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The capital city of surprises

Asunción, Paraguay: A Hidden Gem in the Heart of South America

Asunción is often overlooked by travelers exploring South America, but the city has much to offer those willing to look beyond its unassuming exterior. As the capital and largest city of Paraguay, Asunción reflects its country's unique blend of indigenous Guaraní culture and Spanish influence in fascinating ways. While lacking the grandeur of some neighboring capitals, Asunción has a slow-paced charm and diverse sights that reward those who take the time to discover its charms.

A Brief History Lesson

Founded in 1537 by the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salazar y Espinoza, Asunción was originally established near the shores of the Paraguay River which continues to flow through the city today. In the centuries that followed, it served as the epicenter of the powerful Jesuit state that flourished in Paraguay from 1609 to 1767, leaving historical sites and colonial architecture from this influential era dotted around the city. Asunción later endured periodic conflicts and political instability in the 1800s as Paraguay transitioned to independence. Modern Asunción expanded rapidly in the 1900s as the nation industrialized, but it retains pockets of history amidst the urban sprawl.

Top Things to See and Do

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Government Palace

This impressive pink and white neoclassical building dates back to the 19th century and houses the offices and residence of Paraguay's president. Self-guided tours are allowed on weekdays, providing a glimpse behind the scenes of the country's highest office. Nearby, the Plaza de Los Héroes features striking monuments to national heroes.

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Casa de La Independencia

This restored colonial home played an important role in Paraguay's independence movement in the 1800s. Displays recount the events that unfolded here and artifacts provide context on this pivotal period. Its shady courtyard is a peaceful spot for respite.

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Cathedral and Historic Downtown

The towering Cathedral sits on the historic Plaza de Armas, and features an imposing neo-Gothic facade. Just northeast is the pedestrian-only calle Palma, lined with shops, street performers, and delightful sidewalk cafés. Wander the surrounding blocks to see remnants of Asunción's Jesuit past like the Iglesia San Francisco church.

Museums Showcasing Indigenous Culture

The Museo Etnográfico Andrés Barbero houses an excellent collection of Guaraní handicrafts, textiles, musical instruments and more. Colonial history comes alive at the Museo Histórico de Asunción located in an 18th century townhouse. Both offer insight into the fascinating fusion of indigenous and European influences that shaped Paraguayan identity.

Nature Escapes Nearby

For birdwatching, hiking and canopy views, head to the forested Reserva Natural Mbororé just 20km east. For aquatic activities and mountain scenery, explore the charming lakeside town of Areguá a 30 minute drive inland. Book accommodations in these locations with BitBook to earn travel rewards!

Local Cuisine to Savor

While Asunción may not have the gastronomic fame of other capitals, make sure to sample traditional Paraguayan specialties that assimilate Indigenous and Spanish ingredients:

  • Empanadas: Savory or sweet stuffed pastries, a national obsession.

  • Sopa Paraguaya: Corn-based soup loaded with chicken, vegetables, and herbs.

  • Locro: A hearty stew of corn, squash, beans, and meat slow cooked to perfection.

  • Chipa: A cheesy cornbread studded with milk or cheese.

  • Mandioca/Yucca fries: A starchy side enjoyed everywhere.

  • Tereré: IcedGuaraní tea drunk throughout the warm seasons. Refreshing!

For casual meals, try street carts and markets. For sit-down dining, Restaurant Miranda on Calle Palma serves delectable Paraguayan cuisine in an elegant setting.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Asunción is quite safe but use normal big-city precautions at night.

  • Spanish is the primary language but Guaraní words are ubiquitous. Most understand basic English.

  • Weather is tropical - hot and humid year-round. Pack light, breathable clothing.

  • Visit midweek to avoid weekend crowds but allow 2-3 days minimum to appreciate the city.

  • Haggle for souvenirs at markets but prices in stores/restaurants are already fair.

  • Use taxis for short trips but Uber is very affordable. Public transport while improving can be inconvenient.

With its blending of indigenous and Spanish influences, laidback Latin American vibe, and hidden historical gems, Asunción repays travelers seeking an authentic adventure off the beaten path in South America. Beyond its understated charms lies a rewarding cultural experience for those open to discovery.

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