Paraguay

I had decided to take a trip to see the Iguazu falls that is located on the border of Argentina and Brazil. However the area is on a tri-boarder line with Paraguay, so being so close I did not want the opportunity to not visit the country, even if this was brief.

Originally I was in this area in 2002 and had planned to cross the border to Ciudad del Esta back then, but I was advised that it was not a good idea as there were gunfights in the city going on with the police. I had walked close to the border area and it felt pretty rough, so I thought it was not worth it. It had always been a little frustrating to be so close and not cross, so now I knew the situation was calm it was the perfect opportunity.

There are various buses that will take you over the border, but the way I decided to go was walking. My wife and I were staying in a hotel on the Brazilian side, so in the morning we got up, ordered and uber and just went close to the border. From here it is easy, there is a bridge that separates the two countries and the core of the city is just on the other side of the bridge.

Walking across we crossed two checkpoints from immigration and with a UK passport, this was so simple. Then getting into the city the first thing you come across are people giving you flyers for discounted electronics, this is what this city is mostly about and Brazilians and Argentines come across to get their electronic goods. After walking around the streets a little I decided to go to one of the places that were recommended in the city which is a mall called Paris. As malls go it seemed quite nice and bigger than any of the others I had seen so far in the city. On the third floor, there was a massive shop that seemed to sell everything from TV’s to sportswear, kitchen stuff the lot. This provided stimulation for all of about 20 mins before I felt like I could be in any part of the world. We then went up to the fourth floor where there was a food court where I took a soda and my wife some aiçi. There I thought this was a pretty terrible activity to be doing, so getting on to our Happy Cow vegan app we saw that there was the only vegan place in the three border region so decided we would go there.

We went downstairs and looked for a cab, there are no ubers or other taxi apps, so it was a matter of negotiating a price. Also, nobody spoke English, so it was a matter of trying your best in Spanish. This means unless you are very strong in Spanish with no accent you are going to get ripped off, but what can you do. Oh, side note; in the city, you can use Brazilian reals, US dollars or local guaraní. So we got into the cab and the driver seemed to have no idea of where to go, so luckily I had a downloaded map and was able to guide him.

We arrived at a place called Loving Hut, which is a kind of semi-religious franchise from Vietnam. The guy there spoke good English and was really friendly. It was a buffet style place where you can either pay $7 for all you can eat or by the plate, which they weigh. While sitting and eating I asked the owner if he knows how we could get a taxi back, which he explained. Then a girl sitting behind us with her boyfriend and friend said they were going in the direction we wanted to go, so if we wanted a lift they were happy to take us. This resulted in us having a chat over lunch and getting to know each other a bit. We connected over being vegan and they explained how new and weird veganism still is in the country, but options are beginning to open. After lunch, we got into the car with these guys who then took us around the lake and showed us some sights on the way. I should add to people reading this, please take great caution in doing this, it is hard to know who is genuine and not, and kidnapping is still a thing in this region. This being said we felt very comfortable with these guys, they appeared to be a friendly young couple that also appreciated the chance to speak English.

They dropped us just north of the lake and we then took a last walk through the city streets seeing some shops on the way. I know and understand that the city still has some safety issues and you need to take great caution, don’t walk around with too many things on you, and try to avoid looking lost and finding your way on your phone. Ideally just walk into a shop or café and get your orientation. That being said people seem to be very friendly.

The 3 cities from each country in the region seem to be very interconnected and have somehow grown into having their own identity, which is not limited by the national borders. It is very easy for citizens of each country to cross the border and people do so very often. In this regard, it felt very nice and I felt more like I was in some special international zone.

Ciudad del Esta is a pleasant little city to visit to get a small feeling of Paraguay. Touristically there is not a lot to see, there are some small falls you can visit and the Itaipu damn which is all free to enter. However, for me, it was just trying to feel the vibe of the city. It was a nice little trip and I was pleased to have the chance to go. I would say that it is cool to visit as something additional to the area.