Six Days in Southern Paraguay (and Iguazu Falls)

In December of 2019, we spent a week in southern Paraguay and Iguazu Falls. While most South American backpackers overlook this small central country due to its lack of tourist industry, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to check it out and are glad we did!

Here we include our own itinerary, though certainly recommend a few changes. Upon reflection, we’d suggest only 1 day in Asuncion, 3-4 days in Ciudad del Este, 2 days in Trinidad, and 1-2 days in Encarnacion/Posadas, time permitting. However, we believe you will still find our itineraries and lessons learned helpful!

  1. Paraguay does not have a robust tourism infrastructure and very few speak English. Do as much research as you can before you come to make things easier on yourself.

  2. The sidewalks in Paraguay (from our experience) are not in great condition and fairly filthy. We recommend wearing athletic shoes when walking around.                                               

  3. Paraguay requires one year of mandatory military service for all 18 year old men. As a result, you will see many armed young men in the streets guarding a variety of places, like banks, bus stations, etc. 

  4. For easy public transport, Uber is available in both Asuncion and Encarnacion. In Ciudad del Este, there is an app called MUV, like Uber, but foreigners must pay in cash. 

  5. Most hotels have outlets with 2-prong American fittings, but if you have an appliance that requires a grounded plug (like a laptop), be sure to bring a converter. We use a universal converter and have found it helpful no matter where we travel.

  6. You can’t really find good coffee here, only instant. The locals drink terere, like cold yerba mate, instead of coffee.                     

  7. Money: All the ATMs are part of a national network that charge a fee of $25000 guarani for withdrawals (about $4 USD) and you can only withdraw a maximum of 1.5 million guarani at a time ($233 USD). The guarani is very depreciated so you can be a millionaire while you visit!

  8. For bus travel, we recommend BusBud. It is easy to find and buy tickets online and through their app. However, note that most buses require PRINTED tickets! We have also found that it is fairly easy to get tickets relatively last minute at the counters.

  9. Gear We Couldn’t Have Done Without:

    • Universal Converter: It’s always smart to travel with a converter that works for any situation. 

    • Claro Sim Card: Paraguay is the only South American country we visited that Skyroam doesn’t work in. However, Claro Sim Cards are super easy to obtain and work throughout the country. We (over)paid $10 USD at the airport for 4G each.             

    • Sarong: Sarongs are amazing. You can use them to lay on a beach, change your clothes, wear as a dress, keep warm on an overnight bus, or dress up a little black dress for dinner. 

    • (For Her) Tankini/Swim Skirt Combo: I LOVE my swimsuit. I bought a tankini and swim skirt on Amazon before we left for our trip and they’ve been amazing assets. The tankini top looks like a regular tank top and the skirt looks like a regular skirt (with a pocket even). So, I can wear the combo around town, for hikes, on the beach, in the pool…anywhere…without any strange looks. It makes changing (or NOT changing) throughout the day easy when you plan to participating in multiple activities.

    • Sunscreen: The UV Levels are MUCH higher in South America. For example, it was rated “extreme” every day we were in Paraguay. This means you can get sun burnt in as little as 10 minutes without protection. Also, sunscreen is very expensive in Paraguay. You may want to stock up and check a bag to bring plenty with you.

7:00am Breakfast Hotel Palmas del Sol

8:00am City Wanderings:

2:00pm Siesta/Swimming (100 degrees today!)

6:00pm Dinner

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We flew into Asuncion the evening before, so this itinerary begins on the first official day of our visit. For US citizens, the only way to obtain a Visa for Paraguay is to apply in advance through the mail or arrive at the Asuncion airport with $160 pristine US dollars per person. We had no difficulty obtaining a Visa.

Asuncion does not require a great deal of time to explore as most of the tourist attractions and museums are small and close together, but we really do recommend a visit.

The closest site to our hotel was the Asuncion Cathedral, which is not original to the city but considered the “new” cathedral, built in 1845…so still pretty historic!

 

Just a few blocks away from the cathedral is one of the most important sites in all of Paraguay, the National Pantheon of Heroes, in which all of the nation’s most important heroes are entombed. 

 

Just another few blocks away is the Casa de la Independencia, the actual home in which the revolutionaries planned their revolt against the Spanish throne and obtained their independence. The guide here spoke a little English and was delighted to practice. We enjoyed our visit very much.

 

Next on our visit list was the Museo de Cabildo, home of the previous town council and now a history museum.

   

From the Cabildo, you can easily access the Playa de la Costanera, though we were honestly pretty underwhelmed. Views of the Palacio de los López are best from here, but make sure you don’t accidentally walk onto the grounds. This is essentially like the US White House.

