The city of Asuncion is home to a little more than 500,000 people. It is a young city: 65% of its residents are under the age of 30. From Saturday in the evening and all Sunday most businesses are closed and the city centre can appear fairly deserted.
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The only direct flights from Central America to Asuncion are from Panama (Tocumen international airport).
From the rest of North America there are no direct flights to Asunción (Silvio Pettirossi International Airport). The best options are São Paulo, Lima or Buenos Aires and change to one of the local carriers, e.g. TACA, TAM, PLUNA, GOL Airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas, Sol del Paraguay.
Taxis are available at the airport. A taxi to the centro (city centre) is about Gs 110,000 ($25 USD). If you walk a block outside the airport (on the only road) there is a small bus stop. Two city buses are available one takes you into the city on the main road Mariscal Lopez and the other down Espana (you can tell where the buses go by the sign in the bus window). Buses run until about 10PM. Buses cost Gs 2,300 (50 US cents).
There are no trains, apart from a tourist train to Areguá which departs on Sunday from Jardín Botánico station. The building near Plaza Uruguaya once used as the main train station is now a museum and cultural events venue.
Driving a car yourself is not recommended since many streets are in disrepair and apart from the main roads many are unpaved. The traffic in the city can be quite chaotic for unaccustomed drivers. However, it gets much better once outside of the city. The car rental companies can also provide drivers.
The bus terminal is about about 5 km from the centre, so it is advisable to take a taxi or bus (bus number 38, 2350 Gs pp) into town. The street Fernando de La Mora in front of the terminal leads to the centre. Some bus companies maintain offices around Plaza Urugaya in the centre, but most are now inside the Terminal.
There are normally two types of services to the bigger cities: común and rápido. While the first are cheaper, they also stop in every small town or community along the way and hence take longer then the rápidos which run direct or with a few stops only. Rapidos are less frequent.
The bus to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, is not recommended: it is extremely slow (the Transchaco Highway is only paved as far as the Bolivian border), buses generally travel only at night - meaning that you miss out on any views of the Chaco, and roadblocks on the Bolivian side of the border are common and can easily cause your journey time to double. Most of the buses making this journey (at least 21 hours) do not have toilets on board. Flights to Santa Cruz are nowadays only marginally more expensive than the bus if booked in advance. All the other buses are extremely good. It's wise to spend extra to get the better service (the 90,000gs bus to Ciudad del Este takes two to three hours less than the 40,000gs services, for example). Food and drink is often served on the more expensive long-distance services, and almost all will stop en-route to let someone on selling chipa and cocido.
The port is at the riverside end of Montevideo just after Paraguayo Independiente.
The historic centre of Asunción is small enough to be explored by foot. However, some of the attractions, such as the Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden) are a bit outside. In addition to the city's historical core - which is essentially between the streets Colón and Antequera - the Carmelitas area has become a hub for retail and entertainment, containing several large shopping centres and North American-style bars and restaurants. East-west street names change at Independencia Nacional, and North-South ones at Avenida Mariscal López.
Buses are ubiquitous, cheap and an experience in themselves (be careful while exiting, since many only slow down, rather than stop completely for the passengers to get off). They go more or less everywhere in the city - destinations are displayed on boards on the front window, if in doubt just shout your intended destination at the driver when he stops and he'll tell you yes or no. The are sometimes a few different versions of each bus number - 16, 16.1, 16.2 etc. which often have completely different routes from each other, so watch out not to accidentally get on the wrong one. There aren't many official bus stops in Asunción, you can just stick your arm out and flag down a bus pretty much anywhere. You need a knowledge of Spanish to ask your way along. As of June 2013, the fare is Gs. 2.000GS (37c, 16.2). Some Bus Routes are 2,400 gs. - the 18, 30, 28, "Aregua".
