Santa Teresita is a small indigenous community located about three kilometers from the center of Mariscal Estigarribia along the Trans Chaco Highway. The community is home to Guarani Occidental, Guarani Nandeva, Nivacle, and Manjui ethnic groups, although due to cultural differences there is very little mixing amongst the groups. The community’s church is completely circular with a round altar, an adaptation to suit indigenous religious traditions. It is in this church that Pope John Paul II held a mass during his 1988 visit to Paraguay. Every year during carnival season, the Guarani community hosts a three day indigenous carnival or festival named “Arete Guazu (meaning large celebration). While the Arete Guazu is celebrated in Guarani communities throughout the region (including those in Argentina and Bolivia), Santa Teresita’s is considered to be one of the more authentic celebrations in Paraguay. The festival has yet to draw many tourists, but the people of Santa Teresita are very welcoming to foreign visitors. Expect to be asked to participate in dancing and, on the third day, be covered in mud along with everyone else. This is a highly sacred festival, so be respectful at all times, especially in regards to photography. As there is no lodging in Santa Teresita itself, the best thing to do is to stay in Mariscal Estigarribia and walk or hitch to Santa Teresita. Arete Guazu dates vary each year (ranging from the end of January to the beginning of March) and are decided upon by community leaders. The best way to find out when the Arete Guazu will be held is to contact the Municipal Office in Mariscal Estigarribia (Tel: 0494 247 201).
Mariscal Estigarriba, named after Chaco War hero Jose Felix Estigarribia (featured on the Gs. 50 coin), is the last dependable source of fuel and food along the Trans Chaco Highway as it heads north towards Bolivia. This is also the last place to get an official exit stamp before the border with Bolivia. The sprawling town is home to the Chaco’s largest military base, the Base Aereo Militar Mariscal Estigarribia. The town is mostly populated by various indigenous groups, members of the military who live on the base, and a handful ranch owners (estancieros). The town is also a popular rest stop for truckers on their way to cattle ranches to the north or transporting goods to and from Bolivia. There is not much for tourists in Mariscal Estigarribia. However, the nearby indigenous community of Santa Teresita holds a yearly festival known as the Arete Guazu which can be a unique cultural experience. The land further north along the Trans Chaco Highway is home to several cattle ranches, small military outposts, a handful of indigenous communities, and three national parks (Parque Nacional Teniente Enciso, Parque Nacional Medanos del Chaco, and Parque Nacional Defensores del Chaco).
Base Aereo Militar Mariscal Estigarribia
The military base in Mariscal Estigarribia is the largest in the Chaco and serves as a home base for the smaller more remote outposts of the region. Visiting the base is an interesting way to kill time while waiting for the next bus to Bolivia. On most days, picture ID, a friendly attitude, and willingness to chit chat with the military officers are all that is needed to enter. The military base is home to a large lake which can provide a welcome break from the intense heat. Across the lake is a small island where caimans and capybaras live (as well as a fair amount of dogs and roosters). To get to the lake, walk all the way to the end of the military base’s main road (approximately 1.7 kilometers) past a row of palo borracho trees, and then take a left. You will come to a fenced in area, and the lake will be visible beyond. There is a small covered barbeque pit and several trees for shade but the mosquitoes might force you to head straight for the water. On the way to the lake you will pass the Dr. Luis Maria Argana Airport, home to a 3.8-kilometer long landing strip that is quite out of place, given the area’s infrequent air traffic. This large runway has generated a lot of controversy with many claiming it is part of a U.S. plan to build a permanent military base in the Chaco. In fact, American tourists may find locals to be suspicious of them as rumors that the U.S. intends to steal both the gas deposits in the Chaco and fresh water from the Guarani Aquifer have been circulating for several years. The entrance to the military base is on the left-hand side of the road approximately one kilometer past the immigration office.
Hotel La Laguna Also known as Hotel Frances, this is the only decent option in town (there are bare bones hospedajes used by local truckers, but these are not recommended). The hotel is nearby the immigration and customs control point where all buses continuing to Bolivia are obliged to stop. In addition, Hotel Laguna functions as an agent for the Yacyreta bus line. If you purchase your ticket to Santa Cruz, Bolivia ahead of time, the administration will arrange for you to be picked up at the hotel. This is convenient, as most buses to Bolivia pass Mariscal Estigarribia in the wee hours of the morning. However, in order to catch the bus at the hotel, you must get your passport stamped earlier in the day as the bus will stop at Hotel Laguna having already passed by the immigration office. If you board the bus at Hotel Laguna without having previously been stamped out, you risk being turned away at the Bolivia border, an inconvenience that is not worth chancing. Tel: 0494 247 250, 0983 100 060, Seven blocks (approximately 1.3 km) past the immigration and customs building on the same side of the road just behind a medium sized roadside lagoon. Singles Gs. 60,000 with fan, Gs. 90,000 with A/C, Doubles Gs.
80,000 with fan, Gs. 140,000 with A/C
In addition to the restaurants listed here, there are several surprisingly well-stocked convenience stores along the Trans Chaco Highway. Including in the towns of Chaco Soft (closest to the Hotel La Laguna and with internet access at Gs. 6,000 per hour), Ibanez (next to Hotel La Laguna), 4 Hermanas, and Kuarahy (which, though further away, sometimes accepts credit cards, Tel: 0494 247 205/276).
Restaurante Venecia / Heladena Rosario Though it is a ways from the immigration office and Hotel La Laguna, this small but cute restaurant is worth the walk (although, as always, you should avoid doing so during the hottest part of the day). Menu includes a variety of meats, pizzas, chicken, and salads. The A/C is a welcome respite from the heat, as are the many ice cream dishes (try the copa capuchino). There are also computers with internet access for Gs.
8,000 per hour. Tel: 0494 247 248, Avenida General E.A. Garay and Algarrobo just down the street from the large town plaza, Tue-Fri 7pm-12am, Sat-Sun 5pm-12am, Gs. 15,000-50,000
Restaurante Italiano Most tourists will find this the easiest option to reach as it is next to the immigration office. However it is only open sporadically. Serves pastas, pizzas, and fast food. Tel: 0494 247 231, Between the immigration and customs offices and the neighboring Petrobras gas station, Gs. 20,000-35,000
Mariscal Estigarribia is located at km 530 of the Trans Chaco Highway. Take caution while driving as the condition of the Trans Chaco Highway deteriorates noticeably past Filadelfia with many potholes along the way.
Nasa-Golondrina has two daily buses from Asuncion and one bus from Filadelfia. The ride from Asuncion takes about eight hours and bus fare is Gs. 80,000.