Surrounded by Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia, Paraguay is a country steeped in indigenous and history with the Spanish empire that goes back to the 16th century. Spanish sailors came and, eventually, intermarried with the majority Guaraní people, creating a heavily mestizo and creole culture. After it gained independence in 1811, Paraguay became a political seesaw that's slowly making its way in the modern world.
When you look at Paraguay, you see how it has been able to balance the many worlds that it embodies. From the architecture to the economy, it's a country that has learned how to use its roots to become one of the most attractive destinations for visitors. For example, tourists in the country are like welcomed guests with whom you can share a meal. Artistic expression starts from a young age and includes staples, such as embroidery and music. Then, there's the food that's a delicious treat not to be missed, especially Sopa Paraguaya, the country's national dish.
About two-and-a-half hours from the capital, Asunción, is Parque Nacional Ybycuí. It is about 12,000 acres of rolling rivers and stepped waterfalls that invite visitors to take a dip. If you're into birding, you will appreciate meeting the trogons, parakeets, and tityras along your walk. On your way to the foundry, don't be surprised if a few butterflies tag along.
The Yacyretá Dam is one built over Jasyretâ-Apipé waterfalls. It's one of the two hydroelectric power stations in Paraguay. The country runs on hydropower and manages to export close 90 percent of it to its neighbors, Brazil and Argentina. The area attracts visitors because of the lush fauna and the fishing area, which is available to those who have permits
A great way to learn about Paraguayan history is to visit the Panteón Nacional de Los Héroes in the capital, Asunción. It's a mausoleum of notable figures in the country. You can take a guided tour of the facility and, if you can stay, other visitors recommend watching the changing of the guard.
Sometimes, when you've been exploring, you need a place to sit and relax. Plaza de Armas in Encarnación used to be a venue for small football tournaments back in the early 1900s. These days, it's a simple park where you can walk around, sit under a shady tree, or enjoy the Japanese garden.
Palácio de Los López was built during the tenure of Paraguay's first president, Carlos Antonio López Ynsfrán, for his son, who would succeed him in the presidency. Just as it was about to be completed, war broke out, causing it to be damaged and looted. It's been rebuilt and has become the seat of the Paraguayan government. While stunning in the day, at night, the bright white exterior is flooded with soft reds, blues, and yellows.
Built in 1854, the Church of the Holy Trinity was the private worshiping place of the country's leader. It's a popular wedding event site that's a few hours outside of the capital, which is probably why it's not a usual tourist destination. The exterior is stately, but the interior's colorful ceiling and ornate arches make it worth the extra trip time.
The Botanical Garden and Zoo is like an oasis in the middle of the busy city. The zoo is a fascinating mixture of big cats and other local wildlife, who have plenty of habitat to roam. Toco Toucan may provide some fun for the kids, as well. The botanical garden provides a tranquil contrast to the big city bustle with a variety of nature to appreciate.
Ypacaraí Lake is less than an hour outside of Asunción, making it a great day trip or weekend getaway. During the off-season months, it's quiet, and you can appreciate the lakeside even more. From there, you can visit the nearby town, Areguá, to explore arts and crafts exhibits by local artists as well as the ancient architecture.
Saltos del Monday, pronounced "Mon-die-ee," is a dramatic 103-foot waterfall across the Friendship Bridge that connects Paraguay's Paraná River and Brazil. It's surrounded by verdant trees, as foaming rapids crash over the rocks. Visitors can hike the short trail down the falls, or they can take the elevator to the bottom. It's a picturesque location that's easy for great selfies.
While the name looks like a misspelling, this is one of the most interesting places in Paraguay. Located about five hours from Asunción, Filadelfia is the capital of the Boquerón Province and has an Old West feel to it. Paraguay is famous for its distinctive mestizo heritage, but during the 1930s, it became a refuge for Russian Mennonites of German descent fleeing Stalinism. It's worth spending a few days exploring the local culture, and maybe pick up a few words of Plautdietsch, the local language.
There are a couple of reasons to visit the city of Yaguarón. One would be to see the 17th century Church that was started by Franciscan Friar Fray Alonso de Buenaventura, which took 60 years to complete. The other would be the birthplace of the 19th-century dictator Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francisco, known as El Supremo.
Villarica is Paraguay's second most important city. Throughout its history, it's been at the epicenter of arts, science, academia, and politics, and building a reputation for its concentration of immigrants from Europe and the Middle East. It's home to Club Porvenir Guaireño, a century-old social club where many young debutantes are introduced into society. There is a healthy list of cultural and recreational institutions to visit in addition to seeing how the European traditions mingle with the Paraguayan culture.
Ciudad del Este, which borders Brazil and Argentina, is the second-largest city, and when you go, there are three sites you'll want to visit. The Itaipú Dam is a hydroelectric dam that's one of the seven modern Wonders of the World. Iguazú Falls is a mighty waterfall that is fed from the Paraná River and falls between the Argentine and Brazilian borders. Then, there are the free-trade zones where you can shop for almost anything.