A Practical Guide to Encarnacion, Paraguay
Here is our travel guide to Encarnacion, Paraguay including best things to do, tips on how to get there, top attractions, budget tips on where to stay, and safety advice.
Encarnacion lies on the right bank of the mighty Parana River in the southeastern part of Paraguay. It is a border city connected by the bridge of San Roque Gonzales with Argentina, and a gateway to the Jesuit Missions ruins.
When we were preparing for our trip from Buenos Aires to Encarnacion, we googled the typical question - best things to do in Encarnacion and found pretty funny that some fellow travel bloggers were indeed quite harsh with Encarnacion as they simply wrote a post basically saying there is nothing to do, which would probably discourage many travelers, but not us.
First, for us, it made sense to travel to Paraguay as we later wanted to get to Brazil and visit the excellent Iguazu Falls, and our second reason why we decided Encarnacion will be our first destination in the country was, that it is a great base for visiting the only UNESCO-listed sight in Paraguay, Jesuit Missions of Trinidad and Tavarangue.
Apart from that, it is true that Encarnacion is not the most beautiful city in the world, but on the other hand, it is not that hopeless either, we've definitely seen worse.
In case you plan on visiting Encarnacion, keep on reading as we share our experience, and up to date information on the best things to see, tips on where to stay, when to visit and how to stay safe.
ENCARNACION TRAVEL EXPERIENCE
After a wonderful week we spent in Buenos Aires, we decided to travel to Paraguay.
This centrally located country is one of the least visited countries in South America, and we didn't find much information before our arrival there. The bits of information we were able to put together didn't help us as most of them were really outdated, so we were quite nervous about what to expect in Encarnacion and Paraguay in general.
One thing we knew for sure though was that it's going to be hot.
Really hot as we were traveling in the area in January, which is the peak of the summer season.
Our host in Encarnacion had warned us if we were sure to stay at his place, as he didn't have airconditioned room and according to him, Encarnacion this time of the year is like a melting pot.
We still kind of felt cold in our bones after our freezing trip to Patagonia, so we brushed off his well-meant advice, and decided to be brave and save some bucks as his place was by far the cheapest in the city. We took the overnight bus from the enormous bus terminal in Buenos Aires and arrived in Encarnacion around 4 AM slightly ahead of schedule.
We didn't have any problems when crossing the borders, though we had strange experience on the Paraguayan side when an alleged border officer boarded the bus and collected passports from all passengers. We stayed on the bus the whole time and then after 15 minutes, he came back and returned our stamped passports. Meanwhile, another man holding a big fat pile of money in his hand got on, and we were able to exchange our remaining Argentinian pesos on the bus.
After we checked-in, we felt pretty tired so we just went out and grabbed some yucca empanadas (best empanadas we've ever had) in the local eatery. As we learned pretty quickly, the best time to do anything in Encarnacion is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, so we headed back to our room with a large icecream in hands.
The time around mid-day is usually too hot to do anything meaningful so take this information into consideration when creating your itinerary for the day.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN ENCARNACION
Encarnacion is not a typical travel destination with tourist attractions on every corner.
The Zona Centro is quite compact and easy to walk around.
When the city is busy, it is not because of international travelers, but because of Argentinians who often travel from the border city Posadas on the other side of the river mostly on weekends, as Encarnacion is a popular (cheap) shopping destination for them.
If you are visiting Encarnacion, don't forget to include Jesuit Missions on your Paraguay travel itinerary.
We've put together a list of the best things to do in Encarnacion, one or two days will be absolutely enough for the city.
Drink Mate or Terere
We must admit that we've never heard of Terere though until we arrived in Paraguay.
All the time we were wondering how is it possible that all locals drink hot drinks when temperatures were hitting 40 degree of Celsius, bus later, when we asked, our host introduced us Terere, a national drink in Paraguay.
The only difference from Mate is in the water temperature, as Terere is served with cold or iced water making it a perfect drink for extremely hot days. And believe us, January in Paraguay is hot.
The only problem with terere is, that everyone has the set and equipment for the preparation at home, so it is very hard to find a restaurant or bar where it is possible to buy this drink.
You must either look for it when walking around, ask locals or buy your own terere set.
The best time to walk along Parana River is in the evening when the Costanera alias the coast walk is packed with local families and the temperature drops a little bit.
Yo will find Costaneras spread around South America’s cities with acces to water, and Encarnacion is no exception. We found that they are usually quite safe for a pleasant walk in usually busy towns.
Costanera is a lively place, and it is quite strange that you can see Argentina, just across the river.
