Paraguay’s little-visited corner of South America is home to only 6 million people, landlocked amid the unspoiled tropics. The city streets make for an unusual assortment of the new and old, with potholes and designer suits, open-air carts turned market stalls alongside duty free electronics. Entire rural nearby villages, meanwhile, seem stuck in the Stone Age. Corruption and contraband are still a substantial part of everyday life.
Touted as the world’s cheapest capital, Asuncian has few traditional attractions, but events like the trade exhibitions (a quick way to discover Paraguayan products), mixed in with modest museums and the picturesque plaza of the National Cathedral, charm with their old world simplicity. A ‘quiet’ game of professional soccer here is cause for mass hysteria. At the other extreme, Trinidad is home to one of the world’s least visited Unesco World Heritage sites, the crumbling ruins of the Jesuits, manicured and vast, yet staunchly inaccessible.
Paraguay’s roads are an attraction in themselves, leading through dense jungle, with visitors usually traveling by clanging old banger, bumping dramatically through the bush. The Ruta Trans Chaco, leading to Bolivia, is the most notorious; a stop in the human-free National Park along the way is essential, where you can stare at a sky filled with incredible, light-pollution-free stars, and grab the briefest glance at jaguars racing through the forests. A less bone-shattering way to see the countryside is to hop aboard the Rio Paraguay on a local passenger boat, and float for hours amongst the slowly narrowing waters, watch the sun go down and join the locals at every stop off to sip terere (icy herbal yea) and bori bori (a thick regional soup).
There are plenty of surprises to be found, too. ‘Nuava Australia’, for example, is the bizarre remains of an Australian attempt to set up a Paraguayan Utopia, while Filadelfia is home to a tiny German speaking community, serving Pretzels amongst the typical Paraguayan cheese bread and cassava.
The most overwhelming paradise, though, is at Parque Nacional de Ybycui, where you can stroll amongst fluttering butterflies to dream-like tropical waterfalls. Best of all, you probably won’t spot another tourist in the whole of Paraguay, which makes it arguably the purist and least altered of South American backwaters.