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Asunción, the capital and largest city, is built on unassuming hills above the east bank of the Río Paraguay. Most of the city's key sights are found within an area bound by the riverfront, Avenida Colón in the west, calles Haedo and Luis A Herrera in the south, and Estados Unidos to the east. There are few colonial remains and little attempt at zoning, so the city has become a jumble of new, eclectic buildings and squatter settlements along the riverfront and the railway.



It's now safe to approach and photograph the Palacio de Gobierno, which is a major improvement on the situation which existed during El Supremo's Rodríguez de Francia's rule - he ordered anyone gazing upon the palace to be shot on sight. Nearby is the Casa Viola, one of the few surviving colonial buildings, which is now a museum. Other city sights include the Casa de Cultura Paraguaya, the 19th-century Cathedral and its museum, and the Casa de la Independencia, Asunción's oldest building (1772) and site of the declaration of independence. There are also excellent parks, such as the Jardín Botánico, and the Museo del Barro, the city's foremost repository of modern art. Asunción's zoo - once a wretched, dingy place of small, smelly cages filled with unkempt animals - has reportedly improved under a new management plan and is seeking to properly house the unique flora and fauna of Paraguay.


Budget accommodation and cheap eats are mostly to be found in the city center, towards the riverfront, or in neighborhoods to the east. Porn flicks and kung-fu extravaganzas dominate cinema viewing but there's good live theater or music at a number of cultural centers. The shopping is best along calles Colón, Pettirossi, Palma and Estrella.



Eastern Paraguay

Many of Paraguay's finest attractions are just a short hop from the capital and include the weaving capital of Itaguá, where the famous ñandutí or spiderweb lace is made, and the lakeside resorts of Areguá and San Bernadino, both on Lago Ypacaraí. West of here is Caacupé, Paraguay's most important religious center and the site of an annual pilgrimage. The tranquil and undeveloped Parque Nacional Ybycuí, preserving one of the few remaining areas of rainforest in the country, is to the south.


Southeast of the capital is Trinidad, a hilltop site of a Jesuit reduccíon, which was built between 1706-60. Its centerpiece, a church, has been beautifully preserved. Other interesting Jesuit ruins are found at San Ignacio Guazú and Santa María.


Something a little more contemporary is the Itaipú Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project (1350 sq km/526 sq mi), which is well worth a visit. Another sight not to be overlooked is the Parque Nacional Cerro Corá, an area of dry tropical forest and savanna nestled among steep, isolated hills. It possesses many important cultural and historical features such as pre-Columbian caves, petroglyphs and the site of Francisco Solano Lopez's death at the end of the War of the Triple Alliance.


The Chaco

The Chaco is a remarkable area of almost featureless plain, with a substantial population of Indian peoples. Its only paved highway, the Ruta Trans-Chaco, leads to the religious community of Filadelfia, which was settled by the Mennonites in the late 1920s. Other Mennonite colonies include Loma Plata, the oldest and most traditional settlement, and Neu-Halbstadt, which is a great place to purchase Indian handicrafts. Towards the Bolivian border is the Parque Nacional Defensores del Chaco, a wooded alluvial plain whose major feature is the 500m (1640ft) Cerro León. The dense thorn forest harbors some of Paraguays most endangered wildlife, and there's an excellent chance of spotting large cats like jaguars, pumas and ocelots.