8 Best Things to Do in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
Here is our guide on top things to do in Ciudad del Este, a city near borders with Brazil famous for cheap shopping, Monday Waterfalls, Itaipu Dam and much more. Best tips on where to stay while exploring the city.
Ciudad del Este is a city where the most of travelers get their first experience of Paraguay, a landlocked South American country, one of the two 'unlucky' ones without direct access to the sea (the other one is Bolivia). But for us, it was the last destination after a week already spent in the country. One would say, that after seven days, there shouldn't be anything that could have possibly surprise us as by that time we should have been already adjusted to the country's vibe and pace, but the opposite was true as Ciudad del Este was so different from other places we visited in Paraguay - Encarnacion, UNESCO Jesuit Missions in Trinidad and Asuncion.
Words of our new Paraguayan friend and host we met in Encarnacion were accurate when he warned us that Ciudad del Este is a crazy city. But you know what? We liked it.
When you try to look up travel information about Paraguay, you'll soon find out that there hasn't been much written about it. The truth is that Paraguay is one of the least visited countries in South America for many reasons. It doesn't boast with the rough and mountainous landscape you can find in Patagonia, laidback beaches and colonial cities like Colombia has, incredible Peruvian Inca ruins, the vast salt flats which we could see near Uyuni or the Ecuadorian pearl the Galapagos Islands (that one is not fair as no country can actually compete with the uniqueness of the Galapagos Islands).
But after almost eight months of touring South America, we just couldn't leave the continent without visiting Paraguay, and now we can positively say that we are glad we didn't skip it. Because where else you'll get the real experience than in a country where life doesn't revolve around tourists? Where else you can walk completely unnoticed? Where else you don't need to turn down dozens of vendors when walking the streets?
We'll put it simply. Are you looking for an authentic experience (and believe us there are not that many left out there)? Visit Paraguay and its easternmost city, Ciudad del Este.
CIUDAD DEL ESTE
The city was founded relatively recently in 1957, and we happened to be around just during the 62nd city's anniversary when there were lots of shows, concerts and dances happening. It is a classic border city - full of stalls with varied goods, exchange offices, plenty of taxi drivers and crazy motorcyclist.
But it is also a city where you can eat surprisingly good food thanks to many Asian and Middle East immigrants (from Lebanon or Taiwan), relax in nice hotels and fill your days with many activities. Here are the things we consider best to see and do when in Ciudad del Este.
Ciudad del Este is a well-known shopping destination not only among Paraguayans but mainly among Brazilians who during peak times take city's shops by storm. You can find here anything you can think of, especially clothes and electronics, but even when you're looking for something more specific you shouldn't experience any problem to find it you only need to know where to look.
Why is Ciudad del Este so good for shopping? Prices are low (always check the quality and fakes if it matters to you as scams happen), shopping here is free of tax, you can haggle (usually on the streets, less in the shopping malls), plus you can pay with Brazilian reals or dollar when coming only for one day visit.
If you want to know more about shopping in Ciudad del Este, click here.
During summer, temperatures in Paraguay are higher than is comfortable to any human being, and that's why you'll see many people on the streets sip the national drink terere.
When we arrived in Ciudad del Este, a sign on the bus station informed us that the actual temperature is 42 degrees and we were determined to finally cool off with terere, which we found out is not just a drink for people from Paraguay, but an obsession.
Once we arrived in Paraguay, we couldn't help noticing that every other person on the street or on the bus carries a big leather-covered thermo with a cup which he or she keeps refilling all the time. At first, we thought it is a hot drink yerba mate, but later we found out that it is an infusion of mate, consisting of herbs and iced water.
The only problem was that we were not able to taste it anywhere - in Paraguay, it is difficult to find a tea shop, coffee house, bar or restaurant which sells terere, simply because everyone prepares it at home! Finally, in Ciudad del Este, we got lucky, but only because I mentioned our terere situation to a receptionist in Hotel Convair where we were staying, and she offered to prepare it to us.
VISIT ITAIPU DAM
One of the most impressive attractions near Ciudad del Este is Itaipu Dam.
The hydroelectric dam on the Parana river is shared between Paraguay and Brazil and for a long time was the world's largest power station (in terms of installed capacity), but was overcome by Three Gorges Dam in China.
This place is monstrous, and you won't be able to appreciate the size only by looking at the pictures but have to go and see it with our own eyes.
You can get here quite easily from Ciudad del Este city center by bus going to Hernandarias, only ask a driver to be dropped off at Itaipu Dam.
Then you will have to walk 1 kilometer to the visitor center.
To get back, go to the main road, turn left and walk to the first intersection, and wait here for the bus. One ride cost Gs 3000 per person.
