Paraguay lies between Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil and boasts world-class natural attractions. This pretty nation combines wilderness with ornate Yaguaron churches, 60-stripe Parani ponchos, dorado fishing, Jesuit missions, harps, spider web lace and charming colonial plazas.
Paraguay is subtropical with mild winters (June to September) and hot and wet summers (December to March). Southern Paraguay is humid, with rainfall spread quite evenly throughout the year.
The lively capital of Asuncion has colonial plazas, cathedrals and fine museums, while the more peaceful Trinidad has Paraguay’s best-preserved Jesuit mission, a little visited UNESCO World Heritage site. Defensores del Chaco National Park is home to jaguar, puma and ocelot, with guided tours arranged from Asuncion. Ciudad del Este is a good starting point for the majestic Monday Falls and Iguazu Falls as well as nearby Italpu Dam, where visitors can enjoy wildlife and birds.
Many festivals are based around the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar and often involve great spectacle, particularly in indigenous highland villages. In February, Carnival is the highlight of the year with street parades and dance. In May, Independence Day commemorates the overthrow of the Spanish governor in 1811. In June, the Festival of San Juan features fire walking while September sees the Virgin of Merced honoured with elaborate costumes, bizarre masks and traditional dancing and music.
Apart from cultural sightseeing (colonial churches and Jesuit missions), visitors can enjoy fishing for dorado (up to 65 pounds) in the Paraguay, Parana and Tebicuary rivers or hiking along the quiet waterfront area of Encarnacion. Water sports on Italpu Dam, the largest hydroelectric complex in the world, are also fun.
Food is standard South American fare, with beans and rice as staples. All-you-can-eat BBQs are great value. Accommodation should be booked well in advance, particularly for Asuncion in the tourist season (July to August). Some guest ranches in the northern part of the country offer rooms, but prices can be high. Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in Asuncion is the main air hub while inland travel is best by bus. The dilapidated trains are cheap but slow.