Paraguay is South America's 'empty quarter,' a country little known even to its neighbours. For much of its history it has distanced itself from the Latin American mainstream, and for a substantial period of this century was South America's most notorious and durable police state. PJ O'Rourke summed it up bluntly when he wrote 'Paraguay is nowhere and famous for nothing,' and then, on a short visit to cover elections, promptly fell in love with the place. You might do the same since Paraguay has taken steps to overcome its political, economic and geographic isolation and now welcomes visitors. The country has a relaxed riverside capital, impressive Jesuit missions, several national parks and the vast, arid Chaco - one of South America's great wilderness areas.
Full country name: Républica del Paraguay
Area: 407,000 sq km (158,730 sq mi)
Capital city: Asunción (pop 550,060)
People: 95% Mestizo
Language: Officially Spanish, but Guaraní is widely spoken
Religion: 97% Roman Catholic, 3% Mennonite and other Protestants
GDP: US$19.8 billion
GDP per head: US$3,700
Annual growth: -0.5%
Major industries: Soybeans, cotton, timber, oilseed crushing, milling, brewing, textiles, hides & skins, meatpacking, sugarcane (and contraband)
Major trading partners: Brazil, the Netherlands, Argentina, USA
Visas: Most foreigners do not require visas for a stay of up to three months and those from neighbouring countries (who only need national ID cards), most Western European countries and the USA. Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders also need a spotlessly clean police record, a bank statement and a US$10 fee.
Health risks: Cholera, cutaneous leishmaniasis, dengue fever, hepatitis, hookworm, malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid
Time: GMT/UTC minus 3 hours
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
Evenly distributed throughout the year, rainfall in Paraguay is at its heaviest near the Brazilian border and July is the coldest month.
Paraguay's celebration of Carnival in February is liveliest in Asunción. The religious center of Caacupé is the most important site for the Roman Catholic Immaculate Conception.
LAND & CLIMATE
Region: South America
Neighbours: Bolivia borders Paraguay to the northwest and north, Brazil is to the east, and Argentina is to the south and southwest.
Size Comparison: More than twice the size of Uruguay
The Río Paraguay divides the country into two sharply contrasting regions: in the west, the Gran Chaco, or Paraguay Occidental, and in the east, Paraguay proper, or Paraguay Oriental. The Gran Chaco, with its grassy plains, swamps, and scrub forests, is part of an alluvial plain that extends from Paraguay into Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil. Underlying the Gran Chaco is a rock stratum containing salty water unsuitable for drinking or irrigation.
East of the river, Paraguay consists mainly of the southern extension of the Paraná plateau. This elevation forms a watershed that gives rise to numerous tributaries of the Paraguay and Paraná rivers. On its western edge, the plateau gives way to fertile, grassy foothills leading to the Río Paraguay. In the east, it descends gradually toward the Paraná.
Major Rivers and Lakes
The main rivers are the Paraná, the Paraguay, and the Río Pilcomayo, a tributary of the Paraguay. Lake Ypoá in the south is the only large inland body of water. Among the country’s many spectacular waterfalls is Salto das Sete Quedas.
Weather and Climate
The climate of Paraguay is subtropical. At Asunción, mean temperatures range from about 17°C (about 63°F) in July to about 27°C (about 81°F) in January, with annual rainfall averaging about 1,120 millimetres (some 44 inches). In the Chaco Boreal and northward, temperatures often reach 38°C (100°F).
The eastern forest regions receive about 1,525 millimetres (about 60 inches) of rain annually. The region experiences heavy rainfall in summer and little in winter.
Although about 29 percent (1995) of Paraguay is forested, the pressure to clear land for agricultural use is great. Agriculture is integral to the country’s economy, accounting for 22.6 percent (1997) of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employing 39 percent (1990) of the labor force. Clearing land for agriculture has led to the destruction of large tracts of virgin forest. Forestland also supplies the country with fuelwood, timber exports, and extracts such as tannin. From 1990 to 1996, 2.61 percent of the country’s forests were destroyed each year. If deforestation continues at this rate, few of the Paraguayan forests will remain by the year 2010.
To combat deforestation, the government established the National Forestry Service in 1973 to protect and expand forests. Although a lack of resources has kept the organization from being particularly effective, the country has taken other steps in recent years to address the issue of deforestation. In 1991 the government banned the export of four endangered timber species and bought 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) of forest for conservation. Paraguay protects 3.5 percent (1997) of its land in parks and other reserves, compared with 1.7 percent in Argentina, 4.2 percent in Brazil, and 14.4 percent (1997) in Bolivia.
Sewage and industrial wastes have polluted the water in some areas of Paraguay. Only 60 percent (1990-1997) of the population has access to safe drinking water. Access to sanitation services is also a problem. In rural areas, only 14 percent (1990-1997) of the population has access to sanitation servicesa far lower percentage than other countries in the region. Poor water quality and improper sanitation pose a significant health risk to the country’s residents.
Paraguay is party to international treaties on biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, hazardous wastes, and wetlands.