The capital and largest population center of Paraguay, Asunción was never a top destination for the swarms of tourists who venture on a journey to the South American continent, yet despite its sheer anonymity among backpackers, the city is one of the coolest in Latin America, offering any intrepid visitor a lot of unconventional attractions. The lack of tourists actually makes the city much safer in continental standards, as foreigners were never perceived as a legitimate target for criminals like in the surrounding countries, thus wandering around Asunción and its satellite towns is a generally pleasant experience as well as an opportunity to discover plenty of unusual sites, six of which are especially intriguing.
There are few cases worldwide where a river defines a nation, Paraguay is without a shred of doubt synonymous with the river it shares a name with, evident not only by the livelihood it provides for millions of Paraguayans, but also thanks to its navigability that economically links the landlocked country with the rest of world through a network of rivers and waterways that flow into the Atlantic Ocean.
Nestled along the Paraguay River, Asunción owes much of its prosperity to this mighty river, as it served for centuries as a major shipping corridor that helped develop the city to become a commercial center.
Despite its dispensable role, the city’s riverfront remains largely undeveloped, with no modern promenade besides a small section along Costanera Beach, and while it might sound gloomy for some, it also means that much of the Paraguay River’s banks around the urban area have myriads of hidden gems and unusual sights to behold at.
For instance, the riverside west of Urcisino Velazco St. is chockfull of docking vessels and barges, whereas Mirador Ita Pyta Punta is a charming small cove, accessible via a hidden staircase nearby a breathtaking lookout.
If you wish to take a boat ride across the river, you can either ask a local fisherman that will gladly take an extra income, or alternatively take an organized tour with the Cuñatai boat at Sunday or Saturday, departing from Sajonia sports club.
photography by: Hugo Pardo Kuklinski
Nestled in front of Asunción’s port, Loma San Jerónimo is one of the city’s oldest part, undergoing a complete revival in recent years to become a lovely hidden gem.
Loma San Jerónimo might have a somewhat dubious reputation among locals, yet it couldn’t be furthest from the truth, as the moment you start wandering around its picturesque streets, you’ll immediately be struck by the colorfully painted buildings and the hodgepodge of quaint murals at practically anywhere, while being warmly greeted by hospitable passersby.
Besides its medley of monochromatic colored walls and graffiti art works, the neighborhood also has some unusual sites, one of which is the “Escalinata”, an outdoor staircase whose stairs are painted with vivid figures of houses, slightly reminiscent of the famous Escadaria Selarón in Rio de Janeiro.
As part of its ongoing renaissance, a lot of charming bars and restaurant popped out at every corner, offering visitors local delicacies like the tasty tapioca-based empanadas or Kivevé soup with cheese and pumpkin, so make sure to leave some spare room at your belly before coming here. Additionally, at its highest point, adjacent to the catholic church, the Ko’ape Bar among others has a breathtaking lookout of the city, accessible for non-clients as well.
Tucked away between the city’s eastern edges and Silvio Pettirossi International Airport, Ñu Guazú Park is among the two largest green spaces in Asunción, stretching over 25 hectares of partly forested area.
The park features plenty of recreational and sport facilities, including 6 spacious soccer fields and a five-kilometer-long jogging pathway, making it the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of downtown Asunción. It might come as a surprise, but Ñu Guazú has a free bicycle renting service, where you can leave your ID as deposit and get a bicycle without a charge, perfect if you want to bike across the park’s extensive network of bicycle lanes.
Interestingly, Ñu Guazú Park is home to Taiwan Plaza, a Taiwanese style garden created as a gesture to celebrate the warm diplomatic relationship between the two nations, manifested by the fact that Paraguay is one of merely 15 countries which recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of China, aka Taiwan, and the only medium sized country to do so. The oriental garden includes a Chinese pagoda, a small lake and a cobblestone white bridge, all of which are designed according to Taiwanese garden landscaping.
photography by: Diego Fernando Quintana
Following two decades of relative stability and absence from international newscasts, it’s with absolute certainty that most people outside of South America are unfamiliar with Paraguay, probably even struggling to guess its geographic location. However, it wasn’t always the case, as for most of 20th century Paraguay experienced heavy internal conflicts, culminating in the presidency of the former dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled the country with an iron fist for almost 35 years.
Like many authoritarian leaders, Stroessner had a desire to assert his power by constructing a monumental landmark that would serve as a testimony for his reign. Inspired by Franco’s Valley of the Fallen in Sierra de Guadarrama, outside of Madrid, the Paraguayan president commissioned the construction of the Monument to Victorious Peace, designed by the same Spanish architect who was in charge of the original site in Spain.
Perching on top of Cerro Lambare hill at the outskirts of Asunción’s center, the spire-shaped sculpture stands on five giant concrete legs, centered around a statue of the famed indigenous chief Lambaré, while an angel figure adorns the monument’s highest tip. The monumental structure is incredibly impressive, but it’s far from being the only reason to visit this place, which is also bestowed with some of the most breathtaking views of the city and its surroundings.
photography by: Iwan
Unlike supermarkets or grocery shops, markets tend to reflect the local culture much more accurately, this statement cannot be more truthful for Asunción’s handful of markets, most of which are named with a number. Among the municipal markets, Mercado Municipal 4, or simply Mercado Cuatro as it’s known locally, stands out a giant and hectic maze of booths and shops, offering virtually anything from fruits and vegetable to cheap imported merchandise.
It’s a well-known fact that in many rich countries, markets had developed into a tourist attraction, where locals and foreigners alike generally come to have fun, but Mercado Cuatro is rather the opposite of that, providing all echelons of society, including low-income families, the opportunity to purchase clothes, shoes and all sorts of things people will often buy elsewhere.
One of the market’s most incredible highlights are the stands selling a plethora of herbs called ” Pettirossi”, that in Paraguay are claimed to have medicinal properties, fighting many harsh diseases like diabetes, hepatitis and rheumatism. Another worthy part of the Mercado are the numerous food vendors selling scrumptious street-food, most notably the adorable Paraguayan bun called chipa, Sopa Paraguaya (a cornbread with cheese and onion) and even a black pudding.
Take note that the market has a shady reputation among locals, mostly due to its dirtiness, but also because of the occasional pickpocketing cases that occur over there, thus, it’s warmly recommended to keep your money and valuables in a safe place before venturing out.
photography by: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo
Paraguay is far from being an epicenter of high-rise architecture, with much of the 20th and 21st global construction boom of skyscrapers skipping the Latin nation. However, the newly constructed Icon Tower on the crossroad of Boquerón and Juan de Salazar y Espinoza streets, not only easily grabbed the title of the tallest building in Paraguay, but also gave Asunción’s city dwellers a source of pride and orientation.
The 142 meters and 37 story tall tower is very dominant landmark in the local skyline, but due to its extremely slender proportions, the closer you get, the more latent it seems to be.
The only one of his kind in the city, Torre Icono has lofts throughout its entire height, giving residents a complete freedom in designing their own living space, while many of whom decided to follow the Paraguayan tradition of spatially merging the kitchen and living room into one seamless space.
Unfortunately, the building is not accessible for uninvited strangers, yet if you are bold enough, you can try asking for an access permission either from a resident or the maintenance company, and while it might sound unpleasant for some, the spectacular views from the tower are unmatched citywide and definitely worth the trouble. Nevertheless, even if you have no intentions of doing so, the eye-catching red and grey tower is a worthwhile attraction for passersby as well.
photography by: FF MM