The tourism ministry, known as Secretaría Nacional de Turismo, has an informative website in Spanish and English at www.senatur.gov.py For cultural and historical information, head to www.paraguay.com. The website www.yagua.com has links to current affairs articles and weather reports.
Telephone Dialing Info at a Glance
The national telephone company is called Copaco. Telephone centers are ubiquitous in every town and cards for phone boxes can be bought at most corner stores. Use Hablemas phone cards when making international calls.
- To place a call from your home country to Paraguay, dial the international access code (011 in the U.S., 0011 in Australia, 0170 in New Zealand, 00 in the U.K.), plus the country code (595), plus the city or region area code (for example, Asunción is 21), followed by the number. For example, a call from the United States to Asunción would be 011-595-21-XXX-XXX.
- To place a domestic long-distance call within Paraguay, dial a 0 before the area code, and then the local number.
- To place a direct international call from Paraguay, dial the international access code (00), plus the country code of the place you are dialing, plus the area code and the number. To make an international collect call, dial 0012. Calls cost G/1,853 per minute to the U.S. and G/2,850 per minute to Europe.
- To reach an international long-distance operator, dial tel. 000-410 for AT&T, tel. 000-412 for MCI, or tel. 000-417 for Sprint.
Entry Requirements & Customs
Citizens of the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia need a visa to enter Paraguay. This must be obtained before your trip and costs $65.
Paraguayan Embassy Locations -- In Canada: 151 Slater St., Suite 401, Ottawa, K1P 5H3 (tel. 613/567-1283; fax 613/567-1679; www.embassyofparaguay.ca)
In the U.S.: 2400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/483-6960; fax 202/234-4508; www.embaparusa.gov.py)
In the U.K.: 344 Kensington High St., Third Floor, London W14 8NS (tel. 207/610-4180; www.paraguayembassy.co.uk)
Paraguay's currency is called the guaraní and is designated throughout this book with a G/. The exchange rate was $1 to 4,750 guaranís at press time. Guaranís are available in 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000, and 100,000 notes; coins come in 50, 100, and 500 guaranís. It is difficult to change this currency outside Paraguay, though you may have some luck in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Dirty or torn U.S. dollars are difficult to change, though they can be replaced by better ones at some banks.
Note: Throughout, I list prices of hotels, tours and some transportation options in U.S. dollars.
Traveler's checks are accepted by most banks in Asunción but charge up to 5.5% commission. Currency-exchange houses may insist on seeing your purchase receipt before accepting. The most widely accepted credit cards are Visa and MasterCard; you'll have less luck with American Express and Diners Club. To report a lost or stolen credit card, call the following numbers: American Express, tel. 0411/008-0071; MasterCard, tel. 636/722-7111 (collect call to the U.S.); and Visa, tel. 0411/940-7915. ATMs on the Cirrus and Visa/PLUS networks are widely available in Asunción and other large towns.
When To Go
Peak Season & Climate -- With its subtropical climate, Paraguay is best to visit from May to September, though the weather can be very changeable. The rainy season is from October to April when it rains 1 in 3 days, though it is not unknown to rain throughout the year. January is the hottest month, with average temperatures of 82°F (28°C), and July is the coolest month, with averages around 64°F (18 °C). Temperatures can drop as low as 40°F (5°C) in winter but rarely dip below freezing -- which prevents snow.
Public Holidays -- National holidays include New Year's Day (Jan 1); San Blas Day (February 3); Memorial Day for former president Francisco Solana López (Mar 1); Holy Thursday and Good Friday (March or April); Labor Day (May 1, 14, and 15); Corpus Christi (May or June); Chaco Peace Day (June 12); the Battle of Acosta Ñu and Child's Day (Aug 15); Founding of Asuncion Day (Aug 25); Boqueron Victory Day (Sept 29); Immaculate Conception Day (Dec 8); and Christmas Day (Dec 25). On these holidays, all government offices are closed, but some museums remain open.
