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Affectionately nicknamed the “the Heart of America,” the landlocked country of Paraguay may be off the beaten track but it rivals its big-name neighbours in cultural appeal, natural wonders and magical experiences. With the heavy forests and dry deserts of Gran Chaco diverging from colonial towns like Asunción, Paraguay boasts eclectic sights and environments that many travellers have yet to discover.
Before its Spanish colonialism in the 16th century, Paraguay was largely inhabited by its indigenous people, the Guarani Indians. When the Spanish arrived, the Guarani took them in and spurred the beginnings of a new cultural ancestry when Spanish settlers married Guarani women. The resulting mixed Spanish and Guarani “mestizos” now make up over 90 per cent of the Paraguayan population. Meet the locals in Paraguay and you’ll be impressed to find that most of them speak both Spanish and the Guarani indigenous language.
Paraguay has not long been a tourist spot due to political unrest under the almost 30-year dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, which ended in 1989. With grounds less treaded on by tourists, Paraguay boasts vast unspoiled landscapes such as the Gran Chaco, littered with exotic wildlife and stretches of dry plains adorned with lofty trees. At this natural haven, you may spot an ostrich, jaguar or puma in its element.
Bordered by Brazil to the northeast, Bolivia to the northwest and Argentina to the southwest, Paraguay is in proximity to one of the most stunning natural phenomena on the continent. On the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina are the thundering Iguassu Falls, a two-mile-wide torrent of cascading water that is nothing short of spectacular. These falls are the result of a volcanic eruption and have been designated a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.
Visit the country’s riverside capital, Asunción, and you’ll be greeted by friendly locals, tropical climate and colonial architecture. Here, you’ll see a sprawl of modern culture, from suburbs to shopping centres, interspersed among colonial buildings and old world plazas. For a dose of art, head to the Museo de Bellas Artes, where you’ll get a taste of Paraguayan paintings and sculptures. Perhaps explore the Catedral Metropolitana and marvel at its vast gilded altar and religious art inside.
On your visit to South America, take the road less travelled to Paraguay, where you’ll be met with an intoxicating infusion of awe-inspiring natural wonders, rich heritage and unforgettable culture. Discover the colour and contrast of the fascinating lands of Paraguay and you’ll leave with memories to last a lifetime!
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