 

December in Paraguay is HOT! Regardless, we walked the mile or so to the Museo de Las Memorias, which was one of the most significant places we visited in Asuncion. The museum is housed in an old torture cell that functioned during the reign of Dictator Alfredo Stroessner. It is a very sad place.

   

By the time we had visited all these places, it was scorching outside, so we called up an Uber to take us to the National Art Museum, a very small but delightful and free museum with a variety of Paraguayan artists on display.

 

On this particular day, the temperatures were over 100 degrees F and we were done for, so we returned to our hotel and enjoyed a little swimming and siesta! 

It would be very easy to fit more into a one day itinerary by using the afternoon to explore the couple of other places mentioned in our day two tab.

 

8:00am Walk to Loma San Jeronimo Neighborhood

9:00am Uber to Botanical Garden/Zoo

12:00pm Lunch

12:30pm Uber Back to Hotel

1:00pm Siesta/Swimming

5:00pm Dinner

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Though the architecture of Asuncion will not wow you, we were very interested in seeing the cute neighborhood of  Loma San Jeronimo, so we walked there early after breakfast at our hotel. Though small, the neighborhood is incredibly welcoming and quaint. We wished we would have gone to visit a little later in the day when the small marts might have been open. 

  

From San Jeronimo, we took an Uber to the Botanical Garden and Zoo, much too far from the city to consider walking. The botanical garden isn’t really much more than a large park, but we did enjoy visiting the animals in the zoo, especially the tigers!

    

Near the entrance, the park also includes a free natural history museum with a variety of unintentionally comical stuffed animals.

 

We had actually intended to visit the Museo del Barro after the Botanical Garden, but realized too late that the museum closes between 12:00-3:30pm for siesta. We also considered going to the Mercado 4 for lunch, but in the heat of the day, we didn’t feel up to a crowded street market. 

So, we Googled nearby restaurants and stumbled across “God’s Pan,” a wonderfully inexpensive buffet within walking distance of the gardens.

From God’s Pan, we took an Uber back to our hotel for another afternoon siesta and swimming session. We used the time to catch up on planning and blogging.

For dinner, we splurged at a fairly expensive but delicious Peruvian ceviche place around the corner from our hotel.

 

7:30am Bus to Ciudad del Este 

1:30pm Arrive in Ciudad del Este/Buy Tickets to Encarnacion/Walk to Hotel Miraflores

2:00pm Check In

3:00pm MUV to Saltos del Monday 

3:30pm Eat Linner at Saltos del Monday/Explore

5:00pm Take MUV Back to Hotel/Buy Lunch for Tomorrow

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We ate an early breakfast, checked out, and Ubered to the bus station with plenty of time for our 7:30am bus to Ciudad del Este. Our bus was supposed to arrive at 11:45am but instead arrived at 1:30pm, due to rain. Expect that buses will not arrive on time.

 

 

Upon arrival, we went ahead and purchased our onward travel to Encarnacion for two days hence because the tickets are not available online and you have to buy them with cash. We did make a mistake and bought tickets with the wrong bus company. Make sure you book with El Tigre, who has better buses and costs the same as Crucero del Sul, with whom we booked.

From the bus station, we walked the quick five minutes to Hotel Miraflores, who we highly recommend! The owners are amazingly helpful, the rooms are nice, and it is very convenient to the bus terminal.

We also learned from the owners about the MUV app, like Uber but just for Ciudad del Este to help us get around without trying to track down the local buses. The only trick is that foreigners have to pay cash when using the app.

We used MUV, to transport to Salto de Monday (pronounced Monda-ugh from the indigenous Guarani language). It was a rainy day, which created a very chocolatey looking waterfall, but it was still very enjoyable. The park also offers adventure options, like ziplining etc, but we were basically just in and out visitors. 

   

With the lengthy bus ride, we only had time for one visit this day, but if you plan to visit both Saltos de Monday and Iguazu Falls we absolutely recommend seeing Saltos first! It is an impressive waterfall, but nothing compared to Iguazu.

We also went to the Superseis supermarket near the hotel to stock up on snacks/lunch for our visit to Iguazu Falls the next day.

7:00am Breakfast

7:30am Go to Puerto Iguazu with Hosts (Bus Available as Well)

9:00am Buy Return Bus Tickets to Ciudad del Este/Take Bus to Iguazu National Park

10:00am Explore Iguazu National Park (Tips Blog 1; Tips Blog 2)/Iguazu Jungle Gran Aventura Boat Ride

4:00pm Take Bus Back to Puerto Iguazu

4:45pm Arrive in Puerto Iguazu/Dinner

5:45pm Take Bus to Ciudad del Este

6:45pm Return to Hotel

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There are many blog posts available with tips on spending your time wisely at the Argentinian Iguazu National Park, home to the largest waterfall in the world, but not many that describe the process for visiting from the Paraguay side. If we were to do it again, we would allow two days to fully explore both the Brazil and Argentinian sides of the falls. Continue reading for our (generally) very easy experience.
 
