Home » Paraguay’s Asuncion Is Quietly Enticing Tourists
Global News News South America Tourism

Paraguay’s Asuncion Is Quietly Enticing Tourists

“Where?” That’s the first question Americans ask when I say I’ve been to Paraguay. In all fairness, Paraguay is often skipped over by tourists who favor Paraguay’s far more famous and alluring neighbors: Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia. But there are plenty of reasons to visit the landlocked country and its quiet capital, Asuncion, which I discovered ahead of my trip over to Easter Island via Santiago, Chile. As one of the oldest settlements in South America, Asuncion is dotted with colonial ruins, dozens of colorful museums, and vibrant artwork that hint at the city’s cautious revival since the crumbling of its dictatorship rule in 1989. It’s a city capital in slow transition, just like the flow of the Paraguay River, the main vein of Paraguay’s trade throughout South America. Now is an ideal time to absorb Asuncion’s tepid transformation and perhaps its ascent to a destination all of its own.

The most stunning place to stay in Asuncion today is Hotel Palmaroga, located on Palma street in the city’s former bustling downtown. The neoclassical building was the former Palace of Justice in 1902 and was meticulously restored and enhanced with a multi-million dollar investment by the Barcelona Group in 2019. Past its dramatic iron doors, Hotel Palmaroga radiates a warm yet regal energy. It’s a spot that attracts both government officials and well heeled Paraguayans, including famous soccer players, who gather in the handsome atrium for afternoon drinks and fill the 1st floor with wedding parties taking elegant photos. Upstairs on the pool deck, striking sunrises are served daily as the sun peeks over the Paraguay River and high rises that sprinkle the skyline. The rooms were perhaps my favorite: long and vaulted ceilings with intricate moulding, each of the 107 rooms have restored cedar wood doors.

One of the best aspects of Hotel Palmaroga is its walking proximity to many of the city’s best assets. I always like to find the “it” coffee shop around any hotel I stay, and Café Consulado is just around the corner from Hotel Palmaroga. A bright little nook that serves as a hangout for seemingly every art-forward 20-something in the area, Café Consulado was a welcomed retreat after an afternoon spent wandering the sweltering streets of Asuncion. The staff, like Hotel Palmaroga’s and many people in Asuncion, are exceedingly friendly as well.

Loma San Jerónimo, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, is just a twenty minute or so walk from Hotel Palmaroga. It’s worth an afternoon discovering and chances are, there won’t be a tourist in sight which only adds to the delight in uncovering this bright, hilly neighborhood. I loved the cobble stone alleyways, lazy cats sunning themselves in windowsills, and girls playing jumprope in the street. Since its renovation starting in 2013, the area has gained dozens of intricate murals and mosaics, most notably the 45-step staircase, Escalinata San Jeronimo. With no one around, I bent down, step by step, to take in Claudia Godí’s intricate work: thousands of gleaming rainbow tiles that depict Asuncion, from its colonial houses to the shores of the Paraguay River. There’s a joy in savoring public art without throngs of tourists vying for their Instagram moments. Being relatively unknown, at least right now, is Asuncion’s best secret.

Mercado 4 is another traveler’s delight within walking distance of Hotel Palmaroga and worth a morning exploration. The original market, erected decades ago, was supposed to contain all the commerce of the city, from knock off Nike shoes to fresh flowers, but the market has since spilled into several blocks, creating a thriving jumble of shops, spice stalls, and one seat barber shops. Arrive in the morning to snag a seat at one of the street side restaurants that serve up traditional meat favorites such as lampreados and bife koygua. Though tourists pan this market and much of Asuncion, for that matter, on some travel sites as I sadly discovered, “professional travelers,” will relish the market as a true local’s place. One tourist, from Russia and the only one I spotted in the market for a whole morning, asked, “Isn’t this fun?” via Google translator. I replied, “yes!” followed by, “and it’s just us with the people.”

Perhaps that’s the greatest allure of Asuncion. It isn’t, at least yet, trying to appeal too hard to anyone outside of Paraguay. One needs to purposely find it and be immersed in its slow, friendly spirit. For that, it’s a “professional traveler’s” South American gem.

Source : Forbes