Colonized for 3 centuries by the Spanish, since the 1500s, Paraguay has managed to keep a lot of it indigenous character and identity. Nowadays, the mestizos (Spanish + Amerindian) account for more than 90% of the country's 6 million inhabitants and Guarani is, side by side with Spanish, the country's official language.
In the past, Franciscan and Jesuit missions mingled with the Guaranis' dream of Yvy maraë´y, a land without evil, and produced singular societies. The ruins of the Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad de Parana and Jesus de Tavarangue, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and several villages throughout the country, are witnesses to that peaceful past.
But Paraguay also has a history of blood and tears. In the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70), waged by the allied forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, the country lost two-thirds of all adult males and much of its territory. It stagnated economically for the next half century. In the Chaco War of 1932-35, large, economically important areas were won from Bolivia. The 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner was overthrown in 1989, and, despite a marked increase in political infighting in recent years, democratic governors have been in power since then.
With an area of about 406.000 sq Km, Paraguay is divided between East and West (Chaco) regions by the Paraguay river. Despite being landlocked, the country is bordered and criss-crossed by navigable rivers.
The Tropic of Capricorn also crosses the country from east to west and determines a more tropical climate to the north and subtropical to temperate to the south.
Paraguay has been recently ranked by several research studies as the cheapest country in the world, measured through Purchasing Power Parity. Prices, measured in dollars, euros or british pounds are very cheap.
Flights go out from other South American airports to Asuncion on a fairly regular basis. There are also two daily flights from Sao Paulo to Ciudad del Este. From the USA TAM provides services from Miami,FL to Asuncion via Sao Paolo. Before you try to enter Paraguay check the visa requirements for country, but most European citizens (EU) don't need a visa to visit Paraguay.
Currently, there is no train service available to and from Paraguay. In the past, Paraguay was connected by a train service to Argentina, but it has been discontinued.
When you enter Paraguay over land you have good chances to enter it without being checked, although you should make sure to get the necessary papers and a seal in your passport to avoid trouble when leaving the country (especially if you want to leave by plane). Also you might get pulled over by the police for any reason and they will request accurate papers or a bribe.
Bus service is available to and from a wide range of South American cities. You can take a bus from Santiago, Chile; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cordoba, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the list goes on.
A boat travels up the Paraguay river from Concepción by many ports to the north of the border with Brazil. Most of these boats weren't designed to carry passengers so expect a sticky crowded experience, but you can buy just about anything on board, even cold beer. Bring something comfortable to sleep on!
Taxis are the most efficient and reliable form of transportation, even though you can probably get there also by bus, or micro as Paraguayans call it. Taxis are cheap in Paraguay compared to other countries, and the fares are determined by the meter. Outside Asunción there are no meters so make sure you decide on a price before you get in. Bargaining on a price may be useful, as tourists have been asked for US$10 for a five minute ride. To prevent any disputes, always ask your hotel concierge how much the real cost of the fare should be.
There are highways connecting all the major regions of Paraguay, but most of them are one lane each way. You may hit toll booths along the way. Police may pull you over for any reason, and will expect bribes.
Buses are the most common public transport. There are many companies running different lines. You must check which one serves your destination.
Both Spanish and Guarani are official. Most people in and around Asuncion speak Spanish and it's usually more difficult to understand than in other countries because Paraguayans tend to speak with a "mush mouth." Use of English is not widespread. Outside of Asuncion and big cities Guarani is all you will hear. Due to the extensive use of Guarani, even those that have managed to learn Spanish do not always do so very well, often making many mistakes that any non-native speaker of Spanish would.
In Paraguay Vos is used instead of Tu. There is a slight change in conjugation but not big enough that you won't be understood using Tu. This Vos is NOT the same as Vosotros.
You'll find much of the standard South American cuisine here - beans, rice, with some Brazilian influence as well (fried bananas, pineapple). Also highly popular are empanadas (meat/egg stuffed in a pastry and baked) and milanesa (breaded and fried chicken/beef/fish) - these are considered fast food, and are also found in other countries in the region. If you order a hamburger at a restaurant, expect it to come topped with a fried egg. Asado (BBQ) is great, and prices are quite reasonable - 20000 Guaranis ($3.20 US) will get you an all you can eat buffet at many nice places. 5000 Guarani is enough to pay for a hamburger. Paraguayan food isn't particularly spicy, so those who can't tolerate spices won't have problems here. There is a lot of traditional food. Chipa-a bread baked in a fire, usually made out of cassava (yuca) flour. Cassava is often substituted for potatoes. Sopa Paraguay a form of corn bread are two of the most well known.
It's not advisable to drink the tap water (unless boiled), but you probably won't get sick if you do. The national beverage in Paraguay is a tea called mate, and is made from the yerba plant. It is served in wooden cups, and is drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla. The tea is prepared by pouring dry yerba into the cup, then adding water (hot or cold) and optionally sugar. When prepared cold, it is called "tereré". Often, herbs are added to the mix. The taste is best described as earthy and bitter; it will take getting used to if you plan to drink it. Drinking mate is most definitely one of the social customs of Paraguay, shops will close around noon for a siesta and a mate round with friends. If you can get used to the taste and participate, locals will be appreciative. This drink is also found in other South American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, and parts of Brazil.
Beer is widely available, as are many liquors.
There are not many large cities and if you use some common sense, and street smarts, you are unlikely to run into any trouble. The police are known to be corrupt, and if you are pulled over for any reason, you will almost be expected to pay a bribe. In the cities, crime is common, though not as rampant as in other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires.
Ciudad del Este is reputed to be a center for illicit activities, such as money laundering and counterfeiting, but that should not affect your travels. That said, you will want to keep an eye on your bags and wallet here, as you would do in any other new city you would travel to. Generally, as long as you aren't involved in drug smuggling (inadvertently or otherwise), and beware of pickpockets, you should be safe most of the time.
Hospitals in Paraguay range from decent to unsanitary and unequipped. If you get desperately ill, try to get to the best hospital even if it takes a bit longer - you may not find surgical gloves in the worst of them. There are many stray dogs running the streets - avoid them. They usually won't bother you. You may pick up a foot flea known locally as pique (Tunga penetrans), these will usually collect around your toes. They will lay eggs in your feet if not taken care of - the best way to get rid of them is to pierce the site with a stitching needle and pour hydrogen peroxide over the area. Then dig the bug out. You may notice itching or tenderness in your feet if you have picked one up.