Asuncion - What to Do in the Capital City of Paraguay
Are you traveling in Paraguay, and want to know whether is it worth it to explore Asuncion, the country's capital? Read our travel guide on the best things to do in Asuncion, top attractions to see, and information on where to stay, what to pack and safety tips.
When traveling in any country in the world, we rarely dare to skip the capital city. The city which was over the centuries chosen to be the showcase for the nation usually possesses a charming atmosphere, beautiful buildings and an interesting mixture of history written in its walls combined with new, modern skyscrapers where important decisions influencing the economy and politics of the country are being made.
In South American countries, you can often find two entirely different worlds on one street in the capital cities. Importantly looking men wearing business suits with a mobile phone in hand often walk around indigenous people in their traditional dress who try to sell what they grew on their garden. We will be never tired of watching those significant differences, and that is why we also like the capital cities in less developed continents so much.
But honestly, Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay which we visited on our year-long South and Central American trip was not like other capitals on the continent.
Although there are several must-see places and things to do, most of the travelers (including us) usually find out one day is absolutely enough to see the best Asuncion has to offer. Even though there is a large community of native Guarani people living in Paraguay, they were dressed as the rest of the population, so we missed one of our favorite activity, photographing locals in their colorful traditional clothes.
Paraguay is not heavily visited by international travelers, probably because it lacks the most obvious natural and historical sights, and that's why Asuncion still waits to be discovered, and the place did not feel touristy at all.
What can you expect from traveling to Asuncion?
Perfectly cold traditional drink terere, colonial buildings, colorful streets, and promenade along Rio Paraguay - that's, in short, the best you can enjoy in Asuncion, one of the oldest settlements in South America, in only one day.
Did we regret we decided to visit the capital of Paraguay when it does not boast the traditional tourist attractions and lacks the vibrating atmosphere? Not at all. Traveling to Asuncion again showed us that it is better not to expect anything and soak up the best the destination has to offer.
We are not traveling to experience stereotypes, right?
BEST THINGS TO DO IN ASUNCION
Asuncion is the type of the city which won't serve you absolutely stunning sights on a silver plate, but when looking retrospectively on our photos from the city, we must admit something is lurking beneath the surface, it will only take time before Paraguay and Asuncion will be firmly put on travelers' South American itineraries.
Hopefully, this post focusing on the best things to see and do in Asuncion will inspire some of you to visit this place in the future.
Drink Terere | Paraguay is insanely hot during summer months, and as we visited the country in January, we have only two recommendations for you in case you plan on traveling to the country during the same season. Book a room with air-conditioning, and find a bar serving terere, a traditional cold-brewed herbal drink similar to mate. We really wanted to know how terere tastes as we could see locals walking with their large thermos all the time, but the problem was, that everyone makes terere at home, so you can rarely find a place where it is possible to order and taste terere. No matter how hard we tried, we simply could not find a place to buy terere in the city center, and our first experience on drinking it was a few days later in Ciudad del Este, where a receptionist in our hotel showed us mercy and gave us hers. Only later we found out that it is possible to walk in Asuncion to Plaza de la Independencia and rent all the necessary equipment to enjoy refreshing terere. It does not matter if you are in Paraguay, Brazil or Argentina, you simply must try this drink to know what is all the fuss about.
Museo del Barro | If there is only one museum you should visit in Asuncion, head to Museo del Barro on an outskirt of the city, where you can learn more about Paraguayan complicated history, about the indigenous culture and see many historical artifacts. All descriptions are in Spanish, but you can use a mobile app for translation. This is a budget-friendly activity because the entrance is free, you only have to get there either by taxi or by bus number 28 or 30.
Palacio de Los Lopez | One of the most iconic buildings in Asuncion, and probably in the country is the presidential palace, named after a former leader of Paraguay, Francisco Solano Lopez. The house stands near the city center close to the riverbank and is guarded by a large number of policemen, not only because it is the seat of the president, but you can find here many government offices as well. Despite a large number of armed guards, it is possible to take a photo, but do not wander too close. In case you are looking for a bit different experience, head to the palace at night, so you can see how is the building beautifully illuminated.
Casa de la Independencia | Not many people would guess that the small, one-story white house surrounded by much higher and much worse looking buildings is Casa de la Independencia, one of the most important places for Paraguayan history. The House of Independence is the place where Paraguay declared in 1811 independence from Spaniards. In case you want to know more about this significant historical act, head inside to a small museum where you can read many documents and see artifacts connected with this important achievement.
University | As almost every capital city in the world, Asuncion is also the center of education, and you cannot miss the red-brick building of Asuncion university.
Avenida Palma | One of the main streets in Asuncion was also the only place in the capital city of Paraguay, where we found the atmosphere a bit more lively. You will find here many stalls selling souvenirs or equipment necessary for preparing terere, many small plazas along the street and bars and restaurants with gardens inviting to slow down and sit with a cold drink in hand for a while.
