Before we left for South America we’d read online that you needed to apply for a visa in advance to access Paraguay but as we started on our journey through Brazil we learned that in fact the rules had changed and we could get into Paraguay with a British passport easily on arrival. So why not? Not many people know anything about Paraguay. I certainly didn’t. I couldn’t have even named the capital let alone say it: ASUNCIÓN.
So went went for it. And it turns out getting in and out of Paraguay was quite the nightmare. We checked out of our hotel in Iguazu (on the Argentinian side) at 12 noon and headed for the main bus terminal (there’s only one!). When we arrived there was already a major queue and it was SWELTERING. A bus rolled up- we’d read online you could board one of these local buses no problem without booking in advance. Anyways, so the bus rolled up and it was TINY. Everyone fought and piled to get on it was an absolute fight. There was no space for us so we were left in front of the line for the next bus to arrive. Apparently they were to arrive every hour – oh how we were wrong! We waited over 3 hours and we slowly ended up with about 30 people in front of us. We weren’t sure if they were Argentinian or Paraguayan but none of them understood the concept of queuing what so ever.
A miracle occurred and we boarded the bus and it cost just £2. We were standing and rammed between about 80 others on this probably 40 capacity bus. We checked our phones – it was 31C and 95% humidity. I was stuck next to the door which meant when it opened it smacked me in the face every time. I was grumpy and literally drowning in sweat. I watched the woman in front of me nudge her husband as sweat rolled down my forehead onto my nose and drip into my mouth. What an absolute state. Jack was on the other side of the bus and a large Argentinian man asked me 3 times if I was German. When I said no he seemed weirdly disappointed…
The bus passed through the Argentinian border where we all had to jump off to get out Argentinian exit stamps. It was a mad rush of people and it didn’t even matter if we were right at the front of the queue they let all the elderly people and families go first… we boarded back on the bus and weirdly passed back through Brazil which was pretty surreal and finally reached into Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. It was a complete assault on the senses. Ciudad Del Este is a electronics hub in South America where lots of people cross to buy knock off goods. It was dusty, dirty and Jack & I looked across from each other wondering how we were gonna get off of the bus to legally enter Paraguay… we had passed what looked like the border control already and we both broke out in an even bigger sweat. Next minute the bus pulled over I jumped off and Jack was shouting at the driver to stop so we could get our bags. Luckily Jack thought ahead and grabbed the bags just in time. So ran back to the border control who clearly couldn’t give two shits and stamped us in to Paraguay. This was my country number 40! What an entrance! We walked out the office and low and behold the bus had driven off!!! We were in such a haze and found a taxi… we had no local currency and cut a long story short we agreed a price in dollars and upon arrival 15 mins later at a hotel the driver demanded more and Jack caved in!
Ciudad Del Este was uneventful but a trip to the supermarket was very successful – it was SO cheap. 2500 PRG/ £0.30p for a can of beer. That’s just all about I can remember. We stocked up on all the things we couldn’t afford in other countries – tortilla chips, cold meats and CREAM CHEESE! Heaven.
The next day we walked to the bus station and bought tickets to Asunción on a Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion bus costing 19,000 PRG/ £12. It took about 4 hours to arrive and in what can only be described as SUB ZERO temperatures. It was one of the weirdest things in the world, they cranked the air con up so high most of the locals were wearing puffer jackets. It was the coldest we’d felt in weeks. We didn’t even have jumpers on.
As we arrived in Asunción all we could see from the top deck was roads and roads full of street markets and shops. The earth was also bright red – it was almost like being in the Middle East! The land was so green too, it honestly was such a contrast from Argentina. We checked into Giuseppe Hostel & Suites which cost 23,800 PRG/ £30 a night. The hotel was a real gem with great staff too. Highly disappointing regulated breakfast though – couldn’t even help yourself to cereal you had to be served tiny amounts which was rather bizarre.
Our first day in Asunción was a real treat. The main square Plaza Publíca Uruguaya was leafy, very clean, busy and surrounded by well kept historical buildings. People were friendly, constantly smiling and really happy to help. Such a distinct difference to what we had experienced in Argentina. We’d done a little research before getting to Paraguay and read so much about the huge wealth divide there: it was literally the case of a Mercedes Benz pulling up alongside a horse and cart at the traffic lights. To be honest we honestly didn’t experience much of this in Asunción, but I’m sure this is much more apparent in rural areas. The level of homelessness in Asunción appeared relatively low compared to many cities we’ve traveled to really, but maybe the size of the city has something to do with it?
Our first outing after arriving in Asunción was a visit to the Welsh pub named ‘Gales Bar’. We’d heard good things about the pubs in this city especially the tacky themed ones! Gales was surprisingly busy inside despite the quiet streets. The music was lively and the walls were filled high with British, Welsh & Irish memorabilia.
The real must go to Bar is in fact the Britannia pub located near Plaza Uruguaya. Apparently this place has been open for nearly 30 years and pulls in a lot of expats and locals all week long. We couldn’t believe it when we stepped in! It was pretty much a perfect replica of a British pub: complete with wood cladded walls, loads of British beers on draught and even bar stools (sounds silly but table service is everywhere in South America it’s so nice to be able to sit at a bar!) We had a great night in there and we thought it would be perfect for NYE…
We had our first meal at the Lido Bar on the Main Street in downtown. Lido Bar has been open since 1953 is always packed out with locals and a few tourists. Check out their fancy website here at: www.lidobar.com/py. As we opened the menu we couldn’t believe how cheap it was. About £3-£4 a main meal. I ordered the Chicken Milanesa supreme and Jack the Steak Milanesa. They arrived literally the size of a dinner plate: absolutely HUGE. On an average day it was enough to feed three people. We also enjoyed our first Paraguayan beer here: the Pilsen. About £3 for 1 litre. A few days later we came back to sample their empanadas which were also unbelievable in flavour.
