Paraguay is often overshadowed by the dominant South American countries of Brazil and Argentina. Many comment that the country is lack lustre, with little in the way of impressive sites of natural beauty, or ancient historical relics. Furthermore, many are put-off by the lack of transport infrastructure that is present in the majority of South American countries. However, despite the prejudice that Paraguay faces, it is virtually free of tourists, and is a forgotten jewel of Latin America.
Behind the ritzy shopping districts and trendy nightclubs in Asuncion. There is a simple and beautiful capital city with a big heart. The young population and traffic congestion do not taint the city in any way and the shady plazas, beaux-arts architecture, and colonial buildings give a faithful nod to the past, lifting Asuncion out of a future of devouring modernity.
The local buses that regularly leave Asuncion travel to many of the traditional rural villages that surround the capital. Colloquially known as the Circuito Central, the unassuming communities live a tranquil life amongst the dilapidated colonial buildings, with only the hums of chatter and the clack of ox-drawn carts on the cobbles interrupting the peacefulness.
Cerro Cora National Park
Spanning 5,538 hectares of forest and savannah, Cerro Cora National Park is home to many native species of wildlife and historical monuments. Just shy of the Brazilian border, the park is Paraguay’s largest protected area. The forest areas, known scientifically as zones of Atlantic Forest ecosystem, are among the world’s most threatened landscapes. Once spanning 1.2 million square kilometres across Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil, the forest retains only 8% of its original size.
For Paraguayans, the importance of Cerro Cora spans beyond nature. The park marks the spot where General Mariscal Lopez was finally defeated in the Triple Alliance war against Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. This tragic war saw almost of all of Paraguay’s war-age males perish and the general population decline drastically.
The park has a visitor’s centre, auditorium, and guided tours to help visitors learn more about the geology, history, dwellers, and wildlife of the unique site.
La Santisima Trinidad de Parana
With buildings having been completed in 1712, La Santsima Trinidad is one of 30 settlements built by the Jesuits in the 17th and 18th century. These Jesuit reductions were built in order to congregate the Tupi-Guarani people of South America so that the Jesuits could Christianise, govern, and tax them efficiently. The missions were abandoned in the 1750s, following the Guarani War and the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spanish lands.
Many of the settlements were destroyed or used for building materials. However, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of La Santisima Trinidad is a well-preserved complex of churches, houses, workshops, and gardens which help visitors visualise life for the native people in eras gone by. La Santisima Trinidad is an important relic as it shows how the Jesuits transformed the culture, lifestyle, and architecture of the Latin American areas in which they settled.
Casa de la Independencia
Who would believe that this small, unassertive colonial building in Asuncion could be an important glimpse into the independence of Paraguay from Spanish rule? Casa de La Independencia is actually a museum which was formed in 1965 and showcases fragments of history that date back to the early 1800s.
As the sun set on 14th May 1811, a group of brave Paraguayans exited the small white building of the museum and declared the independence of the country. Behind the stone walls, countless secret meetings had taken place to help organise the scheme against the Spanish rule of the time.
Today, the rooms of Casa de la Independencia and the artefacts that lie within are not only of great historical significance, but are a national monument and an integral part of South America’s history.
Many judge the villages and towns that grace the banks of the Rio Paraguay as unsafe and gritty. Whilst Concepcion does have its questionable attributes, it is one of the few places in Paraguay where you can experience a traditional and vanishing way of life.
The colonial-style buildings are a mix of restored and dilapidated, which is beautiful in its own way. Travellers should not be put off by the stares from locals; they do not witness many gringo in their town. However, you will soon be enveloped in their warm hospitality and mountainous portions of local dishes.
There are two main reasons as to why intrepid visitors head to Concepcion; the disappearing riverboats and for an unfiltered experience of Paraguayan culture. The riverboats of Paraguay were once the lifeblood and livelihood of many locals, but are slowly being phased out by the building of roads.
Concepcion is intriguing and relaxing – the indigenous Guarani people enjoy sipping tea, siestas, and family time. The traditional way of life is slowly disappearing from other areas of Paraguay and the unique town is a wonderful place to while away a few days.