The Top 15 Things to Do in Paraguay

The waterfall "Salto Pai" in the Colonia Independencia in Paraguay.

Jan-Schneckenhaus / Getty Images

Wildlife watching, wilderness expeditions, exploring ruins, racing fast cars, and eating cheesy snacks are just a few Paraguayan pastimes. Venture into the Chaco to see tapirs and Mennonite settlements. Climb through waterfalls or former Jesuit reducciones. Go glamping in giant wine barrels, see a jazz show at a cultural center, or sip terere beneath the afternoon sun. While its cities offer soccer games and handicraft classes, seek out the wilder side of Paraguay, whether its tracking howler monkeys through the woods or chugging down the Rio Paraguay on a cargo ship, to begin to understand the many complex pieces that make up small South American nation.

01 of 15

Eat Chipa Asador

Chipa Cabure or Chipa Kavure - cheese bread made of cassava flour baked over coal
Marcelo Castier / Getty Images

Chipa asador (grilled chipa) can be purchased at weekend markets throughout the country. Hotter and with a stronger cheesy flavor than other chipas (a cheese-flavored baked roll), chipa asador is made from a dough of cassava starch, cheese, fat, eggs, anise, and salt. Kneaded together then wrapped around a large stick, the dough cooks to a golden brown, after which the chipa chef slides it into the eager hands of market-goers. Chipa, more commonly seen in a ball or oversized bagel-shape, originally comes from the Guaraní people. Though chipa sellers proliferate Paraguay’s buses and street corners with this chewy bread, chipa asador (also known as chipa caburé or chipa kavuré) will be far fresher and more addicting than other variations.

02 of 15

See Giants in the Green Hell

Giant Otter poking its head out of water

Photocech / Getty Images

The Chaco Boreal, also called el Inferno Verde (the Green Hell), stretches from the Rio Paraguay at the country’s western border to the Rio Pilcomayo in the west, claiming the northernmost part of Paraguay. A land of high temperatures (reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit/38 degrees Celsius), stealthy jaguars, giant animals, snakes aplenty, and low mountains, the Chaco Boreal is wild and remote.

Lodging is sparse, but outside of Bahia Negra, you make an arrangement with Three Giants Lodge to take a boat and stay a few days at their biological station. Hike the surrounding trails to see namesakes of the lodge: the Giant Otter, Giant Anteater, and Giant Armadillo. You can also go piranha fishing, spot jaguars, and rent a boat to explore the river's algae-blackened waters.

03 of 15

Explore Jesuit Ruins

Jesuit mission Ruins in Trinidad, Paraguay
luq1 / Getty Images

Paraguay has some of the least-visited UNESCO World Heritage sites on the planet: the Jesuit ruins at Trinidad and Jesús. These former missions attached to reducciones (settlements) date back to the 17th and 18th centuries when Jesuit missionaries came to proselytized the Guaraní. Unlike the approaches of other missions, the Jesuits encouraged Guaraní traditions in the reducciones and protected the Guaraní from being forced into the encomienda (a type of slave trade). You can hire a guide, but it’s easy to walk through courtyards and buildings on your own. The two missions, located about 6 miles apart, can be found outside of Encarnación, easily reachable by public buses.

04 of 15

Watch One of the World's Toughest Races

Car in in the Transchaco Rally

Courtesy of the Transchaco Rally

A three-day motorsport extravaganza, the Transchaco Rally careens across grueling terrain in the Paraguayan Chaco. Cars like Ford Fiesta R5s and Toyota Corolla WRCs speed over 1,242 miles of routes in three stages. Partially routed along old roads from the Chaco War, the race has a "Mad Max" feel to it, accentuated by the dusty plumes billowing from cars speeding across the Chaco plains.

Held since 1971, it’s not uncommon for drivers to clear parts of their own path using the cages around the car, engines roaring as they burst through dry brush. To see it, stay in the city of Mariscal Estigarribia. Book accommodation early, as it’s the largest motorsport race in Paraguay, only surpassed in popularity by major soccer games.

