Today is Discovering Paraguay’s one-year anniversary. Many thanks to everyone for all the support throughout this first year of writing about Paraguay! As research for the guidebook I am writing about Paraguay I have spent the last year exploring the country visiting the “must-sees” as well as a fair share of the “never-heard-of-there-befores.” On this special occassion I’d like to share some tips for making the most of the diverse experiences Paraguay offers travelers.
It will make everything easier. In Paraguay, as in other “underdeveloped” nations, departure and arrival times are approximate (this also aplies to store and office hours). It is especially important to confirm bus itineraries as things may change (see following section on weather). Make sure your travel plans include some wiggle room to compensate for broken down buses or missed connections.
Work around the weather:
Paraguayans’ daily routines are built around the weather. People rise early to make the most of the cool morning hours. When the sun is at it’s strongest it is time for a siesta. Even in urban areas many businesses close for lunch/siesta. Take your cues from the locals and plan to take a break during the day’s hottest hours. Take refuge inside an air-conditioned restaurant or cyber cafe, or in a shady plaza. If you have business to attend to it is best to do so during the morning shift as sometimes people decide not to return after siesta. Depending on the road conditions rain can affect your travel plans. In areas with cobblestone or asphalted roads a rainstorm can mean a couple of hours of flooded streets. In rural areas prolonged rain may temporarily turn stretches of dirt roads into unpassable mud pits.
Don’t be shy, talk to people:
In Paraguay you will have much better luck looking for information in person than online. Some companies and hotels have websites but they are not necessarily up to date. This can be frustrating but it does have the benefit of pushing you to interact with locals. When requesting information you should be prepared for some preliminary chit-chatting. Of course there are always people who prefer to provide a made up answer than no answer at all. Directions that end in “and ask for directions again there” are common. It is a good idea to ask multiple people and weight your conclusions accordingly. Also keep in mind that a majority of Paraguayans do not have constant internet access but almost everyone has a cell phone. If you cannot ask in person and need a quick response calling or text-messaging is preferable to email.
Learn some Guarani words:
Many people are intimidated with new languages but the beauty of the Guarani/Spanish dynamic is the two are regularly interwoven so it is perfectly fine to just throw in the words you know when possible. It will send the sign that you are interested in the culture and get you mega brownie points. A well timed “ndaipori problema” (meaning “no problem” or “it’s all good”) is guaranteed to elicit a smile, at the very least. Personally I have noticed a significant difference in the way I am recieved and the information I get if I start off any conversation with “mbaeichapa” (“how are you?”) and then throw in whatever else I can throughout.
Visit the countryside:
In Paraguay, as in the rest of the world, there is a great difference between life in urban and rural areas. Especially in well-off areas, Asunción is a world away from the rest of the country. If you only stick to Asuncion you will miss out on experiencing the rural environment and lifestyle that is far more representative of Paraguay as a whole. This does not mean you have to spend your time in Paraguay using latrines and working in the field though. There are options for every budget and comfort level from hotels in small towns along the main highways to private ranches called “estancias” with many amenities. The former offer a glimpse at life in small-town Paraguay and the later offer a comfortable way to enjoy beautiful landscapes and quiet nights (aside from roosters) of the Paraguayan countryside.
Sitting in the shade of a corredor yeré (wraparound porch) or “mango guy pe” (under a mango tree) drinking tereré is one of the best ways to create a bond of friendship with Paraguayans. Think of it as the non-alcoholic equivalent of chatting over some beers. Tereré is about as Paraguayan as it gets. If someone invites you to drink tereré (this happens even when you are perfect strangers) think twice before passing up the opportunity. If you prefer not to share drinks with others all is not lost. Simply offer to “cebar” or serve the tereré instead and be sure to ask for tips on how to do so. Everyone has their own theory about bombilla placement and water pouring technique and will enjoy explaining it at length.
Have you spent time traveling in Paraguay? Leave a comment and share your top Paraguay travel tips!