Inauguration Dance, Paraguay © Marissa Strniste
Landlocked among South America's tourist favourites of Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia, Paraguay is unfairly overlooked by all but the most intrepid travellers and eco-tourists.
The country is unique in South America in that it largely resisted the cultural devastation wrought by the Spanish conquistadors, and has therefore preserved the cultural dominance of its pre-Columbian Guarani people.
A series of dictatorships have marred its progress since Paraguay became a republic in 1811, but more recently the country has enjoyed a period of relatively peaceful democracy and is fairly prosperous thanks to its thriving agricultural economy.
Those who fly into the capital, Asuncion, will find a large, relaxed city with a great Latin American atmosphere and plenty of historical interest. The city's rich 450-year history is reflected in the downtown architecture, including the Asuncion Cathedral, as well as some modern marvels such as the beautiful Lirico Theatre. In addition, Asuncion boasts a fun nightlife, vast shopping malls, and some excellent hotels and restaurants.
Rivers are the lifeblood of Paraguay and a scenic cruise from Asuncion to Concepcion is a popular option for tourists. Concepcion is a laidback little town about 130 miles (210km) north of the capital, the most notable feature of which is its riverside setting.
Travellers of a more adventurous persuasion can make expeditions to the western Chaco region, where some fascinating German Mennonite communities can be found living alongside the indigenous Guarani people, and hundreds of species of flora and fauna flourish in the marshes.
Paraguay is essentially a blank travel book awaiting further chapters. Although tourist amenities may be lacking outside of the capital, those keen on getting off the beaten track in a largely unspoilt South American country will find plenty of charm, raw wilderness and authentic indigenous culture in Paraguay, making it a rewarding and memorable destination.
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