Asuncion is the capital of Paraguay.
Asuncion is a large city situated approximately 250 km north of the confluence of the Parana and Paraguay rivers, however the rivers play a very small part in daily activity. The main streets are paved but only one or two blocks off the main arteries the streets are dirt or "cobble stones." Downtown has many tall and modern buildings, but some date to the 1800s.
Paraguay has long been plagued by dicatatorships, the last one was Stroessner who was overthrown in 1989. Since then a succession of presidents and a semblence of democracy have prevailed so that the government is fairly stable even though shockingly corrupt. Stroessner was proud that smuggling was Paraguay's main industry and encouraged it by declaring "smuggling brought peace." Because of this form of government Paraguay has remained isolated and insular. There was a war with Boliva in 1930-32 in an area called the "Chaco,". So many of Paraguay's male population were killed that there are hardly any elderly residents over the age of 50. It took the decades of the 30s, 40s and 50s before the male population reached 50-50 with the female population, so not many children were born then.
From the US: American Airlines out of Miami,FL flies to Sao Paulo, Brazil. American Airlines stopped flying from Sao Paulo, Brazil in February 2006 therefore you will have to transfer to another airline to Asuncion. Other airlines are TAM and Varig from Brazil, GOL Airlines as a cheap airline operating from Brasil can be recommended. Highly recommend getting a porter at Asuncion Airport to whisk you through customs, who is available after the red light/green light customs check. A visa is required to visit Paraguay which must be secured in advance outside the county and is only valid for 90 days.
Canadians likewise need a visa, though it may not be necessary to secure the visa before leaving the country. For instance, travellers who will be passing through Argentina on their way to Paraguay can get their visa a day or two in advance from one of the consulates.
Most Europeans don't need a visa to enter Paraguay.
If you rent a car it should be very well built. The streets are in horrible disrepair and travel by car is an unforgettable experience of bumps and potholes, including speed bumbs which you shouldn't run over too quick, because they can cause severe damage to you car if you hit one to hard. Many streets are not paved at all. The Paraguayan drivers are unbelievable! No one stops for stop signs or red lights and speeds of 90km/h in city limits is usual. To do so would be unmanly. If one car gets into the left turn lane another might join the first and even a third all jostling to be first making the turn when the traffic is clear. Pedestrians do not have the right of way and must yield to autos. There is a huge number of motorbikes, called "motos," weaving in and out of traffic. Right of way is determined by size. Buses and large trucks make room for no one. A large SUV can trump a family-sized auto any day. And autos try to crowd out motos. Motos of course try to run over pedestrians or bicyclists!
Buses are ubiquitous and cheap. They go everywhere in the city provided a knowledge of Spanish is assumed. Most are old and feel like they may rattle themselves apart any day.
Taxis are also available and inexpensive, though again much easier to navigate with a command of Spanish.
Asuncion may not have much to see, but if you are willing to be your own tour guide, Asuncion can be a good time.
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.
One of the more impressive new buildings in the city is the National Congress. It was built in 2002 with $20 million from the Taiwanese government. Paraguay is one of the few countries that recognizes Taiwan as opposed to mainland China. Most striking is its mirrored facade, which reflects the nearby slums along the bank of the river.
Across the broad and picturesque plaza with fountains is the National Cathedral, but it is frequently closed, especially at midday siesta.
The municipal museum is modest, but has some tidbits about the old tram line from the 1880s and other civic history. Nearby is the visual arts museum with temporary exhibits from national artists.
The Fine Arts museum is fairly unimpressive.
The Panteon del los Heroes houses the tomb of the unknown soldier as well as plaques for the heroes of the Chaco war.
Backyard birds in the city are interesting. There is the Great Kiskadee, Saffron Finch and Hornero. Kiskadee is like a yellow blue jay-- aggressive and large. Saffron finch is similar to a yellow house finch, Hornero is much like American Robin without the red breast. It builds a unique nest about the size and shape of a football completely out of mud and resembles a Paraguayan oven or "horno." Thus the name: "baker."
The exchange rate in 2006 was 6,000 guarani for every dollar. The cost of buying goods and services is cheap. Be aware that goods may be cheaply made. Indigenous crafts are available such as tooled leather, carved wood, pottery and a particularly Paraguayan lace based on a spider's web called "Nanduti." Shopping malls exist but the stores themselves are tiny. There are few department stores, most things are bought from a specialty shop. As there is no elderly population most shops are geared toward the younger generations.
Everyone eats beef! Cattle are raised throughout Paraguay and beef is cheap and readily available. Every house has a built-in barbecue grill! The meat is not quick grilled but slow roasted and called "carne asado." Chicken is expensive but readily available. Fish is limited to the catches made in the nearby river and not seafood. It is not readily available. Potatoes can be had but not usually at every meal. Instead starches are consumed as manioc root or corn bread called "sopa paraguayo"(not soup.)There is also an anise flavored bread made from manioc flour and available on every street corner by vendors with baskets on their head called "chipa." Cooked vegetables are not common, salads are not frequent and should not be consumed raw as they may be contaminated with impure water.
American fast food consists of Burger King, McDonald's and Pizza Hut only.
Most shopping malls(called "shopping") have nice restaurants. Italian style cuisine predominates.
Don't miss a Brazillian steak house called a "churrorosco," on Ave. Mariscal Lopez there is one called "Acurella.".
The most common drink in Paraguay is a combination of yerba mate (a tea-like plant containing a natural stimulant) and water. This can take several forms: as in Argentina, Uruaguay and parts of Brazil, it can be made in a small gourd with hot water. More commonly in Paraguay (because of the heat), it is made with cold water and called "terere" (pronounced "tay-ray-ray."). This may be drunk from a special cup fashioned from a cow horn, a cylindrical wooden cup, or possibly any kind of cup available. Cold or hot, the mate is drunk through a communal metal straw (the "bombilla")that strains the mixture as you drink. (Note: if offered a drink, DO NOT say "gracias" (thank you) as this means you do not wish any more after this one sip.) Another variation of preparation is to boil the yerba on the stove with sugar then strain it for serving. In this form it is called "cocido", which simply means "cooked".
Bottled water is available in "gasified," i.e,. carbonated mineral water and "sin gas," not carbonated.
Bottled soda is also available. Coca Cola is called simply "coca." This is not to be confused with coca leaves! There is also a local flavor called "guarana," which is refreshing. Hot tea, iced tea or hot coffee is NOT readily available.
La Mansion is Asuncion's premeire gay night club. And it's only gay nightclub. Better than nothing, right? Actually it's bigger than you might expect. Chill atmosphere, fun dancing and a big crowd of gays and surprisingly numerous lesbians. Straighties welcome. Other guidebooks include a listing for Heaven, but don't be fooled, it closed in 2000. It was replaced by Infierno, which is now La Mansion. Located several blocks up the hill from the Brittania pub. Open for business Friday and Saturday nights, from midnight or so. 10,000 guarani entry includes a drink, and additional beers or mixed drinks are 10,000 each (you have to buy a drink ticket on the side of the bar and then hand it to the bartender). After closing time at 3am, follow the locals to the after-club where the party continues til dawn.
Federal police have a highly visible presence. Some already decked out in riot gear as if an uprising where forthcoming at any moment. Because the dicatator did not tolerate crime in any form-- a violator simply disappeared, possibly in the river-- crime is not prevalent. Although the perception of crime now that the dictator is no longer in power runs high. Houses are protected by twenty foot high walls topped by barbed wire and electric fence or razor wire. Many, 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. Liquor is easily available but not abused-- everyone drinks terere instead. 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.
Asuncion 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 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.