Nice sculture in our floor's elevator lobby
Nice sculture in our floor's elevator lobby

After Ybycuí we bussed it down to Encarnación which is on Paraguay’s southern border with Argentina.  We didn’t plan to stay there long because the only real attractions are the Jesuit ruins.  Our plans for a short stay were compounded by exorbitant hotel prices due to their “Carnaval” which mysteriously runs the entire month of February.  We hoped to check out the festivities during our one night stay but they ended up be rained out.  Oh well, better luck next time.

We got up fairly early the next morning, checked out of the hotel and jumped on a bus to Trinidad the most accessible of the Jesuit ruins.  Trinidad has an impressive collection of buildings from religous missions in the 17th century.  The basic idea was to round up all the indiginous people and give them a place to stay, study Christianity, and live something resembling a European lifestyle.  In doing so, they constructed a massive complex of buildings.

What I found more interesting than the ruins themselves was our search for the entrance (there is only one).  We took a couple of wrong turns and ended up walking the dirt roads all the way around the ruins.  We saw a couple of horse-drawn wagons kicking up dust on the red clay roads.  

Lots of traffic on the bridge.
Lots of traffic on the bridge.

There was one man out cutting his lawn with a machete and more than a few others sitting on their porches drinking Terere (cold mate).  Of course there were also plenty of dogs lounging about and chickens picking around for who knows what.  Life in rural Paraguay must be very quiet.

After a couple of hours poking around the ruins we decided it was best to head back to Encarnación to retrieve our bags so that we could push for Posadas, Argentina.  The towns lie opposite one another on the Rio Paraná and getting between them is as easy as hopping an international bus in either city center.  The border crossing was much like what I remember of the San Diego to Tijuana crossing, I will let you figure out which country is which.  There was a lengthy queue in one direction and basically none in the other.

And that was that, we were in Argentina.  I certainly don’t regret visiting Paraguay but now I understand why it doesn’t attract hoardes of tourists.  It’s a cheap country, the locals are friendly it is reasonably easy to get around – usually these are the qualities that draw backpackers.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have all that much in terms of tourist attractions.  Of course we only saw a small portion of the country.  There is the wild and mysterious Chaco in the north and the wetlands of the Patanal in the east.  Both of those are proobably fascinating destinations but they would take a significant amount of time and effort to explore.

Trinidad:  Jesuit missions near Encarnación.
Trinidad: Jesuit missions near Encarnación.
Crossing the Río Paraná to Posadas, Argentina
Crossing the Río Paraná to Posadas, Argentina

Salto Guaraní.  (No doubt the first of way too many waterfalls on this RTW trip!)
Salto Guaraní. (No doubt the first of way too many waterfalls on this RTW trip!)

Doing a day trip to Ybycuí National Park, which lies about 25 miles from the town, proved to be a bit of a challenge.  We heard that there was limited bus service (i.e. one in the morning and one in the evening) but had little to go by in terms of location and times.  As luck would have it, a Paraguayan couple overheard us asking about the bus and offered to give us a lift.  They were from Ita (a town close to Asunción) and had come down to the park to camp for the weekend.

The park itself is a museum-preserve hybrid.  Due to its water resources, the park was the site of Paraguay’s first iron foundry and was more or less the core of industrialization in the country.  The foundry also holds important military significance since it was one of Paraguay’s only means to arm itself during the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1800′s.  The stone furnaces and ruins of the workers’ facilities have been set up as a museum that was actually pretty good.

Waterfalls and butterflies were the main attractions at the park.  We walked to one of the closer waterfalls and saw a great plenty of spiders along the way.  There were also some nice overlooks (miradores) but those were substantial multi-hour hikes and we had neither the food nor the water for one of those.

Getting home was a bit of a challenge.  We had hoped to catch a 4pm-ish bus back to the village but the park ranger informed us that it was no more (or as Amy puts it: “he explained some system that made no sense”).  Fortunately for us (and probably him), he had a friend nearby with a “taxi” that would take us back to down for $20.  That was a bit much but we lucked out on transportation earlier in the morning and, lets face it, we weren’t going to walk 20 miles back to town.

