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Asuncion is the Capital of Paraguay, right in the middle of South America. I spent 4 months volunteer working in Asuncion during my year off. Granted, Paraguay is not at the top of everyone's wish list of places to visit (and it was my choice being as far from the parents as possible), but if you're over that way it's worth a visit. Asuncion, and Paraguay in general, has not really been touched by tourism and so retains a very 'South American' feel. It has a population of around half a million and is predominantly Roman Catholic. The city is designed in a grid structure and so is pretty easy to find your way around - get a map too! In the city centre there are 3 tree lined squares; Plaza de los Héroes, Plaza de la Democracia, and Plaza Uruguaya, these are good pointers for navigation (and a rest). How to get there: Asuncion has an international airport about 9 miles from its centre. You can also reach it by road from Argentina and Brazil (and Bolivia but this is a hard journey across the Chaco). Transport in Asuncion: The city centre is small enough to explore by foot. It's probably not a good idea to hire a car in Asuncion; there are a plentiful supply of taxis and buses which will be your safest bet. Taxis can be difficult to get late at night, get your hotel/restaurant to call one. A warning on buses: they can get very overcrowded and are prone to bumping into things! (I was in 3 minor bus collisions during one month). There are a lot of very heavy rain showers that often flood the roads badly; the Paraguayans will drive until their cars give up (even in 1 foot of water), best to avoid the roads at this time! Language: Spanish is widely spoken, not a lot of English is spoken but the Paraguayans' are so friendly they will really try and understand you. Guarani, the local Indian language, is also widely spoken and is still taught in schools. Currency: The currency is Guarani which you can't change outside of Paraguay. It's best to take in a combination of US dollars (best rate) and Traveller's cheques. Don't change money at the banks; change it at Casas del Cambio which have the best rate of exchange. Phones: It can be difficult to make an international phone call. Your best bet would be to go to the main ANTELCO office in the centre where you can make international calls. Weather: It's very very hot and humid between October and March, for the rest of the time the climate is warm and spring like. Shopping: Asuncion is a good place to buy local crafts and electronics; prices are very low and even then you are expected to haggle them down! The Plaza de los Héroes square in the centre is a good place to buy handicrafts and also stalls selling fakes and cheap electronics (not sure on the quality there of electronics). A number of 'Western' shopping centres are opening around Asuncion; when I was there the 1st Burger King opened and Bennetton & Osh Kosh had been going for a year (these are located at Shopping Del Sol). Most of the shops are shut between 12-3.30 for siesta. Sights: There is some attractive architecture in Asuncion, but not a lot of very memorable attractions. People often take a trip down to La Chacarita (shanty town);the extreme contrast in the city between rich and poor is striking; ex-dictator's palaces standing next to La Chacarita. I'm not sure how I feel about this, I was working with kids from this area and I'm not sure they like tourists nosing around their home. It is, however, a good way of getting down to the waterfront. The botanical gardens are worth a visit, more specifically the 'Natural History Museum' inside. I'm not sure if it's changed, but when I went, the museum was a small, 2 roomed building. Lining the walls were jars containing very odd pi
ckled specimens of goodness-knows-what! It was like something out of Alien and not a species I recognised to be seen anywhere! Officially it displays exhibits on Paraguayan wildlife and anthropology mmm! The Government Palace is an elegant, white building overlooking the bay; good photo opp but the public are not generally allowed inside. Eating and Drinking: There are numerous restaurants, cafes and bars throughout Asuncion; it's a big meat-eating country so I'm not sure if there's much choice for veggies. Fast food establishments are becoming more commonplace, but there are still plenty of traditional places too. Everywhere you go you see people drinking Yerba Matte (the national ‘tea’ drink) out of silver cups with a metal ‘straw’; groups of locals will sit in groups for hours drinking Matte, I tried it but is wasn’t for me. Nightlife: There's not a huge nightlife compared with other South American countries. There are a couple of clubs which are open pretty much all night. We frequented common ex-pat pubs such as Britannia (very Paraguayan I know!) a British themed pub run by a German and Spurs!! There are lots of pubs and the atmosphere is generally friendly. Health and Safety: Tap water is ok to drink in Asuncion, but we were advised to drink bottled water just to be on the safe side anyway (don't take ice in your drinks). Although corruption is rife, there is not a lot of evident crime in Paraguay. I felt safer wandering around Asuncion than I do London, although as a woman after dark it's best not to be out on the streets alone (and you do stand out as a Westerner). One very irritating thing for me, as a woman was the amount of unwelcome attention received by the Paraguayan males! It doesn't matter what you're wearing or what you look like, everywhere you go random men hiss at you (sss sss sss) and I really hated that, but you ge
t used to it. Also in crowded places my bum was regularly groped! This was my biggest gripe in Paraguay. I did have one instance where a taxi driver pulled out a handgun when we didn't have quite enough money for the fare, sounds alarming, but he was most jovial when we gave him a watch! I don't think this is commonplace, but you just have to remember it's a totally different culture and show respect! All in all I like Asuncion; the people are friendly and although there aren’t a lot of actual sights to see, there’s an amazing culture to delve into!
"Asunción, population 512,112 (2002), is the capital of Paraguay. The metropolitan area, named Gran Asunción, includes the cities of San Lorenzo, Fernando de la Mora, Lambaré, Luque, Mariano Roque Alonso, Ñemby and Villa Elisa; having more than 1.8 million inhabitants."