Asunción: First Impressions

The city of Asunción is rather interesting.

First, it’s not that well known in the travel-blog sphere of things, but Asunción the largest city in Paraguay… as far as I can tell, the only one with the attractions of big city life, i.e. restaurants, clubs & bars, activities, options for living.

But apparently, Asunción has a past.

It has majestic architecture from the 1800s in the downtown area, which makes it look like it was a hugely important city once upon a time. Dotted here and there are pictures of famous national leaders of years gone by, along with old-world cathedrals, government buildings and shrines, as if Asunción is very proud of it’s history.

There was a massive war in the late 1800s in which an estimated 80% of the population of Paraguay was killed. Then in the 1930s, Paraguay had a major war with Bolivia over the Chaco land in the north.  Perhaps these battle still stand in memory.

Additionally, I found out that 80% of the people in Paraguay know a 2nd language in addition to Spanish called Guaraní (it’s also the name of their currency.) Guaraní is passed down among families and children as well as schools, and is considered a national language. However, the signs, newspapers, publications, etc. are all in Spanish.

So, it’s like the Paraguayos are really their own people, complete with history, language, and culture. It’s not like they are just a split off from the larger nations of Argentina and Brazil. They are a people with their own identity.

As such, I learned if you can say a little Guaraní, the people like it. If you say a couple of things, it gets you in the inside. A few I’ve picked up are: mba’ eíchapa? = how are you?, and che ra’a = friend. These are also helpful to get a smile out of a cute Paraguayan girl. 🙂

Speaking of the people, when you are walking along the street, I’ve noticed the tendency is for people not to look you in the eye or smile. They also don’t greet you as much. Coming from a friendly place like Colombia, this has been a slight a change. Many Paraguayos don’t seem as immediately open to strangers.

In fact, the other day I went in to get some technical service for my cell phone and the young girl behind the counter did not act friendly at all. I was sort of taken back, as I am used to smiling at people, and them smiling back. All I got from her was short responses, and zero smiles.

I don’t think she was just having a bad day either. I’ve received similar things in other places like restaurants.

Paraguay is also hot. Very hot.

Back when I was planning a trip to Paraguay, I noticed the utterly scorching temperatures in Asunción during the summer months (December to March), but the temperatures looked more mild in late fall / early winter. And, the first 2 nights I was here were slightly cold, and I had to wear a light jacket out at night. I was thinking in late May the heat would be gone.

Nope. In May, the heat is still here, especially on a sunny day.

The past couple of days I’ve been drenched with sweat. Air conditioning here is an absolute necessity.

There are also mosquitoes everywhere.

As I write this, I am covered in bites on my arms, neck, and feet from 5 days of dealing with these bloodthirsty fly-things.

A few days of swatting bugs I can deal with, but constant mosquitoes are a different story, especially when the first taxi driver I meet from the airport tells me to always wear bug spray so as not to get dengue or yellow fever.

If I’m looking for a liveable city, I don’t want bug spray to be my new cologne, thank you very much.

Getting around…

The life of the downtown Asunción is odd. It’s moderately filled during the day, but deserted at night. People apparently have all moved to the suburbs (which is unfortunate, because I am not a big fan of suburbia).

The new center of town is an area called Villa Morra. I went there last and it is definitely a lot more upscale, but seems built for people who drive cars. There are nice houses, some very large, but there aren’t a lot of apartments for rent.

The nightlife spot of Paseo de Carmelitas (near Villa Mora) was a pretty decent spot, though… It even has it’s own TGI Fridays.

There is no metro here, and I don’t have a car, so getting around here is all about buses and taxis. Taxis are not cheap, and buses are not quick. So things are not exactly great for getting around on a budget…

Come on, Asunción…

Right now, I am trying to find short-term housing, but the lack of an easy interface to do so, the heat, the mosquitoes, and the expensive hostel I’m in are not giving me reasons to stay. I’m getting frustrated and my feet are beginning to itch.

Something needs to happen quick, before I lose my patience.

  • John Sivertsen

    Hello Ryan
    If you can’t bear to stay in Asuncion, I think Arequipa, Peru is a city that would fit your personal preferences in regards to a beautiful Spanish language (Castilian), beautiful historical architechture, dry, warm and comfortable climate,. It’s a medium sized city (836 000 people) with a rich cultural life. Along with Medellin I hold Arequipa as the most liveable city in South America. I read your blog with great interest. Good luck with your search.

    • “Most liveable city in South America”? Now I’ve definitely got to go to Arequipa! 🙂

      • John Sivertsen

        Most liveable city in South America. Well it’s a tough call I admit. But I felt you were in discomfort in Asuncion, and I felt I had to help you out quickly! Brazil has become very expensive, some cities more expensive than New York. So what other options do you have? One might be Montevideo, Uruguay. Another could be Mendoza, Argentina. A third could be Santa Cruz, Bolivia. A fourth suggestion would be the Barranco district of Lima, Peru. Again, good luck.

        •  Thanks for the tips man!

  • To be honest I haven’t heard anything good, most people complain about the price and think it’s boring.

    But actually I agree with John, Arequipa is a really lovely place.

    • Yea, turns out I already left! … Another +1 for Arequipa. Ya’ll are making me curious. 🙂