Capital | Asunción
Population | 6,459,058 (July 2011 est.)
Area | 406,750 SQ KM
Official Language | Spanish, Guaraní
Holidays | Independence Day, 14 May 1811 (observed 15 May)
Currency | Guarani (PYG)
Time Zone | UTC -4
Best Time to Visit | May to September (Winter)
Connecting with the Culture | Surviving a squashed ride in one of Asunción’s wooden- floored buses. Catching a game of fútbol (soccer) with all the accompanying hysteria. Visiting the Jesuit Missions of Trinidad and Jesús- impressive colonial remains where missionaries and Guaraní Indians once lived and learned harmoniously together. Exploring the vast, thorny wilderness of Chaco- host to exotic and endangered animals and birds. Heading up the Río Paraguay on local passenger boat.
Read | Augusto Roa Basto’s Son of Man, which ties together several episodes of Paraguayan history, or for travel literature try At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay by John Gimlette.
Listen | to harp and guitar-based folk music and its interpretations by guitarists such as Agustín Barrios Mangoré and Berta Rojas.
Watch | Hugo Gamarra’s The Gate of Dreams about Augusto Roa Bastos’ life and literature; Claudio MacDowell’s The Call of the Oboe, set in a forsaken Paraguayan village; Enrique Collar’s miramenometokéi: Espinas del Alma (Thorns of the Soul), about a girl marked by family secrets- one of Paraguay’s few national productions set in modern-day Asunción and its outskirts.
Eat | chipa (cheese-bread sold everywhere); sopa paraguaya (cornbred); freshly boiled mandioca (cassava); borí borí, sooyo sopy and locro (typical stew-like soups that bear the brunt of many local jokes).
Drink | tereré (ice-cold yerba mate- herbal tea, best shared with locals), Pilsen (the watery national beer), caña (sugarcane alcohol).
In a Word | Mba’eichapa? (how are you)
Characteristics | Jaguars in the jungle; dictators; corruption and contraband; duty-free electronic goods; handicrafts; horse-drawn carts; red-dirt roads that turn into rivers in tropical rains.
Surprises | The German-speaking Mennonite community in dusty Filadelfia; Nueva Australia, named after a short-lived attempt by Australians to et up Utopia in Paraguay.