An air of mystery hangs over Paraguay, a little-known pocket of South America off the radar to most tourists. Yet it’s precisely the fact that it’s so little visited that makes it appealing to adventurous travellers. Those who do make the effort to visit will find themselves in one of the most deeply cultural societies in South America, and the only one to have an indigenous tongue as its official language (Guarani).
It’s also not as hard to reach as it once was, thanks in part to the Trans-Chaco Highway that links Paraguay to Bolivia, a route now being touted as one of the continent’s greatest road trips. The Chaco through which it passes is one of Paraguay’s star attractions, a vast area of forests, plains, swamps and salt flats home to jaguars, pumas, tapirs, flamingos and a host of other wildlife. They share the land with a handful of Mennonite communities who arrived in the 1920s, fleeing persecution, and continue to work the land and to speak in an old German dialect.
Not all settlers, however, have remained in Paraguay. The Jesuit colonies of the 17th and 18th centuries amassed so much power that the Spanish crown had the missionaries expelled in 1767. The remains of their missions, especially around the towns of Trinidad and Jesús, are now protected by UNESCO. The vestiges of their wood and stone-carving techniques are incredible to behold.
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