A nice couple from Ita, Paraguay who were headed to the park to camp gave us a lift.
A nice couple from Ita, Paraguay who were headed to the park to camp gave us a lift.
Remains of what was once Paraguay´s largest iron foundry. La Rosada.
Remains of what was once Paraguay´s largest iron foundry. La Rosada.
The national park at Ybycuí has some big bugs!
The national park at Ybycuí has some big bugs!
Some teamwork required on the hike to Salto Guaraní
Some teamwork required on the hike to Salto Guaraní
Salto Guaraní.  (No doubt the first of way too many waterfalls on this RTW trip!)
Salto Guaraní. (No doubt the first of way too many waterfalls on this RTW trip!)
One of the only pictures I managed to get of the big blue butterflies at the park.
One of the only pictures I managed to get of the big blue butterflies at the park.
La mariposa está volando
La mariposa está volando
Ants being ants.
Ants being ants.
Red dirt is everywhere in Paraguay
Red dirt is everywhere in Paraguay
Dinner at the hospedaje. Steak with onions, rice, an egg plus salad and bread. Approx $4.
Dinner at the hospedaje. Steak with onions, rice, an egg plus salad and bread. Approx $4.
Somebody wants some of my steak!
Somebody wants some of my steak!

Aisle surfing like a boss.  This bus was easy, there was added headroom so that I could standup straight! Possible downside: skull getting crushed when the bus rolls over.
Aisle surfing like a boss. This bus was easy, there was added headroom so that I could standup straight! Possible downside: skull getting crushed when the bus rolls over.

Ok, I will admit it.  Figuring out how to get from place to place during my trips is one of my favorite travel chores.  Usually it is pretty simple since the guidebooks lay out most of the details.  The process becomes a little more interesting when you have to go from one middle-of-nowhere place to another middle-of-nowhere place.

It took us a couple hours to get to San Ber which lies to the east of Asución and it is quite a ways from Route 1, Paraguay’s main north-south highway.  Ybycuí is in roughly in same direction but a few more hours down the road.  We didn’t really want to backtrack all the way to Asunción so we decided to ride one of the local buses (which doubles as a school bus!) back to Route 1 and then attempt to flag down an Ybycuí-bound bus.

In Paraguay, there aren’t fixed bus stops.  Instead the protocol is to simply stand somewhere along their route and flail your arms as necessary until they stop.  This makes them very convenient but it also means they stop about every quarter mile to load and discharge passengers!

Getting out of San Ber was a piece of cake.  The wait was no more than 15 minutes for an Asunción-bound local bus(which double as school buses!).  Based on the crude map in our guidebook we knew that we had to ride as far as San Lorenzo as that is the town where the highway splits off to head south towards Ybycuí.  Figuring out where to get off was a bit of a guessing game but the driver helped us out.

The keeper of our guesthouse in San Ber told us that we had to “walk one block over” in San Lorenzo to find the Ybycuí buses.  As it turned out, it was actually a few blocks away but Amy was able to ask a few locals to get more precise directions.  Before we knew it we were standing with a bunch of Paraguayans eagerly awaiting their buses to the countryside.

It wasn’t more than 15 minutes until an ancient Mercedes bus rolled up to take is to Ybycuí.  Public transportation in Paraguay is great!

Our ride to Ybycuí
Our ride to Ybycuí

Naturally, each and every seat was occupied when we boarded so we had to surf the aisle for a while.  Amy got one after about 20 minutes and I scored one about an hour into the 4 hour ride to Ybycuí.  Riding in the aisle isn’t terrible (especially given the condition of some of the “seats”) but it is annoying when all the chipá/banana/sock vendors push their way past you and your backpack so that they can attempt to make one last sale in the back of the bus.

By the time we got to Ybycuí few people remained and we jumped off with very little fanfare on a dusty corner in what we hoped was the center of town.  Our guidebook claimed that there was one hotel in town and some other blogger wrote about a hospedaje.  As luck would have it, the bus dropped us directly in front of both of them!  Of course, we didn’t know that until we made a fool of ourselves by asking a nearby shopkeeper for directions. :)

The town of Ybycuí was very quiet.  Most of the businesses are located along the town’s one main street.  There were plenty of shops selling clothing, a few groceries stores and even two internet cafes although the town was notably lacking in restaurants.  I don’t remember seeing a single restaurant during our two-day stay.  The only prepared food that we were able to find was from a lady selling grilled meat along the side of the road.  It was there that I got to try my first sopa paraguaya along with some meat-on-a-stick.  Sopa paraguaya is basically cornbread with onions and, optionally, cheese and meat.

