There are many things about the Chaco that seem like a mystery. Chief among them for adventurous tourists may be how to cross the Paraguay-Bolivia border.
Getting to the border:
On the Paraguayan side the closest town to the border is Mariscal Estigarribia. It is 230kms from Mayor Infante Rivarola (the official border crossing), about 140 kms from Filadelfia (the most accesible of the region´s mennonite colonies), and 530 kms from Asunción. There are several bus lines that make the journey from Asunción up the Trans Chaco Highway to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Stel Turismo (tel. Asunción: 021 551 647) and Yacyretá (tel. Asunción: 021 551 725) make the most frequent trips. Should you choose to visit the mennonite colonies before heading to Bolivia you will have to make your way to Mariscal Estigarribia (Nasa, tel. 0491 432492, runs daily buses from Filadelfia) in order to catch a Santa Cruz bus. Tickets to Santa Cruz cost the same (about 40 USD) whether you depart from Asunción or points north. I have been told that if you are heading to Tupiza or Uyuni in Bolivia it is easier to go to Santa Cruz and take a bus from there than to attempt to make a connection in Villamonte.
Getting your passport stamped:
All buses headed to Bolivia make an obligatory stop at the well-lit 24 hour customs (“aduanas”) checkpoint in Mariscal Estigarribia. Most buses from Asunción arrive between the hours of 2am and 4am. While the bus is waiting at customs it is your responsibility to get stamped into or out of Paraguay. This is done at the Immigration Office housed in a small building next door (tel: 0494 247 315). This office is open 24 hours a day. If it appears closed you might have to bang on the door loudly – there is a back room immigration officials stay in during downtime.
Tourist visas for Paraguay are not for sale at this, or any other, border crossing. If you need a visa for Paraguay (attention, Americans) you must obtain it before attempting to enter the country.
Some things to consider before you take off:
The entire Paraguay side of the journey (to Bolivia) occurs at night. Mariscal Estigarribia is about 8 hours from Asunción and about 2 from Filadelfia – you may want to set an alarm just in case. Also, given that it will be dark, you won´t be able to see any of the Chaco. If you want to experience the Paraguayan Chaco consider taking a trip beforehand to Filadelfia or Parque Nacional Teniente Enciso and then going to Mariscal Estigarribia to catch the bus. Make arrangements with the bus agency ahead of time so they know to reserve you a seat. The bus drivers are allowed to sell you tickets when they arrive to Mariscal Estigarribia.
If you plan on catching the bus from Mariscal Estigarribia consider staying at Hotel Laguna (0494 247 358) beforehand. It is about 1.5 kms from the Immigration office. Hotel Laguna also functions as an office of Yacyreta bus line. If you buy your ticket with them ahead of time (in the afternoon at the latest)they will notify the Yacyreta office in Asunción so the bus can pick you up at the hotel. If you choose to do this it is extremely important to go to the Immigration Office ahead of time and obtain your exit stamp. By the time it gets to Hotel Laguna the bus will already have passed the Immigration and Customs – so make sure you have your stamp before getting on the bus at Hotel Laguna.
If you´ve crossed the border between Paraguay and Bolivia please share your experience and any tips for future travelers.