Arbol de la Vida, San Bernardino’s Enchanting Tree

Arbol de la Vida during nighttime, San Bernardino

photography by: El Mundo/ Flickr

Reading time: minutes

Founded by German settlers in the late 19th century along the shores of Ypacarai Lake in Paraguay, San Bernardino is awash with historic and natural sites to explore. In the very heart of town lies a luxuriant tree, whose past is closely intertwined with the colony’s early days while its present reflects the transformation of San Bernardino into a coveted getaway for Paraguayans from all walks of life.

Since the dawn of human civilization, the tree of life has been an abstract concept which transcends culture, religion, race, geography and time. In the vast majority of cases, a fruit bearing tree represents a fundamental link between all forms of life as well as the sky, where heaven supposedly is, and the tangible reality here on Earth. All over the world, there are multiple instances where an oversized woody plant is named after the mythical tree for its sheer significance, including in Bahrain, New Orleans and Washington State, just to name a few.


As it turns out, a small resort town in Paraguay also boasts its own Tree of Life, which remains relatively anonymous in comparison to its more famous siblings. Established in 1881 by settlers from Germany and Switzerland, San Bernardino sits about 35 kilometers west of Asunción, on the shoreline of Ypacarai Lake. With a glut of German-style buildings and eateries, the town serves a little piece of Germany in the middle of the new world.


Lying in the center of this bucolic city is Plaza Bernardino Caballero, a wooded square which dates back to the very beginning of San Bernardino as a remote German outpost. The unrivaled centerpiece of the plaza is a fig tree by the apt name of Arbol de la Vida (the Tree of Life in Spanish). According to locals, it is by far the oldest tree anywhere across town. In fact, it is said that underneath this arboreal monument was the place, where informal and formal meetings of city officials took place during the first years of the colony.


As of today, the tree is still revered for its historic merit and better yet, its branches are now decorated with dozens of lanterns, which every night look as if a flock of fireflies is constantly hovering amid the lush canopy.