And if you are heading to capital Asuncion, there is another waterfront walkway to enjoy.
San Jose Beach
Finish your evening Costanera walk at the San Jose Beach and observe local life, have a picnic there or go to one of the restaurants or bars nearby.
This is the main city beach, and it's surprisingly clean and safe, and you can take a somewhat refreshing dip in the river, sign up for one of many water activities, or play beach volleyball.
Plaza de Armas
The main square in Encarnacion is not that striking as let's say the one in Lima, Peru, but it still has its charm.
You won't find here colonial buildings, but a park with green trees, benches, and locals enjoying their time off.
It's also nice to find some shade there to escape from the relentless sun.
Just opposite Encarnacion is Argentina, and on the left side of the Parana river, lies a border city, Posadas.
The capital of Misiones province is a pleasant place to visit, but there are not many things to do either, and one day trip from Encarnacion is more than enough.
It is easy to travel between Encarnacion and Posadas as there are many buses and minivans running all day long.
One of the highlights of our stay in Encarnacion was a day trip to a Jesuit Missions ruins about an hour bus ride from the city.
There are two former Jesuit Missions worth visiting from Encarnacion, the more popular La Santisima Trinidad de Parana, simply called Trinidad, and the second one, less visited, Jesus de Tavarangue.
This UNESCO site is one of the least visited we've ever been to, and the long history will help you understand today's Paraguay a little bit more.
If you want to learn more about this place and how to get there, check out our post Jesuit Missions Ruins in Paraguay.
Until we arrived in South America, we did not realize how important thing for a local culture are carnivals.
Sure, we've heard about carnival in Rio de Janeiro, but generally, every city has own carnival during the main season, usually in January or February.
Without knowing it, we arrived in Encarnacion when the Carnaval Encarnaceno was about to start, so we had an amazing experience full of the lively atmosphere, dance and feathers.
Carnaval Encarnaceno is held for five Saturdays through January and February, and it's getting bigger and more pompous every year. It's also more than just a big party in the streets of Encarnacion, but it's also a competition, where participants compete in different categories.
Our Tip: If going out to crowded and busy places, watch for pickpockets, or better keep your valuables at the hotel room, as we did.
WHERE TO STAY IN ENCARNACION
Encarnacion is a large city just across the borders with Argentina, and even though the city itself is not somehow beautiful, every weekend Argentinians flood the city because of the cheaper shopping opportunities.
Except for the weekends, Easter, Christmas and carnival, you should not have a problem to find accommodation within your budget.
If your main intention to visit Encarnacion is to see Jesuit Missions independently, try to stay close to the bus terminal.
We've handpicked three best hotels for every type of traveler.
Budget | Hostal SV - Simple, but well-appointed rooms offer budget travelers a high standard and tasty breakfast.
Mid-range| Arthur Palace Hotel - Excellent service, great location, friendly staff, and nicely decorated rooms, outdoor pool, and rooftop terrace are the main reasons why this place is so well-rated.
Luxury | Milord Hotel Boutique - The best hotel in Encarnacion is actually not that pricey for what it offers, and you should really consider staying here, in case you can splurge a bit.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
Unlike infamous Ciudad del Este, Encarnacion is one of the safest cities in Paraguay, and has a great reputation when it comes to safety - at least for South American standards - and you shouldn't have any problems when visiting it.
We never had any issues walking around the city, and felt quite safe.
We would still advice you to exercise caution, and keep valuables at your hotel room, and do not wander off after dark.
We've written a detailed post on How to Stay Safe When Traveling in South America, so check it out and stay safe!
HOW TO GET TO ENCARNACION
Encarnacion is a transportation hub, and as the city is only across the river Parana from Posadas city in Argentina, you can be sure there is no problem to travel freely between those two cities.
Regular buses also leave to the capital city of Paraguay, Asuncion, but also to farther destinations such as Ciudad del Este.
We even arrived in Encarnacion by an overnight bus from Buenos Aires in Argentina, so as you can see, getting to Encarnacion is pretty easy when traveling within Paraguay, but also from major cities abroad.
When to Visit Encarnacion
Encarnacion has hot and humid summers and mild winters.
January is the hottest month of the year as the temperatures are exceeding 40 degrees of Celsius during the day, and if you don't like extreme heat, plan your visit on different months.
July is the driest and together with June coldest months of the year, and you can expect less sunshine throughout the day.
As we've mentioned already, we visited Paraguay at the turn of January and February, when the weather was pretty extreme, and it was hard to sleep during the night without air-conditioning.
Here are 5 essential things to pack for your trip to Encarnacion.
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