If you’re planning a trip to Paraguay, here’s an itinerary to visit the country’s historic towns, Jesuit ruins, before crossing the border into Iguazu Falls in Brazil.
You’ll want to spend at least two days in Asunción to make the Golden Circuit. In fact, you’ll want to plan at least two days in each destination – Encarnación to visit the Jesuit ruins, and Iguazu Falls to explore the park.
The trip begins in Asunción, one of the oldest capitals in South America. Located on the left bank of the Paraguay River, the city has around half a million inhabitants, with two million living in the metropolitan area, Gran Asunción.
Founded by the Spanish conquistadors Juan de Salazar y Espinoza and Gonzalo de Mendoza during the sixteenth century, Asunción was essential in the European colonization of South America.
It was from Asunción that colonial expeditions departed to found other cities, such as Buenos Aires, Concepción de Buena Esperanza and Corrientes in Argentina, or Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia.
Asunción’s historic centre is relatively small. You can easily discover its main sights on foot, around the barrio known as La Catedral that boasts a blend of colonial and modern architecture.
Some of the landmarks include the Governmental Palace (Palacio de los López), the Panteón, a small mausoleum inspired by Les Invalides of Paris, Casa de la Independencia, and the Cathedral. If you enjoy trains, pay a visit to the old central railway station (Estacion Central del Ferrocarril), now a museum.
Where to Stay in Asunción: There are several good hotel options in the capital, but you may want to check out the iconic Hotel Guaraní.
2. Golden Circuit
Asunción is surrounded by a number of historic towns forming what is known as the Golden Circuit, or Circuito de Oro. You can take a tour, or hire a car and plan your self-guided route.
If you prefer to be independent, the circuit can be done in one day beginning and ending in Asunción. You can explore Itá, Yaguarón, Caacupé, San Bernardino, Itauguá, and Areguá.
Itá is Paraguay’s capital of ceramics, and one of the country’s oldest towns. Here, you’ll have the chance to discover the country’s handicrafts. Continue to Caacupé which is Paraguay’s spiritual and religious centre, and has an impressive copper-domed cathedral that dominates the city centre. The religious festival in honour of Our Lady of Miracles takes place on 8 December and gathers thousands.
Located on the banks of Lake Ypacaraí, San Bernardino is Paraguay’s summer resort. Then, visit Itauguá, known in Paraguay as the home to lace, known as ñanduti.
Before getting back to Asunción, visit the lakeside town of Areguá, known as the strawberry capital of Paraguay. The traditional Strawberry Festival takes place in August. But Areguá also means discovering Paraguay’s pottery on its “mercado de artesanías” – your chance to take a souvenir home.
3. Jesuit Ruins
The next stop on our itinerary is Encarnación, located in the southeast of the country on the banks of Paraná River. Encarnación is 360 kilometres or 224 miles from Asunción. Known for its beaches and waterfront boardwalk, Paraguay’s third most important city was founded by the Jesuits in the early seventeenth century.
The main highlights are the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad and Jesús de Tavarangue, declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993. The ruins are a bit off the city, but you can easily visit both sites in a day with a tour or your rented car.
Where to Stay in Encarnación: With views of Paraná River, Savoy Hotel Encarnación is one the best accommodation options in the city.
4. Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second city, is around 290 kilometres or 180 miles from Encarnación. Sometimes called the Supermarket of South America, Ciudad del Este is the place for bargain hunting on a big scale. If you are unsure where to start, try the area around Avenida Adrián Jara.
Before crossing the border into Brazil, you may want to make a detour to admire the huge Itaipu dam built jointly by Paraguay and Brazil.
Iguazu Falls were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The falls are only 30 kilometres or 18 miles from Ciudad del Este. Taller and much wider than Niagara Falls, Foz do Iguaçu in Portuguese has around 275 cascades. The Devil’s Throat, Garganta do Diabo or Garganta del Diablo, is the most impressive one, about 90 metres wide and 80 metres deep.
The subtropical forest of National Iguaçu Park has at least three circuits consisting of pedestrian walkways, footbridges and balconies for visitors to get closer to the falls. You may also take a boat ride to experience the spectacular flow of water. Do visit both the Brazilian and Argentine sides as they offer equally interesting perspectives.