Kick off in Asuncion, Paraguay’s understated but loveable capital. A guided tour in and around the city takes in everything from historic mud cottages to Paraguayan embroidery. Visit the colonial town of Yaguaron, famous for its ornately painted Franciscan church which was once described as the most beautiful church in the Americas. The lush wetlands of Neembucu boast some 279 different bird species, and on two separate drives through the area there’ll be ample opportunity to spot some. Discover the intriguing history of Jesuits in Paraguay, with visits to churches, ruins and a historic quarry
Join Intrepid on its first foray into the very heart of South America – landlocked and seldom-visited Paraguay. It’s an off-track destination Intrepid has been eyeing for a little while, and this itinerary will not disappoint those in search of something a little left of the big-ticket destinations. After a taste of local food and culture around the capital, Asuncion, delve into a world of charming colonial-era treasures, wetlands brimming with birdlife, remote Atlantic forest, and Jesuit and indigenous Guarani histories rich in myth and magic. Finally, head over to Brazil and Argentina, where mighty Iguazu Falls delivers the spectacular conclusion.
Breakfast Included: 11 Lunches Included: 7 Dinner Included: 7
The adventure begins in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. There's a welcome meeting and safety briefing to attend at 6 pm. Other than that, you're free to explore as you please. If you arrive early, perhaps check out the Barro or Cabildo museums to soak up some local history, or see what's on at the Juan de Salazar arts and cultural centre.
The quaint city of Asuncion is a great place to get to know on foot. Our walking tour begins with an exploration of the city centre, visiting national monuments such as the Panteon de los Heroes, the Palacio Lopez (which at one stage you could be shot for looking at!), and the Manzana de la Rivera, the collection of little mud cottages where independence was won from Spain without a firearm needing to go off. After a classic Paraguayan lunch of vori-vori at the famous Lido Bar, make the drive out to the Caacupe pilgrimage site to learn about how Paraguayans do penance in their own unique style. Before heading back to the hotel, there's a brief stop at Itaugua to see some of the gorgeous Nanduti (spiderweb lace) being made.
Santa Maria de Fe
Departing Asuncion, make tracks for Yaguaron. This town is famous for its ornately painted Franciscan church, which could well be the most beautiful church in the Americas. Nearby is the Dr Francia museum, where you can learn stories of the first president and dictator in the house he lived in as a child. Heading south, make a quick stop at San Miguel – famous for its cool hammocks. Continue to the San Ignacio Jesuit museum before a fish lunch at Villa Florida on the Rio Tebicuary. Spend an hour or so in the little known but very beautiful painted chapel at Santa Rosa, then continue to Santa Maria de la Fe to spend the night. Here there's a fantastic Jesuit museum in an original house, and a troupe of howler monkeys lives in the plaza. The Jesuit hotel (our accommodation) supports a local female empowerment project renowned for its felt art, and the following morning we can make a visit there.
Drive west to Pilar, heading through the beautiful Neembucu wetlands. We'll break up the journey with some birdwatching and wildlife spotting along the way. As well as its reputation as the 'city of birds', Pilar has many impressive colonial-era sights to see. On a guided walk, check out its attractive church, statues of local wildlife and various historical spots. In Pilar we stay overnight at the Centro IDEAL conservation and education project, and we may even have time to attend some of their environmental education workshops.
After the morning city walk in Pilar, head east for a second look at the wetlands, stopping in search of interesting wildlife along the way. The first stop is at the Jesuit site of San Cosme y Damian, the only Jesuit church still used by the local people. Check out its fantastic wooden statues and step into the planetarium for insight into the cosmological beliefs of the indigenous Guarani people. From here, press further east via Coronel Bogado for a pre-lunch chipa (the cheesy national snack) and cocido (smoky sweet yerba mate tea cooked on barbecue coals). We then arrive in the resort town of Encarnacion, where the afternoon is free for relaxing or exploring. Perhaps stroll the promenade or city streets before tucking into your evening meal – a gargantuan Brazilian grill buffet.
After a good sleep and breakfast, head to the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad and Jesus for a guided tour in the morning. The architect at Trinidad wanted to build the South American equivalent of St Peter's (though of course just a little bit smaller so as not to anger the Pope). The more sedate style of the never-completed Jesus stands in complete contrast. The local don't like to call it a ruin, instead referring to it as Tavarangue – the town that never was. Today you'll also visit to the Ita Cajon Jesuit quarry, with the chance to sample some interesting yerba mate-flavoured ice cream. Enjoy lunch at an excellent buffet restaurant before continuing to Hotel Tirol for the afternoon. This is a majestic monastery-like place set in dense forest, once a favourite of the King of Spain. A guided nature walk through the rainforest is a great (optional) activity this afternoon. Otherwise, relax alongside one of the hotel's four swimming pools!
San Rafael National Park
As the guests of the Hostettler family and the conservation organisation Pro Cosara, spend two nights in the megadiverse San Rafael National Park. The park comprises some 70,000 hectares of Atlantic Forest, which is one of the five most threatened habitats on earth. Forest walks, including night walks, are available daily, which allow you to see a great spread of the park's wildlife. You can relax in the flowery gardens or on the lake shore if you'd rather take it easy. If the weather suits on the afternoon of day 7, we'll visit the grasslands of Kanguery, aka the 'Mesopotamian Grasslands', which are disappearing due to drainage for the rice industry. This is a place to keep an eye out for the gorgeous Saffron-cowled Blackbird, a species in imminent danger of extinction.
Following your transfer to Encarnacion this morning, take a local bus to Ciudad del Este in preparation for our visit to Iguazu. The drive there is lengthy, so sit back and get comfortable. Your reward is of course the one and only Iguazu Falls.
Here at Iguazu, you'll visit the mighty waterfalls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. At more than kilometres long, Iguazu Falls are actually a series of cataracts. There are more than 270 falls in total; some reach up to 80 metres in height, and they are wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara. Today you'll enjoy these magnificent panoramas on the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls. Seeing them from this side has its perks, such as a view of San Martin Island which you don't quite get from the Argentinian side.
From the Argentinian side of the falls you can follow a series of boardwalks to get up close to the thundering waters – so close you can almost touch them. Later, visit a Guarani community for the rare chance to meet some of the region’s few remaining indigenous people. You might like to take a helicopter ride over the falls while you're here. This optional excursion gives you spectacular views of the falls and the lush green parklands that surround them.
The adventure comes to an end after breakfast. Note that there are plenty of flights to Rio or Buenos Aires available from either side of the falls.