Margaret Hebblethwaite tells the legend behind Iguazú Falls and how they came to be.Read more...
Paraguay - Travel and visas
Visitors from most EU countries (including the UK) do not require visas, but they are required for visitors from most African and Middle Eastern countries, and some Asian countries including India and China. Nationals of Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Taiwan need to buy what is called a visa de arribo when they arrive at passport control: the price is currently US$135–160, depending on the country of origin. Check with your local Paraguayan embassy or download the Guía para el Turista que visita Paraguay from www.senatur.gov.py.
Do not forget that you will probably be going to the Iguazú Falls, which are just outside the Paraguayan boundary, so you need to think about Argentina and Brazil as well. Argentina does not require a visa for visitors from most EU countries (including the UK), Russia, Australia, Canada, the USA or most of South America. However, US citizens have to pay a ‘reciprocity fee’ online before they arrive at the Argentinian border (currently US$160); this allows multiple visits for ten years or until your passport expires.
Brazil does not require a visa for visitors from most EU countries (including the UK) and Canada. Be sure to check with the Paraguayan Embassy in your country before departure. A normal tourist stamp when you enter the country will last for 90 days. If you want to spend longer than this in Paraguay, you can renew the stamp once for a further 90 days quite easily by going to Migraciones in Asunción and paying a fee (currently Gs403,010, or approximately US$70). There is no problem about doing this: Paraguay likes to have foreigners in the country who bring in money, and likes to collect fees from them, but they may ask you to come back the next day to collect your passport, which could be a nuisance if you are not staying in Asunción.
Alternatively, you can over-run your time and pay a small fine when you leave the country (currently Gs210,468, or approximately US$50, so this is the cheaper alternative, illogically). A third option is to make a short trip over the frontier and get a new stamp (but if you go to the Iguazú Falls make sure they actually do stamp your passport, as they will prefer to wave you through without doing so, and then you will be fined on departure from Paraguay).
Paraguay is a cheap country to holiday in, but is not a cheap destination to fly to, because there are no direct intercontinental flights. People usually change in São Paulo. Buenos Aires is also an option for changing, particularly if you are coming from Australia. The name of the international airport in Asunción is Silvio Pettirossi.
The flight situation is rapidly changing. Four airlines have started flying to Asunción in the last few years, while three have stopped doing so in the same time span. Two more – Air Europa and Aerolap (Paraguay’s own new airline) – have announced plans but have not begun yet. So you need to check on the situation when your time comes to travel.
The airfare varies according to season: high season is July, August and December. At present the companies flying from São Paulo are TAM Airlines and GOL; and from Buenos Aires, Aerolineas Argentinas and TAM. GOL is a cheap-flight company, principally for online booking, with all the disadvantages of that. If you are travelling from London, the route preferred by most people at present is TAM to São Paulo followed by TAM to Asunción.
From Buenos Aires
Only one-third of the people entering Paraguay arrive at the airport. The majority are Paraguayans, coming from Buenos Aires by bus. If you wish to do the same, don’t assume that you will save money by flying to Buenos Aires and taking the 18-hour bus to Asunción instead of getting a second flight. You might save a little on the flights, but by the time you have taken into account your costs of getting in from the airport, taxis, tips, extra luggage charges and your lunch in Argentina while you wait for the evening buses, as well as the fare in a coche cama or semi cama, you will might well be spending more overall.
And although you can do the journey out to Paraguay by spending one night on the plane and the next on the bus, to return from Paraguay you will almost certainly need a night in Buenos Aires to be sure that delays at the frontier do not cause you to miss your flight, so this cost needs to be factored in as well.