You cannot enter the complex on your own, so you have two options.
Take a free guided tour which includes a short film about the dam in Spanish with English subtitles and a guided sightseeing bus (in Spanish) which will take you around the dam. Another option is to participate in a technical tour inside the dam, but it must be booked a couple of days ago via this email.
Do not forget your passport (a photo on your phone will do) otherwise you won't be allowed in.
EXPLORE MONDAY WATERFALLS
In a perfect world, there would have been a lineup in front of the entrance to Monday Waterfalls, but unfortunately, the world is not fair.
The gorgeous waterfall only a short drive from Ciudad del Este must compete with the largest waterfall system in the world, Iguazu Falls just across the borders, so you can sense that this competition in uneven. But when you decide to visit Monday Waterfalls, you won't regret it. At the moment, there are only two viewpoints, but you can also take short walks in the park.
The entrance fee is Gs 36 000 (locals pay the third), or Gs 55 000 when you decide to use an elevator which takes you 40 meters down for supposedly better views.
To get to the falls, take a bus from center to Salto Monday - although it seems like an English name, it isn't, and you should pronounce it Mondaugh otherwise no one will understand you. Not all buses with a sign Monday go to the falls, we took a bus with sign Monday 4-5-6-7-8 which stop near Arco Iris shopping mall, and took us to the nearest intersection.
From here we had to walk 1 kilometer or so to the entrance. In Ciudad del Este, every ride by bus cost us Gs 3000 per person.
CROSS BORDERS TO BRAZIL AND VISIT IGUAZU FALLS
It would be a shame to visit Paraguay, make it that close to the borders with Brazil and do not see famous Iguazu Falls. Ciudad del Este can become your base for visiting Iguazu Falls - it will be much cheaper than staying in Foz do Iguazu on the Brazilian side.
It is easy to reach Foz do Iguazu, the only thing you must do is cross the Friendship Bridge which connects Paraguay and Brazil. It is important to know that local buses usually don't stop at the border (although they tell you they do), so to have all the necessary stamps take either a taxi or a bus (but have a map with GPS handy and ask a driver to stop - most likely he will but won't wait for you, and you will have to catch another bus on the other side of the borders), or walk across the bridge - an option we found the most convenient.
Once you'll have an exit and entry stamps, jump on the bus heading to Foz do Iguazu.
Another notable site near Ciudad del Este is a landmark called Tres Frontera or Triple Frontier.
This place is an interesting point, where three borders of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet, and you should visit only if you think that having photography from this place is a nice souvenir as overall there is not much to do. It is also a confluence of Iguazu and Parana river.
After we visited Monday Waterfalls, we still had time, so we made an attempt to get to Tres Fronteras, but unfortunately, we failed. In Paraguay, when you want to get on a bus, you must wave at the driver, so within 30 minutes we stopped five buses passing by in the right direction, all with a sign Tres Fronteras, but none of all drivers seemed to know where it is, or they even looked unsure if they are heading this way.
We were a bit confused and also felt overheated after the entire day spent walking outside in 40+ degrees, so we decided we don't need to visit this place that badly. If you are planning on getting there by public transport, ask in your hotel or in the information office hopefully, you'll be more successful. Or just take a taxi.
SOAK IN THE CITY'S ENERGY
We were lucky enough to visit Ciudad del Este during the city's anniversary (the celebration takes place every year by the turn of January and February), and it was great to witness the atmosphere in the city. One night we even went to the amphitheater near the city's water reservoir to enjoy a concert, and it was great - very relaxed and much more lively than we are used to in Europe.
It was a new experience for us and another opportunity to see how friendly and laidback people of Paraguay are.
No, Ciudad del Este will not blow you away by its architecture, but you can still find here some attractive buildings, especially churches because Paraguay is a very Catholic country.
But the fact that lots of immigrants from the Middle East or Asia came to live in Ciudad del Este means that you can find here not only churches but also some beautiful mosques.
We feel that especially nowadays, it is great to see that people with a different religion can coexist together in one place in peace.
When you look up Ciudad del Este on the internet, you might find several pieces of advice and concerns mentioning the safety in the city, but it should not put you off from visiting it.
It is a border city by nature, and probably some illegal activities such as drug trafficking and smuggling happen here, but we believe that if you mind your business, no problems should come up. We had to get used to the fact that in front of every bank are security men with shotguns (it probably has a reason), but overall we felt safe in Ciudad del Este.
Although usually, we did not go out after dark in South America when not necessary, we did it once in Ciudad del Este to attend a concert and felt completely fine. We left all our valuables in the hotel and took only our backup small camera though.