Loma San Jeronimo | A bit away from the city center is a friendly neighborhood famous for pastel-colored houses, colorful tiled stairs similar to the ones in Rio de Janeiro (although in a much smaller scale), and several cozy coffee shops and artisan shops. The neighborhood is pretty small unless you plan on sitting on a rooftop terrace and enjoy a drink, it is enough to spend here a half an hour, but despite the small size, we liked San Jeronimo neighborhood, especially because it was one of few places in Asuncion which tried to proactively attract travelers. We felt quite safe here, except for one brief moment when a group of several young lads appeared in front of us out of nowhere.
Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion | In the 19th century Asuncion got its new iconic building, Metropolitan Cathedral with a silver chapel which replaced an old church from the 16th century, which stood in the city since its foundation. Although Asuncion has many churches and cathedrals because Paraguay is a strongly religious country if you want to see only one church, this is for sure the best and most beautiful example of religious architecture in the city.
Panteon Nacional de Los Heroes | A small white round memorial building in the city center of Asuncion is a place to pay tribute to several Paraguayan leaders. It is possible to take pictures but behave respectfully as the pantheon is guarded by a guard of honor at the entrance and several more soldiers.
Costanera de Asuncion | Although Paraguay is a landlocked country, one of the unlucky few in South America without access to the sea, it still has a beach - Playa de la Costanera. Costanera de Asuncion is a famous promenade where locals often come around sunset and leisurely stroll along shores of Paraguay River. We visited the place around mid-day when it was scorching hot, and the promenade was almost empty.
Plaza de Armas | Although this post is called What to Do in Asuncion, this paragraph is more focused on where not to go in Asuncion. Most of the main squares in South America are named Plaza de Armas, and those plazas are usually the most beautiful and best-maintained places in the city, but it is better to avoid Plaza de Armas in Asuncion. The square is near the National Congress, a series of pretty buildings with large archways, but Plaza de Armas is a complete nightmare, and we do not recommend you to walk too close as the place turned into a camp where the poorest people of Paraguay live in tents. We did not know about it, so we noticed there is something weird when we were very close to the square and tried to get away as quick as we could.
Mercado Cuatro | Mercado Cuatro alias Mercado Municipal 4 is a bit away from the city center, but it is a place where to go to see the authentic South American market. The market is very lively, and you can find here anything from clothes, electronics to food and indigenous crafts.
Graffiti | Same as Colombia, Paraguay also has its graffiti culture, and street art can be found everywhere around, so walk around Asuncion with your eyes wide open.
In case you do not feel comfortable to walk around Asuncion independently, you are short on time or simply want to learn more from a local, you can reserve this guided sightseeing tour.
WHERE TO STAY IN ASUNCION
Although Asuncion is not the most visited destination on the continent by international travelers, it is still the capital city with many accommodation options for every type of traveler. The bus station is quite far from the city center so it’s better to take a taxi to get there.
We've handpicked three best hotels for every budget.
Budget | Hostal El Farol - A friendly hostel close to the city center offers everything a traveler on a budget needs including fast wifi, air-condition, and breakfast.
Mid-range | Hotel Excelsior - Amazing value for the money. Except for comfortable rooms, guests can enjoy a tasty breakfast every morning and an outdoor swimming pool.
Luxury | Bourbon Assuncao Convention Hotel - Beautifully-appointed rooms decorated with stylish wooden furnishing and tiled floors, rooftop terrace with a swimming pool and hot tub are the main reasons why this hotel is one of the top places to stay in Asuncion.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
HOW TO GET TO ASUNCION
As Asuncion is the capital of Paraguay, when traveling by bus, you can be sure there will always be a way how to get to Asuncion or from the city to your next destination.
Asuncion's bus terminal is relatively new but is approximately twenty minutes by public transport from the city center, so we recommend you to buy a bus ticket to the next place on your Paraguay itinerary right after your arrival.
Although not many travelers usually reach Asuncion by air, it is good to know there is an international airport.
WHEN TO VISIT ASUNCION
Asuncion is an all year round destination, but it is important to know that there are two seasons, and you should pack according to it.
Between October and March, temperatures are high, sometimes during the warmest months in January and February even hitting 38°C, the other half of the year is colder, with average temperatures around 17°C in the city.
It can rain almost any time of the year, but higher precipitation is usually in summer. When walking in the city, you should pack smartly and do not show off your valuables.
Here are several essential things you should carry with you for sightseeing in Asuncion.
SAFETY IN ASUNCION
Paraguay was together with Bolivia one the poorest countries we’ve visited in South America, and as everywhere in the world, crime is usually connected with poverty, but we must say we felt pretty safe in Asuncion.
We were cautious as usual, did not walk around after dark, carried our smaller camera, and did not flash it around unless it was necessary.
We noticed a quite strong presence of police forces on the streets, but they were usually preoccupied with drinking terere or their phones, so we are not sure how prompt would they react in case something happened. Public transport was crowded, but nothing unusual for South American standards, we watched our backpacks closely as we normally do.
There was only one place near government buildings in Asuncion where we stumbled across an illegal camp where the poorest people lived, so we decided to return where we came from rather than walk around. Unfortunately this place is Plaza de Armas, the main square in the city.
It is not recommended to wander off to neighborhoods on the outskirt of Asuncion.
We've also written a post on How to Stay Safe in South America, in case you are looking for more detailed information.
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