Mosquitoes are prevalent, and therefore dengue fever and malaria are endemic, especially in the east around Itaipú. The locally made repellent Repel and mosquito coils can keep the bugs at bay. Avoid tap water and salads, as dysentery is not unknown, and typhoid and tuberculosis are risks as well. Hookworm is common, and STDs are on the rise. Goiter and leprosy are also common ailments, but are unlikely to present a risk to travelers. Check the CDC's website at www.cdc.gov for the latest information before your trip.
Getting There & Getting Around
By Plane -- International flights land at Silvio Pettirossi Airport (airport code ASU; tel. 021/645-600), 15km (9 miles) northeast of the city. An airport tax of $25 is levied when leaving the country. A taxi to downtown costs about $17; to Villa Mora it's $11. Paraguay's main carrier is TAM, Oliva y Ayolas (tel. 021/465-600; www.tamairlines.com), serving domestic and international destinations. There are no direct flights from Europe or North America. TAM flies via Sao Paulo to New York, Paris, Milan, and Miami. There are three daily flights to Buenos Aires and one a day to Cochabamba (Bolivia), Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Cruz (Bolivia), and Santiago in Chile. Gol (www.voegol.com.br) has regular flights to Buenos Aires and Brazil. United Airlines, Mcal López 310 (tel. 021/213-019; www.united.com), has offices in Asunción that can organize onward flights from Brazil.
By Car -- A car is essential to visit many of the less accessible national parks, but be prepared for many annoying police stops between cities and the occasional solicitation of a bribe. National Car Rental, Ave. España 1009 (tel. 021/232-990; www.national.com.py), offers small cars and SUVs. Avis, Eligio Ayala 695 (tel. 021/446-233; www.avis-int.com), has offices in the Sheraton and in the airport. American Rent a Car (tel. 0991/761-632) also has a location in the airport. Cars for the day start at $35. For roadside emergencies or general information on driving in Paraguay, contact the Touring y Automóvil Club Paraguayo, 25 de Mayo y Brasil (tel. 021/210-550; www.tacpy.com.py). A reliable tow-truck service is Allianza (tel. 0971/262-529).
Tips On Accommodations
The best hotels in the country are located in Asunción, though quality can vary greatly. The most upscale establishments cater mostly to business clientele, while most midrange places are in bad need of a makeover. Always try and get a room with A/C or at least one with windows facing a quiet street, or better still a leafy courtyard. Often the best bargains are small family-run establishments. There are very few hostels. Hotel rooms fall under the price categories of Very Expensive, $200 and up; Expensive, $120 to $199; Moderate, $50 to $119; and Inexpensive, $49 and below.
Tips On Dining
Paraguay's enduring Guaraní heritage is most evident in its food, with subtropical campesino favorites such as maize and manioc (yuca) appearing in almost every dish. The national dish sopa paraguaya is in fact not a soup but cornbread and cheese. Locro is a type of maize stew and mazzamorra a corn mush. Bori-bori is a popular version of chicken soup, while torta de almidos is a pancake made from manioc flower. If you have had enough of tuberous root, you'll find plenty of parrillas (grill houses) serving steak and ribs, though the quality may not be as good as neighboring Argentina or Uruguay. A surprising variation is the quantity of Asian eateries offering Chinese, Korean, and Japanese food, the result of a wave of immigration in the 1980s. Like any poor country, there are plenty of food stalls in town centers offering everything from empanadas to chipas (cheese bread). More upscale restaurants are found in the well-to-do neighborhoods, and many offer excellent river fish such as surubi. Meals are listed according to Very Expensive, G/71,250 and up; Expensive, G/47,500 to G/66,500; Moderate, G/33,250 to G/42,750; and Inexpensive, under G/33,250.
Tips On Shopping
Ñanduti lace and wood carvings (known as palo santo) are Paraguay's most famous handicrafts, made in some satellite towns of Asunción. The capital itself has the best selection of high-quality craft stores, while Ciudad del Este is the most famous place to buy cheap electronics. This tax-free zone is a magnet for bargain-hunting Argentines and Brazilians. Watch out for unscrupulous traders who specialize in counterfeit goods and phony packaging. It's best to stick with the more established malls while shopping in this chaotic border town, famed for its contraband.
