Overshadowed by its larger, more flashy neighbors, Paraguay is an interesting state that is overlooked by visitors who flock to the highlands of the Andes and South American destinations like Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro. For people who see nearby countries, however, the subtropical forests, wide rivers and uncommon history in Paraguay can allow it to be an interesting detour.
Encompassed by Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, this landlocked country is bigger than a glimpse at the map indicates. It is approximately the size of California but has just about 6.7 million residents, at least 3 million fewer than Los Angeles County.
Flavor the delightful error in Paraguay
The state breaks up into approximately equal halves. Most of the people lives in the eastern half, about a third of them in the riverside capital city of Asuncion. To the west, the Gran Chaco region is a mainly grassy plain, viciously hot in summer, punctuated with thorn forests and marshes, savannas. Populated with Amerindians and ranchers, the west is also speaking Mennonite colonies close to the Bolivian border.
It is tempting to say that Paraguay is unspoiled by tourists, and that would not be false visitors come from neighboring states, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the country warred with whom. Despite ups and downs since infamous dictator Alfredo Stroessner fell from power in the quarter century, Paraguay is now a more welcoming area.
In the absence of mass tourism, it is a spot where the dearth of preconceptions as well as closer contact can cause encounters that are memorable, even cozy, at sites that are underrated. Entrances from Europe or North America are a comparative novelty, to be handled with respect and politeness.
Here are 14 things to understand about this little-known state:
Habla usted Guarani?
Paraguay is the most bilingual country, as of all Paraguayans speak Spanish and indigenous Guarani in Latin America.
It’s the sole nation in the area with a sizable portion of nonindigenous citizens. There are at least a dozen other native languages, but none approaches the prevalence of Guarani.
An evolving capital
The sprawling riverside capital, Asuncion, in Paraguay is the heart of its own commercial, political and cultural life. Unlike most of the capitals in South America, it is a comparatively low rise city where shade is at a premium, except on some landscaped plazas.
It was set up in 1537, and its own grid pattern is typical of the first Spanish settlements, however there are not many remaining colonial buildings. The most famous constructions, including the shrine along with the government palace to people who perished in conflict, date from the 19th century.
The house of the authorities
The counterpart to the White House in Asuncion is the Palacio de los Lopez, a neoclassical building meant for the dynasty that ruled the nation for decades in the mid-19th century.
The Lopez family did not survive the War of the Triple Alliance, when they took on Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in a play to control the area. Still, the palace has been resided in by their political successors .
Shrine to warriors
In downtown Asuncion, shielded by means of an honor guard, the Panteon de los Heroes is a domed neoclassical shrine housing the remains of the figures who led their nation into fatal battle with nearby states.
Began before the War of the Triple Alliance, in the 1860s, it was not concluded until 1936, after the Chaco War with Bolivia. A few soldiers that are unknown are a nominal existence.
Paraguay has a rich indigenous tradition, not only from its Guarani past and current but also thanks to the varied although smaller Amerindian people from the Gran Chaco area that overlaps western Paraguay.
The Museo Etnografico Andres Barbero in Asuncion has a solid group of historical photos but in addition displays tools, ceramics and weavings from all possible areas of the state.
In its isolation, Paraguay may give the impression of provincialism, but Asuncion has a dynamic contemporary art scene showcased at many galleries along with the Museo del Barro, which shows avant garde works by Paraguayan, Spanish and other Latin American artists under optimum conditions (no simple accomplishment in this hot, humid climate).
The museum also features folk art groups from the 17th century to the present and purely indigenous artifacts from the native individuals in Paraguay.
One of the iconic crafts in Paraguay is the embroidered lace that likely arrived from the Spanish isle of Tenerife. Nanduti, the word itself, significance “spiderweb” in the Guarani language, aptly describes the weavers’ geometric patterns but not the rainbow of colours that embellish their designs.
A common conventional dish, “Paraguayan soup” is not quite what its name would imply. Instead, it is cornbread flavored with onion and cheese, among other fixings. (Check out the recipe of Eatocracy.)
Legend says its unusual moniker comes from a blunder by 19th century dictator Carlos Antonio Lopez’s cook, who by chance added a liquid lunchtime dish and excessive corn flour. Luckily for the cook, the results were enjoyed by Lopez.
Related to the common holly, cultivated on plantations through the region, mate (pronounced “mahtay”) or “Paraguayan tea” is popular with Argentines, Uruguayans and perhaps even southern Brazilians, who imbibe prodigious quantities of their preferred infusion.
Some like it hot, but Paraguayans favor it cooled in the summer heat that is suffocating. An early Jesuit missionary asserted that mate “enhances the desire, speedily counteracts the languor originating from the burning climate, and assuages both hunger and thirst.”
Historically, Latin Americans are suspicious of America and its own politicians, but Rutherford B. Hayes is a Paraguayan hero. Following the 19th century War of the Triple Alliance against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, this otherwise vague U.S. president given the Gran Chaco — now more than half of Paraguay’s land — to Asuncion instead of Buenos Aires. Both Paraguay and Argentina sent diplomats to Washington for Hayes’ binding arbitration.
Paraguayan President Candido Bareiro renamed Villa Occidental’s prior town, in Hayes’ honour, across the river from Asuncion. The encompassing county, a school (with a monument) as well as the neighborhood soccer team additionally bear his name. (In Hayes’ hometown of Delaware, Ohio, a gas station occupies the site of his birthplace).
Foundry in the forest
Southeast of Asuncion, regaining subtropical forest blankets the comparatively little but verdant and streamlined Parque Nacional Ybycui.
Ybycui offers waterfalls, creekside trails and droves of metallic blue butterflies. Howler monkeys are more difficult to see but more easy to hear. The park is additionally a historical site for the iron foundry ruined by Brazilian forces in the War of the Triple Alliance, a severe setback to the war attempt in Paraguay.
Along the easterly Rio Parana, which forms a lot of the boundary with Brazil and Argentina, 17th- and 18th century Jesuit evangelists and their Guarani converts assembled a chain of assignments that provided the history for Roland Joffe’s award winning movie “The Mission.” Best known of the group is Argentina’s San Ignacio Mini, but the Mision Jesus de Tavarangue and Mision la Santisima Trinidad de Parana, near the southern city of Encarnacion, in Paraguay are nearly equally well preserved ruins. Mision Jesus isn’t a ruin; instead, it was an incomplete building when the Jesuits were expelled by Spain in 1767 from the New World.
Near the “Triple Border” with Argentina and Brazil, not far from the famous Iguazu Falls, Ciudad del Este is a madness of consumerist business. For street bazaars that hardly leave room for one pedestrian to pass, Brazilian bargain hunters flock upon the bridge for knockoff Rolexes and so on. One local “businessman,” though, noted the regional Mercosur common market could mean that “we will no longer be capable to live by smuggling products and will need to start creating things.”
In the vastness of the Gran Chaco, about 280 miles (450 kilometers) of Asuncion via a paved highway, Filadelfia is the administrative centre of Colonia Fernheim, a settlement of pacifist Mennonites. Of the several Mennonite colonies of the region, this is actually the most sociable, particularly when German (Low German or rather Plautdietsch) is your language of brotherly love.