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05 of 15

Cross Friendship Bridge to Iguzau Falls

Impressive Iguacu falls landscape, blurred motion from long exposure at dramatic sunset - Idyllic Devil's Throat - international border of Brazilian Foz do Iguacu, Parana, Argentina Puerto Iguazu, Misiones and Paraguay - South America
agustavop / Getty Images

Iguazu Falls, made up of 275 individual falls crashing along the border between Brazil and Argentina, is only a bridge walk and two short bus rides away from Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este. From Cuidad del Este, falls seekers can walk across Friendship Bridge without having to stop for a passport stamp (as long as they stay within 18 miles on the other side of the bridge). Sure, visiting one of the seven natural wonders of the world is worth the day trip, but the experience of entering another country on your own two feet without a stamp will be just as memorable.

06 of 15

Cheer at a Soccer Game

two professional soccer players colliding on a wet field
Luis Vera / Getty Images

Seeing a soccer game, the favorite sport of the nation, will be one of the most Paraguayan things you can do during your stay. While you might get lucky and find tickets to a Copa de Libertadores game (the season runs from January to November), it’s far easier to attend a league game.

One of the most popular teams in the nation, Club Cerro Porteño, calls the Estadio General Pablo Rojas Stadium home. Known as “La Olla,” the stadium seats 45,000 spectators and tickets can be purchased a few blocks away from the stadium doors (be sure to ask your hotel staff where they recommend getting them).

07 of 15

Cruise the Backcountry via Cargo Ship

Roseate Spoonbill
MattCuda / Getty Images

As the lifeforce of capybaras, caimans, spoonbills, macaws, and monkeys, the Rio Paraguay provides ample wildlife viewing and long-lasting sunsets. To travel the river, buy a ticket for the Aquidaban, a cargo boat supplying small villages and indigenous communities along the river with food, motorbikes, mattresses, or whatever else is needed. You can sleep on the benches, rent or bring a hammock, or book a cabin with basic amenities.

Be sure to check out the unloading/loading process at some of the ports, it's an amazing organized chaos. Other passengers will probably be curious about you (few tourists go on the boat), making the trip an opportunity to get to know local people. While you can hop off anywhere along the route, Bahia Negra is the final stop and takes 3.5 days to reach.

08 of 15

Weave Nanduti

Paraguayan woman working on an intricate ñandutí lace pattern
FlickrVision / Getty Images

Learn to weave Ñandutí, the embroidered lace made by Paraguay’s mestizos and indigenous Guaraní people. Each year, about 18 miles from Asuncion, the city of Itagua hosts the Festival Nacional del Ñandutí. Here artisans teach visitors to make the lace, as well as sell traditional Paraguayan clothing and decorations incorporating ñandutí. Reminiscent of a patchwork of colorful spiderwebs, legend has it that the first ñandutí ever made was based on a woman copying the movements of a spider to make her lovesick son a cape. When you begin making the lace, don’t expect to finish that day, as Ñandutí takes a while to complete. Sometimes experienced weavers need 15 days to finish larger pieces.

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09 of 15

Frolic in Waterfalls

Small waterfall trickling over rocks into a pool of water in Paraguay

Jan-Schneckenhaus / Getty Images

A country full of waterfalls, Paraguay contains both remote and easy to access cascades. Only a 6.5-mile hike away from Independencia, camp underneath Salto Suiza to enjoy early morning swims and rappelling through the falls. Outside Cuidad del Este, zipline next to Saltos del Monday for a bird’s-eye view, or opt for an impressive (and free) vantage point just a short walk up the road from Parque Adventura Monday. About 40 miles from Villarrica, walk on the nature path alongside Salto Cristal, and inhale the lily-scented air. Finally, climb the stepped stone of Salto Ita Kamby near the Reserva Natural del Bosque Mbaracayu.

10 of 15

Sip Terere

pitcher of pale yellow terere with a curved glass, bowl of ice, and a slice lime all on a table
RHJ / Getty Images

Terere is the secret to surviving the heat in Paraguay. The drink is made of cold mate (highly caffeinated tea) sometimes combined with medicinal herbs or juice. Served in a gourd with a bombilla (filtered straw), it’s a communal beverage, usually shared amongst friends. Dating back to Pre-Colombian times in Paraguay, the Guaraní drank terere for centuries for refreshment, as well as its healing properties. Terere, an onomatopoeia of the sound produced from the final slurp of the cold tea going up the bombilla, can be sampled by asking a Paraguayan to share theirs. Make sure to finish the whole glass when offered though, as it’s rude to just take a sip.