American Express In Asunción, American Express is at InterExpress, Yegros 690 y Herrera (tel. 021/490-111; email@example.com). Banespa, Independencia Nacional y Moreno (tel. 021/448-698), changes traveler's checks but requires a purchase receipt. Money-exchange houses are on Palma and Estrella, but beware that their rates go up when banks are closed. Parapiti Cambios, Palma 449 (tel. 021/490-032), will change traveler's checks for a small fee.
Business Hours In general, businesses stay open weekdays from 8am to 6:30 or 7pm, with a 2-hour break for lunch around noon. Retail outlets keep similar hours and are usually open a half-day on Saturday as well. Banks are open weekdays from 8:30am to 1:30pm.
Doctors & Hospitals -- The best private hospital is Bautista, Avenida Argentina and Cervera, Asunción (tel. 021/600-171). The main public hospital is called Emergencias Médicas, Brasil and FR Moreno (tel. 021/204-800).
Electricity Electricity in Paraguay runs on 220 volts, so bring a transformer and adapter along with any electrical appliances. Note that most laptops operate on both 110 and 220 volts. Some luxury hotels may supply transformers and adapters. Plugs have two pins.
Embassies & Consulates In Asunción: The U.S. Consulate, Av. Mcal López 1776 (tel. 021/213-715; http://asuncion.usembassy.gov), is open Monday to Thursday from 7:30am to 5:30pm and Friday 7:30 to 11:30am. The U.K. Consulate, Eulogio Estigarribia 4846 (tel. 021/663-536), is open Monday to Friday 8am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm; and the Canada Consulate, Prof. Ramirez 3, Office 102 (tel. 021/227-207), is open Monday to Thursday 8am to 4pm and Friday 8am to noon.
Emergencies The general emergency number is tel. 911; the fire department number is tel. 711. For medical emergencies, call tel. 204-800.
Internet Access Cybercafes are commonly found around Asunción and other Paraguayan cities. Many hotel business centers have Internet access, as do the guest rooms in high-end hotels. The average cost is $1 an hour.
Language -- Paraguay is a bilingual country, with Guaraní frequently spoken along with Spanish. Several other Indian languages are spoken to a much lesser extent, such as Aché, Nivaclé, and Lengua.
Liquor Laws The legal age for drinking in Paraguay is 20, but this is poorly enforced.
Police -- The main police station in Asunción is Comisaria Tercera, Chile y Colombia, Asunción. For emergencies, call 911.
Post Offices & Mail Post offices are generally open Monday through Friday from 8am to 6pm and Saturday from 8am to 1pm. You can buy stamps there or in mailing centers in shopping malls. The main post office is situated on Benjamin Constant and El Paraguayo Independiente (tel. 021/498-112).
Restrooms There are very few public restrooms in the country's cities and towns, except in its large shopping malls. Restaurant owners will gladly oblige a nonpaying customer if you really need to go. In general, hygiene varies greatly, depending on the level of each establishment. Public buses have no restrooms and museums usually have a dark cubicle hidden away somewhere. It is always wise to carry your own toilet roll.
Safety Paraguay is a relatively safe country, but it is prudent to keep your eyes open and valuables hidden, especially in Ciudad del Este. Downtown Asunción is badly lit at night, but there are usually plenty of policemen out to prevent crime.
Smoking There is currently no smoking ban, though it is frowned upon to smoke on public buses.
Taxes Value-added tax is called IVA in Spanish. The standard rate in Paraguay is 10%.
Time Zone Paraguay is 3 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and 4 hours behind during daylight saving time (Mar-Oct); Paraguay only sporadically observes daylight saving time.
Tipping A 10% to 15% tip is common in restaurants. For taxis, round up to the nearest 1,000 guaraní. Tips for porters and guides are discretionary.
Water You should drink only bottled water while in Paraguay, and avoid all salads and uncooked vegetables.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.