Published on September 17th, 2011 | by Mark Chesnut
LatinExpert: Paraguay Travel with Meredith Phares
Meredith Phares, a New York City-based travel publicist with Laura Davidson Public Relations, spent a week in Paraguay last May, visiting her boyfriend’s family. In this exclusive interview, she shares some of her personal insight into one of South America’s lesser-known vacation destinations.
What did your boyfriend tell you to expect before your trip? How did he describe Paraguay?
Sebastian described Paraguay as being very green, with gorgeous nature and friendly people. I’m a big foodie and he always talked about how all food in Paraguay was “organic” — that there weren’t any other options.
What surprised you most about Paraguay?
I think what surprised me most about Paraguay was how far your money goes there. When I first arrived, a group of us went out to a steakhouse. The quality of the meat was incredible and we paired it with great wines from nearby Argentina. I was shocked when the check came and it was only $200 for a table of eight people.
What did you like best about the capital city, Asunción?
Highlights of my time in Asunción included a visit to the Serena Spa, where I had a relaxing massage and spent an afternoon in the steam room, sauna, and lounging by the outdoor pool; an evening out at the local dance clubs; as well as a morning wandering through the historic downtown streets of the city. Walking through Asuncion sometimes feels like you’re going back in time. I was lucky enough to be there for Paraguay’s 200th anniversary of independence from Spain, and the celebrations were incredible.
Did you visit other areas outside of Asunción that you especially liked?
I visited several historic towns surrounding Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. Highlights included San Lorenzo, Luque, Aregua, Caacupe, Altos and San Bernardino. I especially loved San Bernardino, a lake town that Asunción residents flock to in the summer. Many of Asunción’s hottest bars and clubs move to this location 30 miles from the city each summer; it’s like Asunción’s version of the Hamptons.
What are your best memories in terms of food and drink — any outstanding recommendations?
In Altos, we ate at this great little restaurant called Comedor Na Neca, which is basically a woman’s house where guests sit at tables on her outdoor patio and eat whatever she prepared that day; there are no menus. My recommendations for Paraguayan food would be chipa (a cheesy bread), sopa Paraguaya (similar to corn bread), empanadas, pira caldo (a delicious light fish soup), milanesa de surubi (thin breaded and fried fish) and bife de caballo (pounded beef steak topped with sautéed onions). Also, ordering a picada de carne is a great bet, as you get to try small bites of good cuts of meat, chorizos and mandioca (yucca). For traditional cuisine, Lido Bar and San Roque in the downtown should not be missed. If you’d like to try a local beer, a cold Pilsen is quite refreshing on a hot Paraguayan day. And for dessert, I recommend anything with dulce de leche, particularly the alfajores cookies.
Any recommendations about great things to buy?
Leather in Paraguay is of great quality and cheaper than in the states. Additionally, there are tons of up-and-coming Paraguayan fashion designers. Pombero makes great modern styles that have a traditional Paraguayan influence. For the latest in women’s fashions, try Magnolia, a boutique in the Trinidad neighborhood that carries stylish clothing and accessories. If you’re looking for local handicrafts, try La Recoba, an outdoor market on Avenida Colon with various vendors selling traditional hand-made jewelry, housewares and crafts.
Paraguay is not one of Latin America’s better-known destinations for tourism. If you could summarize why it should be on traveler’s itineraries, what would you say?
Paraguay is a hidden gem in South America. With delicious food, fabulous dance-til-dawn nightlife and gorgeous wildlife, it’s a great place to spend some time. The nature in this country remains untouched, with exciting eco-tourism options for adventure-seekers. Dare devils can try an organized outdoor adventure with Tembiasa, which puts together once-in-a-lifetime adventures including repelling down giant waterfalls and canoeing trips through the Chaco jungle.