One of the main tourist attractions sits right opposite Lido Bar. This is the National Pantheon of the heroes, a National Monument in Paraguay built in 1936. Unfortunately this was under renovation when we were there so we couldn’t visit.
The following day was New Years Eve 2017. We woke up to temperatures of 37C it was unbelievably hot we could barely function. We literally roamed around the empty streets feeling like roast potatoes in the oven. Honestly I’ve never felt heat like it. The streets on New Years Eve we’re completely dead, we decided to do some exploring towards the old central railway station which is also located near the Plaza Publíca Uruguaya. It was meant to be top rated activity on the list of things to do in Asunción but we went there most days to find it shut. We knew traveling to Asunción dying the holiday period might be quiet but to be honest nothing prepared us for how unusual New Years Eve was…
So the central railway station was shut so we thoughts we’d try the Palacio de los Lopez: the palace that serves as the workplace for the President of Paraguay, and is also the seat of the government of Paraguay. It’s a fair walk, towards the river and it just got hotter and hotter on approach. It was a success however, it was clearly the most regal building in Asunción painted pink and ornate in design. It’s a great photography spot and they even have some of those tacky letters outside you can pose in front of…
After seeing the presidential building (you can’t go inside by the way) we wandered around aimlessly. Everything was shut. We couldn’t even get anything to eat. It was late afternoon and after spending so long in other South American countries we knew that the party never starts until late. We headed back to the hotel passed some time having our daily dose of Friends. It hit about 7pm, we heard some fireworks going off outside. Maybe it was time to head out? So we got ourselves dolled up… man I even put full make up on!
So off we went… everything was STILL shut. We were so confused. We headed to a corner shop where we picked up beers and (embarrassingly) Smirnoff ices. One of those moments where we just thought let’s just drink through it see what happens… so we sat in Plaza Publíca Uruguaya and drank and drank. A family was selling fireworks on a stall beside us and they were selling a small fortune! Where were these people all having parties? So confusing. It got to about 11 and we thought right ‘let’s go back to to the hotel see if they know where to go’. When we arrived back at the hotel there was a small group of people sharing a bottle of wine. They seemed clueless and told us they thought ‘one or two’ places might be open later… LATER? HOW MUCH LATER? It all seemed so strange to us that no one was out. So we downed our drinks and headed off AGAIN. And guess what? We rung New Year 2018 in wandering the streets. Literally wandering the streets in darkness. It was so weird. the Britannia pub we had loved earlier in the week was shut. The welsh Gales pub was shut and we were even turned away by a Heineken bar that actually seemed to be open… We even came across a couple of people setting off a MASSIVE firework in the middle of a crossroads. It was so loud I screamed and ran off…
We were told that there was a pretty big club called Pirata that was located back over near the Palacio de los Lopez and that it would open at 1am. We sat outside with the street seller and waited. We’d sobered up by now and we’re just looking at each other in despair. A few people turned up and they opened the doors late at 1:30am. We walked to the front, they took one look at us and told Jack he couldn’t enter with shorts on. We literally couldn’t believe it, we were so fuming.
So it was now 1:40am and walked back downtown. Things were starting to open! What?!?! At this time? We found this bar called Arsenal and paid about £12 each to get in at 2am. You know what? It was HEAVING by 3am. The tunes were good and we got suitably drunk again after Jäger shots and beers. We even made friends with some locals who spoke the most perfect English and we ended up having not only a dance off but playing the drums on the bar stools. I dragged us both home at 6am taking a detour along the way – getting completely lost.
We woke up the next day at 2pm. Moral of the story: never go to Paraguay for New Years. Lesson learnt: people in Paraguay stay home until after New Years before they go out and celebrate. This was all new to us, but I have since learnt that this is perhaps common in many countries? Weird.
So yeah the next day was a complete write off and we ended up finding a massive TGI Fridays restaurant (who knew?) where we ate ourselves stupid. Mozzarella dippers never tasted so good!
We finally recovered for our last day in Asunción. To be honest with you it was just so hot everyday that it was hard to even go outside! We pretty much just chilled for the remainder of our time and decided to treat ourselves to a really fancy meal for our last night. We found Lo de Osvaldo restaurant: one of the best rated grill restaurants in Asunción. It’s a football themed restaurant with loads of amazing memorabilia. Apparently the owner is the former president of one of the local clubs. There’s a fabulous outside area it was very cosy & pretty romantic. We honestly had one of our best meals yet there – the smoked sirloin cap – a cut of meat we had never even tried before. This was accompanied by roasted tomatoes with pesto, whole grilled garlic and crushed potatoes. An amazing end to a very random few days in Paraguay.
If you fancy visiting Asunción there’s definitely a few bits to see that hopefully would be open out of holiday season. Either way, Paraguay is very good value for money and has some of the most delicious food and friendly people. I would recommend if you get the chance to ‘pop in’ to do so, (but maybe not for New Years!)