pantanal, a hugely abundant natural wilderness wetland ecosystem. Meanwhile the great plains of the Gran Chaco to the west are home to more great biological diversity, including wildlife such as jaguars, howler monkeys, and tapirs. Since all of these areas are largely untouched, a trip here provides a great opportunity for any nature lover.
Paraguay also offers a rich cultural experience. Despite the fact that it was the domain of the once-mighty Spanish empire for several hundred years, it has surprisingly held onto a huge deal of its pre-Columbian culture. For example, the native tongue of the indigenous people remains in use today, and is spoken by 90 percent of the people. The country is also interesting culturally because it has attracted some curious immigrants, such as the German Mennonites who arrived in the 1930s. Visiting their community, which consists of traditional alpine architecture startlingly placed in the middle of a tropical plateau, offers a unique experience. Also, Paraguay has continued to harness further noteworthy settlers, such as the infamous Moonies, who have more recently bought huge tracts of land in the rainforest, albeit controversially.
Paraguay has had a checkered history, but despite this Paraguayans have remained proud. And they have a lot to be proud of since the country has it all: amazing nature, strong indigenous culture, and a further curious multicultural influx that has not been replicated anywhere else in the world. The honest hospitality here ranges from modernized, western style hotels in urban areas, to charmingly rustic lodgings in rural areas. There are also several ecotourism spots which provide accommodation for those seeking to be in the midst of nature. Transport around the country is sufficiently developed, consisting of an extensive bus and a limited rail network. You can also travel up and down the spine of the country by boat on the Paraguay River.
- Gawk at the amazing Iguazu Falls and step into three countries in a single day from the city of Ciudad del Este
- Track down the Alpine-style German Mennonite village in the middle of the great tropical plains
- Cruise up and down the fabulous Paraguay River and straddle both sides of the Tropic of Capricorn
- Discover the power of the largest hydro electrical plant in the world at Itaipu Dam
- Take a ride in style on the oldest railroad in South America
- Drive some of the 250-mile long Gran Chaco Highway and witness in amazement the wild expanse around you
- Go wildlife spotting in one of Paraguay’s globally important, protected natural areas
- Understand more about one of South America’s strongest remaining indigenous cultures, the Guirani