For more information read our article about how to stay safe while traveling South America.
WHAT TO PACK FOR
We visited Ciudad del Este in March, and it was a extremely hot and humid.
Umbrella | In case it rains, bring along an umbrella.
Camera | Capture memories with a good compact camera.
WHERE TO STAY IN CIUDAD DEL ESTE - CONVAIR HOTEL
Ciudad del Este is a considerably large city, and the hotel and hostel network is pretty extensive. What is positive, that although you might be traveling on a budget, prices in Paraguay are quite cheap, so for the same price you can stay in a much nicer hotel than you would have been able in the rest of South America (especially in Argentina and Chile, where the prices are super-high, while the service isn't that great).
We were happy to stay in Convair Hotel and here we'll tell you why.
The four-star hotel has a very long tradition, but thanks to renovations, you wouldn't have guessed that Hotel Convair serves its guests for more than fifty years already.
LOCATION | We love staying in hotels where everything is nearby. Hotel Convair is centrally-located with many restaurants, bars, banks, and shopping centers around which we found great as we did not have to lose our time in commute and could have enjoyed the city instead. We arrived in the bus terminal from Asuncion, and the bus ride to the hotel took less than ten minutes. Also, when we wanted to get to Itaipu Dam or Monday Waterfalls, the bus stop was just behind the corner, and Arco Iris grocery store only across the street. In the summer, when temperatures in Ciudad del Este are hitting 40 degrees, you will appreciate the location and the fact you don't have to aimlessly wander the streets longer than necessary.
BUILDING | The hotel is in a seven-floor building which contains 75 rooms including one penthouse. It looks regular from the outside, but once in a lobby, you can see in an instant that this place is well taken care of and every detail was carefully planned.
FACILITIES | If you don't feel like exploring the city, you can stay in the hotel all day and enjoy your time in a small pool to cool off or work out in a fitness center. If possible, also do not forget to check the rooftop terrace to watch amazing sunsets. There is secured parking on the spot in case you're traveling by car.
BREAKFAST | Breakfast is included in the room rate, and you better not miss it. We like to start our day with a hearty meal and the breakfast in the Hotel Convair was by far the best we've had in several months in South America. Good quality coffee and tea, fresh juices, sweet pastries, cereals, fruits, ham, and cheese - it is all there, and we believe this is what you are used to when staying in an upscale hotel, but what we loved the most was the omelet station. Nothing can beat freshly-made eggs in the morning, right?
STAFF | We must admit, that within only one week spent in the country we had one very nasty situation in a hostel in Paraguay when the owner's behavior was rude and absolutely unacceptable, so when we arrived in the Hotel Convair, we gladly found out that it was only an exception and there are places in Paraguay where guests are treated in a professional manner and with respect. Because back at home I worked in a five-star hotel, I know how hard it can be to work with people, and I can appreciate the excellent service when provided.
The staff in the Hotel Convair is very well-trained and knowledgeable, they all speak well English, and all of them were friendly and went beyond their duties. Especially a lady who offered to make terere for us truly made our day and went the extra mile to make us happy.
THE ROOM | Rooms in the Hotel Convair are spacious and light - we haven't had so much space in a long time and finally had a place where to store our large and heavy backpacks - there is nothing more annoying than to stumble on your stuff all the time when in the room. Wifi worked great, so we were able to work on our posts and backup photos from the past month. It might sound silly, but apart from the desk, cozy chair, comfortable bed, and hot water, our favorite feature in the room was air-conditioning as the heat in Ciudad del Este was almost unbearable for us. And the fact that the room was quiet and we couldn't hear a noise from the neighboring rooms was also a big plus.
RESTAURANT | Apart from breakfast, you can enjoy lunch and dinner in the hotel as well. Despite the fact, this is a 4-star hotel the lunch menu is very affordable as it cost only Gs 40 000, so when in the city, you can give it a try even when you decide to stay somewhere else, but hope you already found out there is no point to do so.
PUBLIC AREAS | If you wish to read papers or only spend time outside your room, you can sit in the lobby and watch how the life in Ciudad del Este flies. There are many cute chairs to choose from, so buy a drink and don't hesitate to relax here for a while.
MAKE YOUR RESERVATION
Hotel Convair is one of the best hotels in Ciudad del Este, not only for the great locations but also for the excellent service and cleanliness - three reasons why they receive such outstanding reviews from their guest. If you plan on visiting Ciudad del Este, do not forget to secure your room via clicking this link.
This post was written in collaboration with Hotel Convair. As always, all opinions are our own.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
We never leave our home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials.
Travel smarter and safer!