Our visit began with good fortune because our hosts at the Hotel Miraflores were actually driving to Puerto Iguazu the day we planned to visit, so we were able to hitch a ride (though there are multiple buses you can take from the terminal). 
 
Getting to Puerto Iguazu in a car or bus requires driving over the Friendship Bridge between Ciudad del Este and stopping at immigration in both Paraguay and Argentina. There is no need for stamps in Brazil if you’re only transporting; this triple border area has pretty lax regulations on crossing. If you take a bus, be sure to tell the driver you need to stop at the Paraguay side for an exit stamp! He/she may not stop otherwise. 

 

Upon arrival in the small town of Puerto Iguazu, it will be easy to find the Rio Uruguay ticket counter for a bus to the Iguazu National Park. We also went ahead and bought our return bus ticket to Ciudad del Este for 5:45pm.

There is also a ticket hawker there selling tickets for the Gran Aventura Boat Ride once you’re in the park. We decided to go ahead and buy our tickets for a 10:30am tour at the bus terminal and are glad we did because it saved us time and energy once in the park. The prices are the same either way.

 

With the fluctuations in the Argentinian peso, prices in pesos had increased for every expense from our research but actually ended up costing less in USD. The roundtrip bus to the park cost 180 ARS, the Gran Aventura Boat Ride was 3000 ARS, and the Park Entrance Fee was 800 ARS. The latter two take credit cards.

After the 45 minute ride to the park, you pay to enter and then find the Gran Aventura company inside. Simply put: if you’re bothering to go all the way to Iguazu, then you need to take the Gran Aventura Boat Ride. The tour begins with a jungle ride to the boating area during which a guide explains a little about the park.

  

Then, you arrive at the boating area (note there are quite a few steps) and are provided with dry bags and life vests. You need the dry bags because the boat actually goes underneath the waterfalls…several exhilarating times! We wore our bathing suits and changed afterwards.

 

From the boat, you get amazing views of the falls! You also get amazing views of the much smaller Brazilian boat company boats also taking tourists for up close and personal views of the falls.

     

After the boat ride, guests are allowed an opportunity to change and then are shuffled off to the center of the park to begin their own adventures. We brought our own lunch and chose to sit inside one of the caged eating areas to avoid the coatis, aggressive Brazilian Raccoons that will try and steal your food! Signs around the park warn you to stay away from them!

After lunch, we took the included train to view the falls from the top of Devil’s Throat. When you arrive in the train area, walk to the desk and ask for tickets, but be prepared to squish on very tightly with others. Once at the top, there is about a 1km roundtrip “hike” to the falls along a boardwalk. The views are spectacular.

     

You may want to check the return train times before you head off to see the falls because we got back just after a train left and the next one wasn’t for another 30 minutes. Instead of waiting, we walked the 2km back on the easy but fairly boring “trail” alongside the railroad tracks.

Next, we had to decide on either the Lower Circuit or Upper Circuit due to time restraints. We chose the Lower Circuit because we read it was the prettiest. The easy 2.5 km  boardwalk leads the way various falls, several with spectacular rainbows.

    

After our walk, we made our way back to the entrance for a 4pm bus back to the Puerto Iguazu terminal, where with some extra time we ate at a surprisingly hipstery and delicious place just across the street before our 5:45pm bus back to CDE.

Important note about the bus ride back: The bus stops as you leave Argentina for everyone to go through immigration, then bypasses Brazilian immigration as it is just a through bus. However, it is your responsibility to let the driver know that you need to stop at the Paraguay side to get an entrance stamp. Our driver did not stop and we had to work it out the next day, losing precious time for our visitations. However, even if he had stopped, he would not have waited, so we would have had to find our own way back to our hotel from there! 

7:00am Breakfast/Check Out/Store Bags

7:30am Take MUV to Itaipu Dam

8:00am Free Itaipu Tour

9:30am MUV Back

10:30am Pick Up Luggage/Walk to Bus Station

11:00am Arrive at Bus Station/Lunch

11:45am Bus to Trinidad

5:30pm Arrive in Trinidad/Get Ride to Posada Bavaria

6:00pm Dinner

8:00pm Light Show at Trinidad Ruins

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The above itinerary is what we would have stuck to if it weren’t for the pesky illegal immigration from the previous evening. We spent the evening and morning reviewing blogs for any insight into how much trouble we were in and the responses varied from a little to a lot. However, we simply went back to border patrol, handed them our passports, and got them stamped. No big deal.

