Years ago, we received a book called “501 Must-visit cities” as a gift. Despite sitting on the shelf amongst a row of much more specialized travel books, we’ve actually thumbed through the thing enough that it’s beginning to show a bit of wear. We go to the index and look up listings by country and just go from there. The book has essentially every major tourist icon around the world, as well as many more that even seasoned travelers may not be familiar with off the top of their head. Comprehensive is a strong word, but the book is close. As we throw together an itinerary, we often reach for that book to quickly skim and see if we’ve made any glaring omissions. Most of the stops on this trip are featured in the book. With one exception: Paraguay. Paraguay is not listed anywhere in there. Paraguay is not a part of many tourist itineraries in this region. After visiting, it makes more sense why that is.
The visa policy in Paraguay almost seems to acknowledge it’s status as an uncommon stop. It’s a place you go because you have to, not because you want to. $160 USD in cash and a separate and fairly annoying process to get a visa on arrival. That in an area where most every country allows for free, hassle-free visa on arrival.
So now that we’ve visited, what can I tell you about Paraguay, versus their more well-traveled neighbors? Well, it’s poorer. A very sketchy shanty town sits very close to the major government buildings in the capital, Asuncion. The police and military presence is a bit more prominent. Everyone was quite nice to us, and actually the security was pretty welcome in some areas. Yerbe Mate, the stimulant tea that is popular in the region, is REALLY popular in Paraguay. You will hardly ever see an adult male without one of those weird cups and metal straws either in hand, nearby, or being carried by a female companion for him. It’s clearly an addiction that transcends even heavy coffee drinkers, but in Paraguay it’s really on another level.
If I had to suggest a reason to check out Paraguay, the urban art in Asuncion might be worth it alone, especially if you enjoy a little street photography. Asuncion is gritty, but it’s probably the most interesting place we strolled around on this trip. If you’re checking off every country, obviously you’ll be there. If you’re on a trip that’s short on time, maybe you’ll skip it. Most people do, it seems. However, if you have an interest in checking out something a bit different, right in the middle of multiple major tourist destinations, Paraguay is definitely off the well worn path.