Obtaining some street meat. Dogs filled with hope.
Obtaining some street meat. Dogs filled with hope.
Meat on a stick and sopa paraguaya
Meat on a stick and sopa paraguaya


After getting a taste of big city life in Paraguay we decided it would be good to head out into the country side to see what life is like out there.  We heard about a nearby lake resort called San Bernardino in both the guidebooks and from a few travel blogs.  ”A very popular weekend destination for locals.”  Seemed promising enough and we figured that a midweek arrival would make it easier to find a place to stay.

As it turned out, it was a little too easy!  We stayed at a little resort called Brisas del Mediterraneo which was nice enough: aircon cabin along the beach, swimming pool, etc.  Only one problem: we were the only people at the resort!  The town itself was similarly desolate.

We only stayed one night then it was off to Ybycuí.

Beer o´clock in San Ber.
Beer o´clock in San Ber.
The scenic shoreline of Lake Ypacaraí
The scenic shoreline of Lake Ypacaraí
The resort in San Ber was a good mile or so from the bus stop.
The resort in San Ber was a good mile or so from the bus stop.
Deadly looking waterslide at the resort pool.
Deadly looking waterslide at the resort pool.
Chef Ryan hard at work. Peanut and guayaba sandwiches.
Chef Ryan hard at work. Peanut and guayaba sandwiches.
Lake Ypacari at San Bernardino
Lake Ypacari at San Bernardino
Our digs in San Ber.
Our digs in San Ber.
Sunset on the lake.
Sunset on the lake.

C is for chipa.  On the way to San Bernardino.
C is for chipa. On the way to San Bernardino.

One of my favorite things about traveling in Paraguay are the vendors which jump on board buses at just about every stop.  They sell just about anything one could need on a long trip.  Socks to snacks.

Chipá, a type of cheese bread, is by far the most common snack and the good stuff is served warm from the oven.  I’m not quite sure how those guys manage to deliver oven-fresh chipá to the aisle of just about every passing bus but they do and it is an excellent for staving off hunger on long bus rides.

A truckload of chipa, the much-loved cheese bread eaten across Paraguay.
A truckload of chipa, the much-loved cheese bread eaten across Paraguay.

One of the  few eating establishments open in downtown  Asunción on the weekennd.One of the few eating establishments open in downtown Asunción on the weekennd.
One of the few eating establishments open in downtown Asunción on the weekennd.

Above you can see the very first place where we dined in Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay: an Esso station.  Exciting, eh?  We arrived on a Saturday afternoon from the States and, as promised, the city center is more or less dead on the weekends.  For the most part it is just you, the mosquitoes, a handful of stray dogs and endless rows of heavily-fortified storefronts (closed, of course).

After our initial failure at finding food, the clerk at the hotel clued us in to a mall of sorts with a supermarket that was a few blocks away.  We picked up some fresh fruit, crackers and other snacks and then headed back to the hotel since it was getting dark.  Sunday was equally quiet although we did track down local restaurant called Lido Bar which was open for lunch.

My first real meal in Paraguay: Ñoquís (gnocci) with tomato sauce and cheese and a fresh OJ on the side.My first real meal in Paraguay: Ñoquís (gnocci) with tomato sauce and cheese and a fresh OJ on the side.
My first real meal in Paraguay: Ñoquís (gnocci) with tomato sauce and cheese and a fresh OJ on the side.

On Monday, we awoke to an entirely different city.  Stores were open, people were rushing to work, and vendors were on the street peddling everything sunglasses to Tereré.  Sightseeing in Asunción doesn’t take too long and we were able to walk to most of the sights in the downtown area in one morning: a government palace, a few parks, a train station and a couple museums.

Later in the afternoon we jumped on a colectivo (city bus) and headed to one of the city markets.  I say “jump” because you quite literally jump on and off the buses while they are rolling!  Of course, the real fun is watching the driver weave his way through the congested streets at an easy 40MPH.  The market itself was the usual developing-country mix of cheap clothing, fresh food products and housewares.  Certainly an interesting destination.  I even got my first taste of chipá…more on that tomorrow.

Palacio de  Gobierno, Asuncion, Paraguay
Palacio de Gobierno, Asuncion, Paraguay
Asunción skyline
Asunción skyline
A busy street near Mercado 4 in Asuncion
A busy street near Mercado 4 in Asuncion
All city buses are driving with reckless abandon.  I'm certain these guys could give Indian bus drivers a run for their money!
All city buses are driving with reckless abandon. I’m certain these guys could give Indian bus drivers a run for their money!
...and horses having a snack right in the middle of it all.
…and horses having a snack right in the middle of it all.

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