Mirador Bella Vista, San Bernardino’s Charming Lookout

The Virgin Mary Statue at Mirador Bella Vista

photography by: Omri Westmark

Established in the late 19th century by Swiss and German settlers, San Bernardino provides an intriguing glimpse of a faraway continent. Somewhat eclipsed by the town’s German-style bakeries and colonial architecture, Bella Vista Lookout is situated at the highest point across San Bernardino. With vivid murals, colorful stairway and a gargantuan statue of Virgin Mary, this scenic point is far more than just a place to gaze at the bucolic surroundings.

In the aftermath of the War of the Triple Alliance, where Paraguay was nearly wiped out of the map by its giant neighbors, the country was in dire need for new people to compensate for its ensuing demographic collapse. As part of the national endeavor to nullify the postwar loss of population, thousands of German and Swiss immigrants were enticed to settle throughout the country.

 

Established in 1881 along the shores of Ypacarai Lake, San Bernardino was one of Paraguay’s most prominent German towns. Located about 50 kilometers away from Asunción, it has recently become a resort town for the those who wish to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the Paraguayan capital.

 

While most visitors stick to the beaches and German-style eateries, San Bernardino is also home to a couple of secluded nooks. Perching atop the town’s highest point, Mirador Bella Vista literally means in Spanish “the beautiful view lookout”, and while the place definitely lives up to its name, it offers far more than just a breathtaking panorama.

 

Ensconced at the end of Teniente Weiler Street, the viewpoint is accessed via a colorfully painted stairway, whose steps were embellished with indigenous Guaraní patterns. The flamboyant stairs are accompanied by a series of striking murals, each of which depicts a national motif or animal.

 

On the hilltop lies a massive white sculpture of Virgin Mary. Erected in 1994 by a group of three artists (Patricia Ayala, Roberto Hornung and Monica Delssin), the statue is in fact dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida, one of Virgin Mary’s six titles. Interestingly, the haloed statue pays a tribute to a far smaller and more famous counterpart.

 

Story has it that during the early 18th century, three fishermen caught a headless figurine of Virgin Mary in their net while fishing in the Paraíba River in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. Following the recovery of her sculpted head, the salvaged clay statue, named Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida, became associated with miracles, earning it a great deal of veneration. As of today, the dark-brownish figurine lies in the aptly named Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in São Paulo, the second largest Catholic church in the world.

 

While San Bernardino’s Mary lacks the fame of its Brazilian source of inspiration, it nevertheless makes up for in a spectacular panoramic view of the German-Paraguayan town as well as the nearby Ypacarai Lake.

Noticeable from afar, the lookout’s main stairway

photography by: Omri Westmark


Its Tetris-like patterns resonate with Guaraní indigenous art

photography by: Omri Westmark


The multi chromatic stairs are accompanied by several murals, one of which depicts a group of scarlet macaws perching atop a tree

photography by: Omri Westmark


The climb along the dozens of steps takes about 2-3 minutes

photography by: Omri Westmark


The stairway traverses a wooded hillside with a couple of private houses on one side

photography by: Omri Westmark


A mural of a Guaraní chief

photography by: Omri Westmark


The last flight of stairs before the observatory level

photography by: Omri Westmark


A pair of blueish murals, both of which featuring a typical Paraguayan national symbol

photography by: Omri Westmark


Dominating the lookout is sculpture of Our Lady of Aparecida

photography by: Omri Westmark


The partly obscured vista is enclosed by a wooden frame where visitors can take photos of themselves on backdrop of the lake

photography by: Omri Westmark


The sacred statue was created in 1994 by 3 local artists

photography by: Omri Westmark


A glimpse of Ypacarai Lake as viewed from the lookout

photography by: Omri Westmark