It also gave an opportunity to walk through the bustling shopping center that is Ciudad del Este! The city is tax free and much cheaper than cities across the borders, so many visitors come here daily to shop and clog the streets.

 

We still hoped for a chance to visit Itaipu Dam, one of the modern wonders of the world, so we called for a MUV driver to take us up there (about a 30 minute drive). The Paraguay side offers free tours on the hour. Unfortunately, we arrived five minutes too late and there wasn’t enough time to wait for the next tour! So, we took a picture with a picture!

 

Once back in CDE, we caught a bus towards Encarnacion, though we intended to stop in Trinidad en route. The Crucero del Sul line was much less comfortable that the other buses we had taken so far in South America, didn’t have WiFi, and stopped A LOT. We heard from numerous sources that the El Tigre bus is the best. However, I will say that the staff on the Crucero bus was very nice.

After about 5 very long hours on the bus, we finally arrived in Trinidad where our posada (like a B&B) hosts, Gabriella and Martin, picked us up from the road and proceeded to be the very best hosts that ever existed! We enjoyed coffee and homemade cookies, then they offered to share their dinner with us.

   

After dinner, our hosts took us to see the light show at the Trinidad Ruins. The tour was only given in Spanish, but we used our Google Translator to figure out at least most of what she was saying! These and the nearby Jesus Ruins are Paraguay’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

   

To end the evening, our hosts offered us homemade strawberry liqueur and lovely conversation into the evening!

9:00am Visit Jesuit Missions/Explore Missions/Mirador/Ita Cajol/Lunch

2:30pm Take Bus Back to Encarnacion

4:00pm Take Train Through Immigration to Posadas

4:30pm Meet Amazing New Friends Who Show Us the Bus to the Train and Take Us Home for Terere to Wait for the Bus

8:15pm Night Bus to Concordia

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We crammed a lot into today’s visit in a short time which was only possible due to our host’s generosity in driving us around! We originally only intended to visit both the Trinidad and Jesus Ruins and we had read that you could rent bikes from Trinidad and ride them to Jesus and back. This is not so! Even if the bikes were available, the ride would have been long, bumpy, and hot…not to mention the danger of the speeding motorists.

We began with a visit to the same ruins we visited the evening before, in Trinidad, the largest Jesuit mission site in the world, but this time during the day. The visit didn’t take us long, having already visited, but we had an opportunity to slip into the museum with a tour group.

   

Next up was the Jesus Ruins, never completed due to the Jesuits being expelled from the country in 1767. Here, there was a delightful tour guide who wished to practice his English, so we taught him a little and he taught us a little with Spanglish.

 

Next, we visited Ita Cajol, the old quarry turned park from which all the stones for the missions were derived. The park has a very short trail and a few statues representing Guarani mythology, as well as a stage setup. Our host was excited for us to visit, but it wasn’t particularly extensive or interesting, so if you’re short on time I would skip this one.

 

After all the touring, we treated our host to lunch at her friend’s place in town, Posada Maria. Reuben loves that the Paraguayans love to put eggs on meat…and so do I!

Then, another coffee with our hosts and we were off to Route 6 to catch a bus to Encarnacion. There is no predictable bus schedule for this route; you just flag down the first bus to pass and they will stop. We researched cost at 7,000 Guarani a person, but the bus charged us 10,000 each. I think we were cheated, but eh…the difference is 50 cents USD.

With luck, we arrived at the road just as an El Tigre bus arrived! We were excited to see how much better quality the bus was…but it wasn’t really. There were slightly more comfortable seats, but the A/C dripped and there was no WiFi.

 

At this point, you could add more time to explore the city of Encarnacion, though we decided it was skippable based on our time constraints. From the Encarnacion bus terminal, we took an Uber to the International Train Station to cross over into Posadas, Argentina (another town worth exploring with more time). 

The immigration process between Encarnacion and Posadas has been streamlined by this train, which costs only $1 USD more than the bus and takes 2-3 hours less time due to car traffic and waiting for buses. The immigration officers in Argentina can do both the entrance and exit stamps for both countries, while you must stop twice if taking the road. We highly recommend the train if exiting Paraguay from Encarnacion to Argentina!

Before getting on the train, we spent the remainder of our Guarani on some sunglasses and chipas to snack on for our upcoming overnight bus on to Concordia. There are many cheap and friendly vendors right near the station for this purpose. 

But be wary of the cambio man offering to change your money for you. We were offered a 75% markup to change our money! He even told the people in front of us in Spanish that he was going to cheat the tourists. Tsk tsk tsk.

 

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