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Paraguay seems to be the forgotten nation of South America. For years, it was closed to tourism while the country suffered under the terrible dictator Alfred Stroessner, but today, Paraguay is politically stable and Paraguayans are among the friendliest and most open people you could hope to encounter. Though it isn’t always included on travellers’ itineraries, Paraguay offers a chance to immerse yourself in a culture distinct to that of surrounding countries, and a chance to truly feel like one of the only foreigners around.

Often referred to as “the heart of South America,” Paraguay is a tiny country, about the size of California, landlocked between Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. Bolivia and northern Paraguay share the Chaco desert, a sparsely populated, hot and dry area, measuring 647,500 square kilometres. In the east, the Paraná River divides Brazil and Paraguay.

An incredibly diverse set of people call Paraguay home. Spanish settlers married native Guaraní brides from the 1500s; German utopians came at the end of the 1800s to start a new society; Mennonites founded farms in 1900s: and former Nazis hid out after World War II. Along with Spanish, the native language of Guaraní is still widely spoken.

In the 1600s, Jesuit missionaries came to Paraguay and built massive churches and towns that housed thousands of natives. The remains of these structures are still preserved today.

For travellers, Paraguay offers unparalleled independent adventure travel. An overnight river trip down the Paraguay River on a cargo boat is an excellent way to view wildlife and experience Paraguayan river life. If you prefer the land, head to the arid Chaco, one of South America’s last great wildernesses, for jaguar spotting. Small towns are dotted with colonial buildings, inexpensive hotels and restaurants, and numerous parks perfect for drinking the national beverage, tereré, outdoors with the locals.

Getting to and from Paraguay

No airlines fly directly from the US to Paraguay, and there are very few from Europe (Air Europa flies from Madrid to Asunción). The best bet is to fly to Buenos Aires and take a TAM flight into Asunción. Europeans will probably have a stopover in Brazil. From other countries in South America there are numerous daily flights into both Asunción or Ciudad del Este.

To and From the Airport has the rundown on getting you from the airport to the city. Frequent Flyer Masters learn to earn their miles fast, and get free flights around the world.

Many comfortable and affordable bus lines make the 18-hour journey by road from Buenos Aires; you’ll have to disembark to pass through customs and have your passport stamped. Be sure your passport is actually stamped or you’ll run into trouble on your way out. Crossing into Paraguay via Bolivia is difficult due to road conditions and you’ll find yourself in a very remote section of the Chaco desert.

Visas for Paraguay

No matter what you might read about being able to bribe officials at the Paraguayan border, a tourist visa is required for all US, New Zealand, Australian and Canadian citizens, and can be obtained in your home country or in South America. For US citizens, a visa obtained in the US is valid for 90 days, and a visa good for the entire life of your passport is available from the Paraguayan embassy in Buenos Aires and can be obtained in 24 hours. You can also get a visa from the Paraguay consulate in Foz do Iguaçu if entering from Brazil; it’s a same-day service if you get in early enough.

If flying into Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in Paraguay, citizens of the US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada can get a visa on arrival. Visas cost between US$135 and $160, depending on nationality.

Europeans do not need a visa to enter Paraguay.

Paraguay travel resources

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This page by Megan Wood.