Paraguay Unmissable Highlights
Less developed and more inaccessible than the other countries that make up the Southern Cone, Paraguay requires a greater deal of pre-planning to ensure that you can safely visit its highlights. But despite its unpolished exterior, Paraguay astonishes with its huge expanses of semi-arid but wildlife-rich virgin forest and crumbling monuments that tell the history of the many settlers who’ve arrived here across the centuries.
Find parks brimming with native species in Paraguay’s most sensational spot for wildlife, the Chaco. Covering sixty percent of the country, the Chaco is a semi-arid floodplain where saline soils provide the ideal conditions for an abundance of plants, animals and interesting land formations. Some of the most visited are the Central Chaco Lagoons – saline lakes home to flocks of Chilean flamingoes during winter or sandpipers and plovers between September and December.
Mostly uninhabited, the Chaco is one of the best destinations in South America for spotting large mammals. Follow the tracks of jaguar and puma or encounter tapir and armadillo shuffling through the undergrowth. You’re might also chance upon resident bird species, such as the black-bodied woodpecker and the Chaco owl.
The Catholic missionaries of the Jesuit order arrived in South America in the early 1600s and established thirty towns or “missions” across Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. These self-contained and independent communities sought to spread the word of Christianity to the native Guarini and resulted in societies that mixed traditional and Christian beliefs and were known for their remarkable artistry.
Seven of the missions were built in modern-day Paraguay and those that have survived are the best-preserved of all in South America. Now, they form the Jesuit Route, an imaginary trail that passes from Encarnación in the far south of the country to the Paraguayan capital, Asunción and where visitors can stop at each set of ruins to learn more about this incredible culture.
Uruguay Unmissable Highlights
Often visited as part of a day-trip from Buenos Aires, its neighbor across Río de la Plata, Uruguay merits much more than a cursory excursion. This treasure chest of historic buildings, relaxed, welcoming cities and miles and miles of coastline is slowly putting itself on the map as a top South American destination. Sharing many cultural traits with nearby Argentina, the tiny nation of Uruguay is an easier place to travel than its larger cousin thanks to the short distances between its key attractions.
Founded in 1724, Uruguay’s capital is a delightfully relaxed, and delightfully tiny, place to begin your travels in the country. The portside Old Town has museums to guide visitors through the country’s history, while the main city has an interesting mishmash of colonial buildings and neoclassical and neo gothic architecture.
As vibrant as it is varied, Montevideo abounds with culture and excellent dining options. The marvellous 18th-century Solís Theatre is the place to watch a performance, while a penchant for a good steak is as alive here as in neighboring Buenos Aires, so eat lunch with the locals in one of the restaurants in Mercado del Puerto, the old covered market situated right on the port
The Uruguayan Coast
Known in South American circles as the playground of the Brazilian and Argentine rich and famous, the Uruguayan coast has started to attract foreign tourists as well. While Punta del Este is the most developed, and expensive beach resort, for those wanting to see more of Uruguay, instead, head north to Rocha.
This Uruguayan state contains some of the least developed beach towns, but its pristine sands and sleepy fishing villages provide a real sense of the relaxed Uruguayan way of life. Miles of sandy beaches and coastal forests, including Cabo Polonio, a sand-dune reserve where sea lion colonies laze on its banks, make this part of Uruguay feel like an unspoiled corner of paradise.