Along Rt 1 with side trips on Rt 4 & Rt 6
Route 1 offers tourists a taste of everything from traditional towns and remote nature to the remnants of Paraguay’s rich history. Route 1 cuts south and slightly east across the southern part of eastern Paraguay connecting Asuncion to Encarnacion. Along the way it passes the satellite cities of Fernando de la Mora and Nemby before heading further afield to the town of Ita, known for its ceramic artisans.
Next up is Yaguaron, home of the country’s most important and impressive Franciscan church. At the town of Paraguari there is a road connecting to Route 2 past the historic town of Piribebuy. Paraguari is also the starting point of a newly paved road to Villarica. Along the way this road passes through the town of Sapucai, home to Paraguay’s historic steam train workshop. During Paraguay’s heyday in the early 1800’s a group of engineers and craftsmen were brought over from England to set up a repair shop for the newly created steam train line. The workshop and its many industrial era machines are still standing, including a handful of train cars, in Sapucai. Carapegua is the turn off point for Parque Nacional Ybycui. One of the easiest national parks to visit from Asuncion, Parque Nacional Ybycui is popular with Paraguayans and tourists alike. The nearby Salto Cristal is a draw for the more adventurous. Hidden amongst a maze of sugar cane fields in La Colmena the impressive waterfall is harder to reach but certainly worth the trip. Carapegua is also the main access point for the large and remote Lago Ypoa and surrounding wetlands. Nature lovers will especially enjoy visiting this area as birdlife and aquatic animals abound.
Past Carapegua the sporadic peaks of the department of Paraguari give way to the rolling hills that characterize the Misiones department. First up is Villa Florida, the popular riverside town known for its sandy shores and fishing. Next is San Juan, capital of Misiones. The department gets its name from the Jesuit missions which once thrived in this area. The towns of San Ignacio, Santa Maria, Santiago and Santa Rosa still have structures from the Jesuit’s utopian experiment. The large churches were left, to decay and were eventually replaced mid-century with modern structures. However, many of the mission’s secondary buildings are still in use today. Most tourists overlook these Jesuit towns in favor of the larger and more impressive ruins of the Itapua province. Yet combining a visit to smaller Jesuit towns with ruins provides a glimpse of what the reductions were like and how they functioned. In addition to the missions, the region is home to new religious traditions as well. The small community of Tanarandy, near San Ignacio, is the site of a dynamic and artistic procession that takes place on Holy Friday of Easter week.
In Santiago, Route 1 connects with Route 4 which leads often overlooked city of Pilar. Cut off from the rest of Paraguay until very recently, this town developed its own identity more akin to that of towns across the border in Argentina. Pilar is the capital of the department of Neembucu which is almost entirely made up of wetlands. Further along Route 1 is the turn off to Ayolas, another popular fishing destination and home to Paraguay’s second largest hydroelectric dam, Yacyreta, little sister to Ciudad del Este’s Itaipu.
Encarnacion, capital of the department of Itapua, is at the end of Route 1. Encarnacion is a popular base for people wishing to see the Jesuit ruins. Trinidad, the most popular set of ruins, is north of Encarnacion along Route 6 (which leads to Ciudad del Este). Nearby are the ruins of Jesus as well as prosperous agricultural colonies known as the Colonias Unidas. San Cosme y Damian, the third set of ruins, is located west of Encarnacion in a town of the same name. Encarnacion is not just known for its proximity to the missions though. During the months of February and March the city is flooded with tourists who come to enjoy the glittering spectacle of the carnavales Encarnacenas. From Encarnacion you can easily cross over to the Argentine border city of Posadas. Encarnacion is also a good alternative point of departure for those who wish to visit Iguazu falls but would rather not travel through the heavily transited triple border (known as “la triple frontera”) between Ciudad del Este, Foz do Iguazu and Puerto Iguazu.