Some useful bus routes: Centre (Oliva) to Shopping del Sol: 28, 30 Centre to Shopping Mariscal Lopez/Villa Morra: 26, 28, 30.2 (from Oliva), 56 (from Haedo) Centre (Oliva) to the Botanical Gardens: 1, 13 Centre (Oliva) to the Bus Termninal: 8, 36 Centre (Haedo) to Mercado 4: 2, 21, 25, 27, 29, 133 Centre (Oliva) to the airport: 30A Bus Terminal to IPS - 18 (goes all the way down Rep.Argentina that turns into San Martin, takes a left onto Espana, then a right onto Sacramento)
Taxis are also available and reasonably inexpensive. Many of the taxis are old, lumbering diesel Mercedes, which can be a fun throwback. A 30% surcharge is added on late at night (after around 10PM) and on Sundays. Tipping isn't expected. Make sure that drivers use the meter, or arrange a fare beforehand.
From the bus terminal walk up the stairs marked "SALIDA", then down the stairs into the car park. Ignore the taxi touts and catch a taxi from the rank. A taxi into the city centre during the day should cost around 40,000 Gs. From the Airport taxis in front of the terminal charge a flat, non-negotiable rate of 110,000 Gs to the centre. It is possible to get a cheaper fare by walking up to the main road and taking a yellow cab from there, though you're unlikely to save any more than about 20,000 Gs.
Asunción may not have many conventional tourist attractions, but if you are willing to be your own tour guide, Asunción can be an interesting place to visit.
Every July there is a trade fair with exhibition booths, food, music and liquor. This is a good way to learn about what goes on in the country, the exhibitors range from agricultural suppliers to liquor manufacturers. Keep an eye out for the many free samples of food, soap, drinks, etc.
IDIPAR language school: Spanish & native Guarani courses for foreigners. Located in the center of Asunción - Manduvira 963 casi Colon. Telephone: 021.447.896 - Email: email@example.com. Established in 1982. Wonderful atmosphere and spacious classrooms. Experienced and patient teachers. A great place for fast, conversational learning. Cheap hourly prices and discounts for student volunteers. Group and private courses available. Open Monday through Saturday.
Teaching English is a possibility, but without a visa it can be difficult and wages are low. In a country such as Paraguay with widespread underemployment, obtaining paid work is almost impossible for foreigners. Volunteer work in poorer areas of the city is easy to come by.
The cost of buying goods and services is cheap. This is only partly due to the fact that Paraguay is a piracy and smuggling haven. Be aware that some goods may be cheaply made.
Indigenous crafts and artisan work are available such as tooled leather, carved wood, pottery and a particularly Paraguayan lace based on a spider's web called "Ñanduti". Check out the artisan shops in Plaza de los Heroes. Most goods are in fact locally made.
Shopping malls There are two main malls in Asuncion Shopping del Sol on Aviadores del Chaco and Shopping Mariscal López on Avenida Mariscal Lopez, exist in the suburbs of Villa Mora and Carmelitas. Take buses 28 or 30 to reach them. Mall Excelsior on Chile, and the more basic Asuncion Supercentro on the western end of Oliva are both in the centre. These "Shoppings" are useful as places to eat on Sunday evenings, when many more central places are closed.
Mercado 4 along Avenida Sivio Pettirossi, is a chaotic market where you can buy just about anything very cheaply, it is particularly good for counterfeit clothing and pirated CDs and DVDs (of varying quality). Good street food and some foreign, mostly Chinese, restaurants.
Typical souvenirs from Asunción would include guampas/bombillas, t-shirts, traditional lace, or leather goods.
Paraguay has a tradition for beef which is normally good quality and cheap. Grilled meat (asado) is the thing to eat. Pasta is also popular as are the street stalls selling panchos (hot-dogs), hamburgers, empanadas and similar fast-food. Vegetables, salad and other types of meat are not that common but available. In restaurants you normally get manioc as a side dish for free (similar to bread in other countries).