From São Paulo
From São Paulo to Asunción is a longer bus journey – about 22 to 26 hours. Buses typically leave the bus terminal, Rodoviária Tietê (tel: 6221 2900/9977), in the evening, around 18.00. The bus terminal is on the metro line so it is easy to get around. The cheapest bus for the journey to Paraguay is currently the Brazilian Pluma (Tietê: tel: 0800 6460300; Asunción: tel: 021 551758). Once a week there is a coche cama (leaving São Paulo on Friday at 18.00) but you pay almost double for it. However, there is a daily semi cama service, which is almost as comfortable; it leaves at 18.30. The fare is around US$66–77 or Gs300,000–350,000. The other companies making the journey are the Paraguayan companies Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Rysa and Expreso Guaraní.
Buses from Bolivia to Asunción leave from Santa Cruz, going through Villa Montes en route, near the Paraguayan border. This journey is only for the hardy or the impoverished, and you may find the bus stuffed with cargo that can take up not only the luggage room but the aisles leading to the toilets as well. Stel Turismo, Río Paraguay and Yacyretá are all the same company for this route. The bus leaves Santa Cruz daily at 20.00, and Asunción daily at 20.00 going in the other direction. Pycasú is the other company that does the Bolivia route, but it only goes once a week, leaving Santa Cruz on Sundays at 17.00, and Asunción on Thursdays at 19.00.
Ferries from Argentina
There are a number of ways that you can cross from Argentina to Paraguay across the Río Paraguay or the Río Paraná – in addition to the principal bus routes from Clorinda to Falcón, and Encarnación to Posadas.
There are surprisingly few crossing points overland into Paraguay. Between Argentina and Paraguay there is always a river to cross, and between Bolivia and Paraguay there is the almost impassible Chaco desert.
Between Brazil and Paraguay, from Salto del Guairá southwards there is the River Paraná to cross (with bridge crossings at Foz do Iguaçu into Ciudad del Este, and at Guairá into Salto del Guairá). Continuing north from there, there is the barrier of the cordillera, which again makes crossing difficult. It continues until you reach Pedro Juan Caballero, where it is so easy to cross to and from Ponta Porã, Brazil, that it happens to you in the middle of the street before you have realised.
After that the frontier follows the Río Apa, but you can cross over the river from Bela Vista, Brazil, to Bella Vista, Amamby (not to be confused with Bella Vista, Itapúa). On the Río Paraguay, Paraguayan boats will stop at Porto Murtinho, Brazil, which is another easy way to get from one country to the other.
As Paraguay is a poor country, where only a minority have cars, it is fair to assume that you can get to anywhere by bus, if you have enough time and patience. Travel by bus can be tiring and uncomfortable, but it gives you more of a feel of the country to be travelling with the local people. The website of the bus terminal in Asunción (www.mca.gov.py/webtermi.html) is some help with finding how to get to places, but it would be wise not to depend solely on this, as it may not be up to date.
Paraguay has the worst road infrastructure in South America, according to a 2014 report by the World Economic Forum, and in addition many buses are old and uncomfortable, so bus travel is always likely to be a bit penitential. But a few of the companies travelling to the interior now have more comfortable buses with reclining seats, and the number of asphalted roads has increased very substantially since 2000.
If you want to travel a bit more comfortably and conserve your energy for where you are heading, there are a lot of private transport companies that can hire you a car or minivan with a driver. Vehicles hired from Asunción for the benefit of tourists can generally be relied upon to have air conditioning and insurance, though it is worth checking. Taxis in the interior of the country are not generally insured, and very few private cars are insured.
If you want to go for self-drive car hire, there are good international companies in Asunción, and also in Ciudad del Este, and one now in Encarnación, but nowhere else in the country. Unfortunately, if you want to hire a car over the border in Posadas or in Foz do Iguaçu and bring it in to Paraguay, you will probably find that the small print does not allow it.
If you want to fly, there are hardly any domestic flights, as most of those that were started had to be discontinued due to lack of passengers. You can fly to Ciudad del Este by TAM (tel: 021 645500; www.tam.com.br), which will get you a little more quickly to the Iguazú Falls, if you are not planning to visit anywhere along the way. There is only one flight a day, leaving Asunción at 17.20 and leaving Ciudad del Este at 09.40. The flight takes 45 minutes and costs around US$50 each way.