11 of 15

Track Howler Monkeys in San Rafael

howler monkey in a tree
Pierronimo / Getty Images

San Rafael Reserve’s a strange place. Other than declaring the 282 square mile area a reserve, the government has not supported conservation efforts of preserving its endangered Atlantic Forest ecosystem. One of the main conservation entities in the area, Procosara, works to preserve large swaths of the forest of which only 7 percent remains.

Procosara also hosts scientific research groups conducting research, and you can volunteer with them via one of their partner organizations, Para la Tierra. You might find yourself waking up at 3 a.m. to track howler monkeys through the woods, then jumping into the onsite reservoir to cool off afterwards. For those curious about the work, it’s possible to stay onsite without volunteering by contacting Procosara directly. Alternatives to tracking monkeys include hiking the short trails through the Atlantic Forest and fruit picking.

12 of 15

Meet the Mennonites

street sign in mixed German and Spanish language in front of a house of the pioneer's time, Mennonite colony, Filadelfia, Fernheim, Gran Chaco, Paraguay
Thomas Vinke / Getty Images

In the 1900s, Russian Mennonites fled Stalin’s rule, moved to Canada, then left for the Paraguayan Chaco. In a land previously only inhabited by indigenous groups, the Mennonites began to farm, teasing a booming dairy industry and beef production from the rough terrain. To experience their settlements firsthand, go to the towns of Filadelfia or Lomo Plata. Here most everyone wears wide-brimmed white hats and many speak to each other in low or high German. Buy handicrafts or barter for dairy products at Cooperativa Fernheim. Learn Mennonite's history by visiting the tiny museums, or use the city as a base for an adventure into the wild Chaco.

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13 of 15

Float Past Giant Lily Pads

Aerial view of lily pads in Cerro Lagoon

Juan Carlos Meza / Getty Images

Float through a world of giant lily pads in the Cerro Lagoon of Piquete Cue, just 16 miles north of Asuncion. The giant green discs measure 5 to 8 feet across and have 8-inch high rims. Hire a canoe to take you through this floating forest or admire them from the dock, both prime spots for taking pictures. Extremely resilient, the lilies were declared endangered only to resurface in force in 2018. Recently, the water of their natural habit turned a putrid lilac due to chemical pollution by a local tannery. After local and international outcry (partially due to the efforts of Leonardo di Caprio) the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Paraguay made the tannery stop their pollutive practices and the lilies once again have flourished.

14 of 15

Go Glamping

Giant wine barrels-turne-hotel-rooms at Parque Ecologico Salto Suiza

Courtesy of Parque Ecologico Salto Suiza

For those wanting nature plus stylish comfort, Paraguay offers a few glamping options. Stay in a giant wine barrel by a waterfall at Salto Suiza Parque Ecologico. Waterproof and outfitted with a comfy bed and a giant window, relax in the air-conditioning after zip lining by the waterfall. In San Bernadino, sleep in an eco dome and birdwatch at Bioparque Yrupe or go to nearby Tava Glamping Cerro stay in cabins with views of Ypacarai Lake and swim in the infinity pool facing the forest. Over in Caacupe, Reset Glamping offers a jacuzzi, campfire, easy access to Cerro Kavaju, and air-conditioned treehouses.

15 of 15

Visit a Cultural Center

Jazz show at a centro cultural in Paraguay

Courtesy of Dracena Cultural Center

Bastions of art, language, immigrant culture, and freedom of expression, cultural centers throughout Paraguay showcase plays, concerts, dances, and talks dealing with niche, as well as larger facets of culture. Known as espacios culturales in Spanish, find them in towns and cities. Each will be unique in its offerings and its focus (many times with free events). In Asuncion, check out Centro Cultural Manzana de la Rivera. Made up of restored colonial and neoclassical buildings, it houses a library and has regularly scheduled theater productions. For tasty, decently-priced food and live jazz, head to Dracena. In the small town of Paso Guembe, the Centro Chino holds a yearly watermelon festival in January.