327km (209 miles) E of Asunción
Prepare yourself for a city quite unlike any other; a dirty, sweltering warren of frenetic buying and selling, set beside a muddy river upon which thousands cross like ants carrying TVs, computers, even kitchen sinks! Ciudad del Este is the third-largest tax-free zone in the world and provides 60% of Paraguay's GDP. Here the currency is either dollars or Brazilian reals, and the nationalities are a melting pot of Taiwanese, Korean, Indian, Syrian, and Lebanese. Ciudad del Este gets a bad rap as South America's capital of contraband and piracy, where you can buy anything from AK47s to bales of marijuana to even babies (so one foreboding Argentine told me). Yet it is a modern frontier town (indeed, three frontiers), choked with billboards and vendors. Shoppers and porters hurriedly dodge money changers and dealers as motorcyclists weave between stalled cars and buses, all on a frantic break for the border. Stores vary from rickety stalls to giant luxury malls selling the real and the unreal. Ciudad del Este's existence began with the building of the impressive Itaipú dam and continues with the unchecked flood of Brazilian and Argentine bargain hunters. (It is linked to Brazil through a 500m/1,640 ft. rusting hulk called the Friendship Bridge.) It has some good hotels and is close to Iguazú Falls and its smaller counterpart, Monday Falls.