Boasting rich history and a friendly people, this oft-overlooked South American capital deserves a spot on your must-visit list.
Perhaps no other South American destination besides the Guianas is more obscure than Paraguay, despite its convenient placement near one of the continent’s star attractions, Iguaçu Falls, and the fact that it is sandwiched among Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia — three of the most wildly popular countries in the Southern Hemisphere. But that is exactly its appeal. The country’s capital, ?Asunción, is peppered with Colonial and Beaux Arts architecture, shady parks and plazas, and a load of friendly folk waiting to roll out the red carpet for visitors. Of course, the welcome mat feels all the more convivial when you’re one of the few, and the authentic experiences at the ready here feel all the more genuine. For now, you’ll never complain that this “Mother of Cities” — known as such because of its senior-citizen status among South American settlements — is too touristy. And that is as refreshing as the tereré (yerba mate tea) you’ll undoubtedly share with everyone.
STAY: For an upscale Guaraní experience with service delivered in hushed subtleties, La ?Misión Hotel Boutique is considered to be one of the top choices in ?Asunción. Awash in traditional elegance without feeling stuffy, it’s a perfect marriage of old-school style and modern amenities, with a columned rooftop garden that puts yet another face on this ?multifaceted choice. Broad archways and lush gardens lend a Colonial air to Portal del Sol hotel, where you can escape to a verdant pool area that feels miles away from a Latin capital of 2 million people. The recently renovated Hotel Guaraní Esplendor, a sleek den of style in downtown Asunción, is all you can ask for when it comes to location and value.
EAT & DRINK: The landmark Bar San Roque is a Guaraní classic just off downtown’s Plaza Uruguaya.? Black-and-white tile flooring and a low-counter, wood-panel bar push the Old World agenda to a bevy of casual locals who have flocked here for more than 100 years. Another longtime staple is the 24/7 Bolsi, a glorified cafe that’s unafraid to dish out scrumptious oddities like curried rabbit and garlic pizza on a great terrace for people-watching. For a trendy twist on Paraguayan cuisine in a striking old Colonial home, visit El Dorado, which has dominated top dining honors in town of late.
DO: Like a mini Versailles, the whitewashed ?Palacio de Gobierno is Asunción’s most imposing structure. Thankfully — unlike in the days of Alfredo Stroessner’s 35-year regime, when loi?terers might have been greeted with bullets — the intimidation today stops at the palace’s architecture, and you can peacefully visit with advance reservations. Museo del Barro is Paraguay’s best and only purpose-built museum. Its collection spans world-class domestic and international folk art and a memorable exhibit of pre-Columbian artifacts. In 1811, in the appropriately named Casa de la Independencia, Paraguay became one of the first South American countries to declare independence from Spain. Representing a giant leap for a small country, the restored home now houses a museum.
IF YOU GO...
La Misión Hotel Boutique
Portal del Sol
Hotel Guaraní Esplendor
EAT & DRINK
Bar San Roque
Corner of Tacuary and Eligio Ayala
Palacio de Gobierno
Corner of El Paraguayo Independiente and Juan de Ayolas
Museo del Barro
Grabadores del Cabichuí 2716
Casa de la Independencia
Corner of 14 de Mayo and Presidente Franco