Three Days in Paraguay

Asunción, Paraguay

January 13th - 16th, 2024

This is a short blog post about my three day trip to the capital of Paraguay. I flew from Montevideo to Asunción, and had a slightly embarrassing moment, when we landed in Asunción. After the seatbelt sign went off, only a few people got up and left the plane and almost everyone else stayed in their seats. I thought, maybe this plane will continue somewhere else, and everyone is staying on. So, I quickly got up, got my bag and walked to the front, only to be told that I have to go back, because they are deplaning by row here. Everyone stared at me and some people rolled their eyes at the rude foreigner who wanted to get off first, while I sheepishly walked back to my seat to sit down again, and waited for my row to be called.

I took a taxi for the short ride into the city, where I stayed in the Crown Plaza Hotel, which is a very nice hotel located in the old part of town. I walked around the neighborhood in the early evening, and it looked like quite a dodgy, fairly poor and run down area, and it was almost completely deserted with most of the shops closed and many buildings boarded up. I was hungry and I searched on Google Maps for a restaurant, and there seemed to be only one open. The menu looked nice, but it was on the second floor, so I couldn't see inside, before I entered. Turned out, I was the only guest. There was one very friendly waiter (who I suspected was also the chef). He looked a bit surprised that someone turned up on a Saturday evening, but immediately beckoned me inside and gave me a menu. It turned out to be quite a fancy restaurant, and I had some very good beef cheeks with nice wine. The whole dinner cost me a total of 17 USD, which by Paraguayan standards was probably quite expensive.

On my first full day I had a sunset and bird watching trip on the Paraguay river booked through Viator. I was picked up from my hotel, and we drove about two hours outside of Asunción, with the boat on a trailer behind us. We reached the river near the town of Limpio, and the five of us, four guests and the captian set out onto the river. We first stopped at an abandoned lighthouse, which we could climb to the top off, and had beautiful views of the wide river.

We saw many beautiful birds throughout the tour. My new telephoto zoom lens definitely turned out to be a good investment.

The river soon split into various narrow side channels, and we went through a labyrinth of narrow canals in dense jungle, encountering many interesting birds.

The only people we saw here, where a few fishermen with their nets.

We finished the trip on an island in the river, enjoying this spectacular sunset with beer and home-baked pear cake.

The next morning I had a private walking tour booked to see the old town of Asunción, which is one of the oldest cities in South America. We first stopped at the Metropolitan Cathedral, an elegant building inaugurated in 1845.

Founded in 1537, by the Spanish explorer Juan de Salazar y Espinosa, the city was established as a strategic military and religious outpost. The location was chosen for its proximity to the confluence of the Paraguay and Pilcomayo rivers, which helped to turn the city into a major trade hub. Asuncion became the center for the Spanish colonial administration in the region, and was a key base for the exploration and settlement into the southern parts of the continent.

This is the Casa de la Independencia Museum, which is housed in a colonial building dating back to 1772. The museum is really interesting, full of artifacts showing the history of the country and its struggle for independence.

Paraguay declared its independence from Spain in 1811. At that time the country was significantly larger and fairly prosperous. However, the city and the country experienced massive destruction during the Paraguayan War, also known as the Triple Alliance War (1864-1870), in which Paraguay fought against Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. More than 50% of the population was killed during the war, and Paraguay lost around a third of its territory to Argentina and Brazil. It took many decades for the country to recover gradually from the war, and it remained politically unstable throughout most of the 20th century.

In the 20th century, the country fought another significant war, the Chaco War against Bolivia in 1932 to 1935. However, Paraguay emerged victorious in this conflict, and continued to undergo rapid economic development. Today, Paraguay is a middle income country with a per capita GDP of 20k USD. It has been a democracy since 1989, after the overthrow of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who had ruled the country for 35 year.

My two days in Asunción were just enough to get a glimpse of the country, but there is certainly a lot more to see and explore. I continued my trip the next day to Bolivia.

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