Paraguay is a humble country landlocked between some of South America’s bigger players, often overlooked by foreigners. However, within this mystery lies an incredibly interesting culture, history and unique present-day reality that you’d never guess just by looking at it. Full of unexpected subcultures, quirks, and very random superlatives, Paraguay has much more than most expect to find under it’s subtle shell and we’re determined to explain why. Now are you curious? Read below and we promise to back these claims up.
Paraguay In a Nutshell
Paraguay is centrally located in South America, a country the size of California surrounded by Brazil, Argentina & Bolivia. It shares a triple border with Argentina and Brazil at infamous Iguazu Falls, and borders Bolivia where they share the Chaco dry forest.
Main Cities: Asuncion (the capital; 680,000), Ciudad del Este (500,000), San Lorenzo (270,000), Concepcion (200,000), La Encarnacion (100,000).
Population: 6,623,000. They lost 2/3 of their entire male population in the “War of the 70s” against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
Currency: The currency of Paraguay is the guarani (PYG). Currently the least valued currency in the Americas, $1USD equals over 5,200 Paraguayan Guarani.
Religion: Roman Catholic and very socially conservative. However, there is a group of about 50,000 ethnic Mennonites living in Paraguay.
Government type: Constitutional republic.
Official Language: Spanish & Paraguayan Guaraní (an indigenous language of the Tupian family). A majority of the country is bilingual in both, with Spanish spoken by 87% of the population and Guaraní spoken by more than 90%.
There are about 13 other indigenous languages spoken throughout the country, as well as Portuguese, Italian, Plaudietsch & German (the latter two spoken exclusively by the Mennonites).
Paraguayan Food: Corn and cassava (mandioca, yuca) are main ingredients in most Paraguayan meals. The national dish is sopa paraguaya, a corn bread with cheese and onions. (You can read our guide to Paraguay’s most popular food if you’re especially epicurious).
Read more: Into the Chaos of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
The Fun Facts!
1. Dueling between two people is legal. Yes, dueling. But, both must be registered blood donors and medical staff must be present. Makes sense…
2. Despite being completely landlocked, they have a massive navy and coast guard. In fact they have the largest navy of any landlocked country in the world, and recently hosted a conference of landlocked countries with navies. 30 nations showed up. So, apparently 30 other countriesare also in denial about having no sea.
3. Homes here don’t have doorbells. Instead, people announce their arrival by clapping their hands. The weather is so hot that windows are always left often, so it’s easy to hear the claps.
4. There are two theories about where the actual name “Paraguay” comes from. The boring version: It’s means either “River of the Payaguas”, an Indian tribe, or “crowned river” after the native Indian Guaraní words for palm crown and water. The fun version? Allegedly, there was a parrot named Frank that the first Jesuit settlers befriended when they arrived on the land. On old maps, you’ll see Paraguay labeled as “Parrot”, and this simply morphed over time. (Spoiler alert: The settlers later ate Frank.)
5. Paraguay’s favorite sport is soccer. South Americans call them “the Italy of South America”, known for rarely scoring but maintaining an incredible defense.
6. When bumping into each other on the street, people greet one another by saying “adios” (goodbye) instead of hello. It’s meant to tell the other person that you don’t have time to stop and share a drink.
7. They love a good handicraft. Their most classic is a type of lace called Ñandutí, which means spider web in Guaraní. Every July they have a Ñandutií festival in Itaugua.
8. Their Itapu Dam on the Parana River is the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant. Shared with Brazil, it generates almost all of Paraguay’s electricity. This is what the lower Iguazu Falls flow into.
9. Gauraní is an onomatopoeic language. A lot of the words imitate the natural sounds of animals and nature.
10. Guaraní is the only indigenous language in the Americas with a large proportion of it’s speakers being non-indigenous people.
11. In Asuncion, you have to pay “car-babysitters” whenever you park. These men and women stake out territory in downtown areas and offer the service of “babysitting” your car and making sure nothing happens to it. Of course, you have to pay for their services. If you don’t, that’s fine, but you’ll come back to large key scratches on the side of your car. “It wouldn’t have happened if I had been watching it!”, they’ll remind you.
12. Maté and tereré are the drinks of choice here, but they’re so much more than that- they’re rituals. When it’s cold, maté is drunk all day every day. Whenever friends come over, they share maté. Everyone carries a personal thermos of hot water and their cups of loose leaf herb every where they go. When it gets hot, they just swap it out for the cold version- tereré. You’ll notice everyone holding their drinks at all times of day.
13. The some 50,000 ethnic Mennonites living in Paraguay are an anabaptist group, most originally from Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, having migrated to Paraguay through Russia or Canada when their ancestors fled religious persecution. They live in the Chaco region and Eastern Paraguay, speak Plaudietsch & German, and produce most of the country’s dairy output.
14. Due to it’s central location, it is often called the “Heart of South America”.
Now are you interested in Paraguay? We thought so. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Have other wonderfully weird facts to share with us? Write them in the comments so we can all learn a bit more!
Read more about Paraguay:
— TheBorderlessProject (@TheBorderlessPr) January 11, 2015