7 Reasons to Escape the Gringo Trail in Paraguay

The Cinderella of South America, Paraguay has suffered greatly at the hands of her sisters. She lacks the flamboyance of seductive Brazil or the class of stylish Argentina. Without the beautiful beaches of the former and the rich culture of the latter, there is seemingly little to offer even the most hardy of Gringos and so she sits, landlocked and ignored, hoping to be noticed.

But take some time to get to know her and you’ll find an understated charm and a laid-back friendliness that rewards exploration and a sense of adventure.

Here’s why you should consider adding Paraguay to your South America itinerary.

1) No-One Else Goes There

If you’re in search of an authentic experience away from well-worn trails then consider Paraguay, where there is barely even a path, let alone a beaten one. We only met three other travellers in our three weeks in the country. You’ll have UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad and Jesus to yourself; find friendly locals who aren’t jaded by a constant stream of backpackers; and discover little known gems like Laguna Blanca: a quiet lake with white beaches and crystal clear Caribbean-style waters.

2) It’s Easy to Get Off the Gringo Trail

Getting to those elusive, less-visited spots in South America usually involves long, uncomfortable and dusty bus rides. But Paraguay is only one hour away from Iguaz˙ Falls: one of the most popular destinations on the continent. From the border town of Ciudad del Este you need only hop on a bus to, well, anywhere in the country and in a few hours you’ll be far away from the tourists and touts of the Gringo Trail.

And once you’re in, moving around is easy. Paraguay isn’t a big country if you don’t include the vast wilderness of the Chaco, and most of the population centres are concentrated in the South East so there are no 18 hour bus rides to suffer. Our longest journey was seven hours, and most of the time it only took a few hours between places we visited.

3) It’s Muy Tranquilo

Paraguay is a place to enjoy the simple pleasures, like spending an afternoon in a sunny spot in one of the many plazas and enjoying a tererÈ (cold herbal tea) with the locals. There is no hassle or touts trying to sell you things, only the slow, relaxed pace of life that is all too easy to fall into.

4) Practice Your Spanish

It’s difficult to improve your Spanish when you are staying in hostels filled with English speaking backpackers, and the locals insist on speaking English to you. In Paraguay things are different: practically no-one speaks English so you are forced to speak Spanish. The welcoming locals are really curious about foreigners and keen to get to know you, and they honestly don’t care if your Spanish isn’t perfect.

5) Crazy History

Paraguay is great for history buffs, especially if you like your historic sites without souvenir stands and tour buses. The Jesuits were a big part of Paraguayan history and there are many ruins and museums you can visit in the south of the country.

I recommend reading At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig by John Gimlette before you visit to get a greater understanding of Paraguay’s tumultuous and often bizarre history. Did President Lopez really carry his sisters around in a box during the War of the Triple Alliance?!

6) The Alternative Pantanal

The tropical wetland of the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland and a popular destination in Brazil for wildlife watching. Not many people know that the Pantanal also crosses Paraguay’s border, but receives far fewer visitors. For a real adventure hang your hammock on the Aquidaban cargo boat for the three day trip from Concepcion to Bahia Negra, where you’ll find pure wilderness teeming with bird and animal life.

Even if you don’t make it that far, Paraguay is a renowned bird watching destination and there are plenty of National Parks to enjoy.

7) The People

While there are wildlife reserves, historic ruins and museums to visit, the real attraction of Paraguay is the people. Our best memories are of couchsurfing in a small town where we met the locals and were taken to festivals to see crazy activities like fireball: literally football with a flaming ball. You won’t find experiences like these in any guidebook, and that’s what makes Paraguay unique.

For more information on planning a trip to Paraguay see our Practical Guide to Paraguay Part 1 and 2.

Erin McNeaney and her partner Simon sold everything and left the UK in March 2010 to travel forever. They are currently exploring South America and writing about their travels at Never Ending Voyage. You can also follow their journey on Twitter or Facebook.

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21 thoughts on “7 Reasons to Escape the Gringo Trail in Paraguay”

  1. I lived there for 2 years. Everything stated in the article is true. I don’t think I have ever met a better people in general!

  2. I really like this post. Myself and three friend are going to South America in feb and we were unsure about Paraguay.

    After this though I think we will be definitely going there. Thanks for the post!

  3. This is exactly the type of article I have been looking for. I live in Argentina now and I have already seen Iguazu, parts of Uruguay and Chile. I’m interested in some less popular more authentic places but I wasn’t sure how to approach Paraguay because Asuncion is certainly not known for being a great place to visit. I am book marking this and hopefully will put it to use when I get some vacation time.

  4. awesome! thanks for sharing. It’s always nice to hear about places that have yet to meet the mad rush of tourists. I agree with Andi above—show us beach pics!

    1. Unfortunately we didn’t actually make it to the beach place, as it was winter when we were there and we were told it wasn’t worth going. Google Laguna Blanca though – it does look amazing and very off the beaten track.

  5. Paraguay is one of the few countries that I haven’t been to in South America. I really didn’t want to pay their steep visa fees to go there for a few days. I opted to just not go instead.

    Great ideas though, hopefully I’ll be back in South America one day and get off the gringo trail a bit.

    1. It is a bit annoying for Americans having to get a visa. Luckily as Brits we didn’t need one. In fact the bus didn’t even stop at immigration in Ciudad del Este – we had to walk back and find it to get out passports stamped.

  6. I had a wonderful couple of weeks in Paraguay last year – the highlights included a muddy open-air Hawaiian party attended by over 10,000 people, having a pigs head barbecued in my honour and asking somebody which bus to take and ending up having lunch at the bus drivers house before leaving.

    The only caveat to the above tips is that yes, the bus rides are shorter but you may well find yourself standing for the duration. However, overall, a great place.

  7. Great post. I lived in Ecuador for a while and have been to a few countries in SA, but never to Paraguay…and I’ve always wondered about. I love the idea of getting off the Gringo Trail.

    Will keep your tips in mind if I return to SA and definitely consider putting Paraguay on my itinerary. Thanks!

  8. I’m sold. Reason number 1 is huge I’ve found, but the others are great as well. What the hell are those oversized guinea pigs called? That’s reason #8 right there. Thanks for shedding light on what sounds like a great place to visit. B well, Phil

    1. The big guinea pigs are called capybara and they are indeed a good reason to visit. The Granja El Roble farm near Concepcion has a pet one which was very cute.

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