Paraguay is a country of fascinating contrasts. It’s rustic and sophisticated. It’s extremely poor and obscenely wealthy. It boasts exotic natural reserves and massive man-made dams. It is a place where horses and carts pull up by Mercedes Benz cars, artisans’ workshops abut glitzy shopping centers and Jesuit ruins in rural villages near Encarnación are just a few kilometers from sophisticated colonial towns like Asunción. Steamy subtropical rainforests with metallic butterflies contrast with the dry and wild frontier of Northern Paraguay & the Chaco. Here, many Mennonites have created their haven, living alongside some of the country’s many indigenous groups, while the European influence is particularly strong in the laid-back towns like Filadelfia and the more chaotic capital.
Surprisingly, backpackers are rarer than pumas in Paraguay, but travel is always do-able – whether on a bone-rattling kamikaze-style bus trip or leisurely bobbing up the Río Paraguay aboard a rickety boat. While Paraguayans are more used to visits from their bordering neighbors, they are relaxed, kind and curious to anyone – share a tereré (iced herbal tea) and they will impart their country’s alluring secrets. The residual effects of dictators, corruption and contraband contribute to an overall sense that, for many years, much of Paraguayan life has taken place behind closed doors, as its people partake in public protests with confidence.