The eastern plateau is part of the vast Pantanal, the most spectacular wetland on earth. Each February this vast grassland begins to dry out, stranding fish in isolated water holes. The wildlife viewing opportunities at these oases are matched only in Africa’s Serengeti. The Pantanal region is home to over 600 bird species, jaguars, caiman, tapir, deer and monkeys.
The Paraguay River divides the country in two, separating the lush eastern region from a vast western prairie—the sparsely populated Grand Chaco. Despite the west’s harshness, it is also an excellent region for wildlife viewing. Among its pockets of vegetation, lagoons and riverbanks, a surprising variety of animals struggle for survival. Native species include rheas, flamingoes, alligators, wild boars, tapir and pumas. The region’s rivers are also the site of some of the best dorado fishing in South America.
Paraguay’s population includes a high percentage of native peoples. The country’s two official languages are Spanish and Guaraní. Paraguayans have a reputation for warmth, courtesy and hospitality.
The capital city, Asunción, is located in a bay on the Paraguay River. The city was founded in 1537 by Spaniards searching for a new overland route to Peru. Today it is a city of historic colonial buildings, spacious parks and bustling plazas. Asunción is also known for excellent prices on imported goods, especially electronics and luxury items. The city’s spring-like temperature ranges from 70 to 80 degrees year round.
Eighteen miles from Asuncion is the village of Itaguá, home of the famous “ñanduti” lace weavers. The best examples of this traditional art form can take up to five years to complete.
Another important Paraguayan cultural legacy is its Jesuit missions. The first missionaries arrived in 1588. By the end of the 17th Century, they had established 30 missions throughout the region. In short time, the Guaraní laborers attained an impressive level of craftsmanship, decorating the structures with intricately carved stone. When a royal Spanish decree banished the Jesuits from South America in 1766, the missions were abandoned. In recent decades, many of these settlements have been reclaimed from the dense jungles that have hid them for the past two centuries. Some of the best Jesuit ruins are found in Trinidad, 250 miles south of Asuncion.
Paraguay lies within easy reach of many popular South American cities. Asuncion is just two hours by air from Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Santa Cruz, Santiago, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.