You must try the Paraguayan traditional food, which includes dishes like the following:
Mbeju is a starch cake made with manioc flour and cheese. Pastel madi'o is a manioc pastry stuffed with "So'o ku'í" or minced meat. Payagua mascada (Guarani for chewing gum for dogs but has nothing to do with that) is a tortilla also made with manioc and beef (high in proteins and calories). The famous chipa is a kind of cheese bread made with manioc flour. Chipa So'o is chipa stuffed with meat, usually beef. Note that in Paraguay, "Sopa" refers to a dish similar to cheesy cornbread, not soup (you'll need to say "caldo"). Vori Vori (sometimes Bori Bori) is a traditional soup adorned with balls of cornmeal.
At lunch time there is no shortage of cheap restaurants to dine in or take away - you can't miss them. The places where you help yourself and pay by weight are usually very cheap and a decent option besides the slightly more expensive restaurants with their daily menu. At dinner time only very few eating places are still open and finding a good deal - especially if you are budget-conscious - is a lot harder.
Most shopping malls have decent food courts with a variety of restaurants, however, they are located away from the centre. Bigger supermarkets often have a cheap self-service restaurant inside.
For a traditional Paraguayan meal, visit "La Paraguayita." Don't miss a Brazillian steak house called a "churrasqueria."
Tap water in Paraguay is potable.
The most common drink in Paraguay is Mate made of Yerba Mate (Mate herbs) that is similar in style to tea but the preparation is distinct. Sugar or other sweetener is sometimes added to make Mate Dulce. In the warmer months, it is more common to drink yerba with cold water, called Terere (pronounced tae-rae-rae) - often drunk from a cow horn fasioned cup. Cold or hot, it is drunk through a communal silver-plated straw (the bombilla). It is a social activity so the cup is passed around - with in between a refill for each person. If you are offered either you should accept at least one cup. Another variation of preparation is to boil the yerba on the stove with sugar then strain it before serving it with milk. It tastes a bit like smoked tea. In this form it is called Cocido, which simply means "cooked".
Gaseosa means fizzy drinks of any description. All the usual brands are available. Try the local Guarana, but note, Guarana is not sweetened with sugar.
Coffee is mostly of an Italian variety. There are several locations of Café Havanna , a Starbucks-like Argentine coffee chain. One is just off the corner of Avenida Mcal. López and Avenida Rca. Argentina.
In Paraguay, orange juice and other fruit juices, unless squeezed fresh, are almost always reconstituted from dehydrated concentrate. This applies to all unrefrigerated Tetra-Pak juices. Note that the dehydration process destroys vitamin C, and unlike in the West, ascorbic acid may not be added back after reconstitution, thus these fruit juices may not contain any appreciable amount of vitamin C. Either check the packaging, buy fresh juice (freshly squeezed from a street vendor, or Purifru brand in the refrigerator cabinet), or enjoy the wide variety of fresh fruit available on many street corners.
Bars & Clubs
While a great many hotels exist in Asunción and to find a bed should never be too difficult, decent places in the budget range are rare. The highest concentration of hotels from budget to splurge can be found in the city centre between the streets Cristobal Colon and Estados Unidos. There is also quite a number of cheap places opposite the bus terminal (in particular on Lapacho a side street of La Mora), though you get normally better value in the city centre. During off-season you may be quoted discounted prices before even asking for it.
Try it also in the following streets next to Plaza Uruguay: Mexico, Paraguari and Antequera. July/2013: practically all hotels around the bus terminal are offering basic single rooms for 150.000 Gs.
For stays of one month or more, it can make sense to rent an apartment. Although use of the internet for such things is limited in Paraguay, you can find a number of apartments and houses for rent on Clasipar . The majority of properties are not furnished, and lessors generally seek one-year leases; however, comfortable furnished apartments in the centre can be had for between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 Gs per month. Make sure you get a receipt for the deposit specifically (insist if necessary; claim you won't rent without one) or you probably won't get it back.
National police have a highly visible presence. Some already decked out in riot gear as if an uprising were forthcoming at any moment. Although most of the time they are on their cell phones or smoking. Houses are protected by high walls topped by barbed wire and electric fence or razor wire. Those who can afford it have a full time 24 hour guard on their grounds. Prostitution is rampant and obvious after dark on the main avenues downtown. Despite the locals' rather high perception of crime, Asunción is one of the safer capitals in South America and violent crime is very uncommon. Due to the low numbers of tourists in Paraguay in general, visitors are not likely to be specifically targeted by criminals. Key things to watch out for are petty thieves (watch your pockets on crowded buses) and taxi drivers trying to rip you off (make sure they use the meter). The typical danger is two men on a motorcycle. The front one drives while the back guy jumps off and steals your purse, bag, or items. Be very cautious when you are alone walking and see two men on a motorcycle.
Contrary to Embassy security belief, I have found the city buses to be very safe as far as pick-pocketing is concerned. Be smart. You must hold on tight so that you are physically safe from the radical driving.
Liquor is easily available but not widely abused, there are a fair few street drunks in some parts of the city, but they are invariably harmless. There are casinos for gambling but only with electronic machines so again not abused. Pickpocketing is said to be prevalent in crowded downtown streets near expensive hotels. Women travelers should be aware that they will receive a lot of unwanted attention from Paraguayan males -this is mostly intended as innocent banter in the form of shouts or wolf whistles etc, but can sometimes be accompanied by touching, especially in clubs. This sort of attention is best just ignored.
Be extremely careful when crossing streets in Asunción. Most drivers consider stop signs and traffic lights to be merely suggestions, even if police are nearby. Buses will stop for almost nothing, so be very careful.
The United States CDC recommends that all visitors to Asunción receive a Typhoid vaccination prior to travel. Dengue fever is frequently a risk one takes when traveling to Asunción; unfortunately, no vaccine for this currently exists. To avoid insect-spread diseases, ensure that you use bug spray at all times of the day, without exception. The mosquitoes are relentless.
The "Chacarita" area by the river, next to the Palace is an extremely impoverished and dangerous part of the city, and is definitely not a place to go exploring.
Police in the central area have been targeting tourists asking them to see passports, when the passports are handed over, police then ask for a 1.5-2,000,000G contribution for its return. To overcome this, make sure to have a copy of your passport instead of the original.
Internet places are everywhere and usually cost between 3,000 and 5,000 guaraníes per hour. Connection speeds are usually good.
If you're travelling with a laptop or Wi-Fi enabled phone, it's relatively easy to find open Wi-Fi signals. Many restaurants have free Wi-Fi.
Asunción is just south of the Tropic of Capricorn so the weather is tropical. That is, mostly hot, especially in South American summer (winter in the northern hemisphere). Temperatures in December through March can consistently climb over 38 C / 100 F. Humidity can be high and uncomfortable. However the weather is highly variable! When the sun shines you bake. When the rains come they come in buckets and the temperature drops precipitously.It can be very dry when the rains hold off for just a few days. Then the clouds build and it becomes cold.
Flies, ants and especially mosquitoes (but no large, creepy bugs) are everywhere. There are no screens, windows and doors are simply flung open for ventilation. Air conditioners do exist but most people depend on less expensive fans. Heaters do not exist, though on the chilliest days they would be welcomed. The soil is bright red and as many streets are unpaved dust becomes a problem. There are trees (some in the middle of roads!) for shade, but palm trees are planted everywhere. Dogs and farm animals of every description are all over the roads. There is no humane society to care for wild dogs and some are pitifully mangy. It is not uncommon to see pigs wallowing in a mud puddle in the middle of a road, chickens are everywhere, horses, donkeys and cows run loose and can be found in anyone's property.
It is brutally hot in Paraguay's summer. If you've ever wondered why Latin culture has a "siesta" where everything closes down at noon for a few hours, you'll soon know why if you spend time in Asunción during the summer. You'll also understand why people eat dinner so late and stay out partying all night: it's too hot during the day to enjoy being outside.