Paraguay is a country divided. The Rio Paraguay divides the country into east and west sections, and each section has markedly different cultures and characteristics. The Eastern Region is characterized by rolling hills, mountains, valleys, lakes, dense forests and a number of cities and towns. The Western Region is almost completely unpopulated, and is primarily made up of the Chaco, a dry arid region. The country has been established since the 16th century, and nurtures many of the same villages and cities that were founded when it was first explored. As such, Paraguay is an excellent place to learn about the history and culture of South America.
1. Asuncion is the capital city of Paraguay
Asuncion was one of the first established cities in South America and is called the “Mother of Cities” to local inhabitants. It is located along the Paraguay River and is spread out among the riverside and small rolling hills. The city’s inhabitants number around 500,000 within the city limits, and 1.8 million in the metropolitan area. 30% of these residents are under the age of 30. Interestingly, Paraguay’s average age for both men and women lies in the low 20s.
2. Paraguay is sometimes called the Corazon de America
The nickname was popularized almost 50 years ago, in a documentary form 1961 entitled “Paraguay, Corazon de America”. The name was initially coined because of Paraguay’s central location in South America. It is one of only two land locked countries on the continent and, although often overlooked by tourists and travelers, the city is rich with culture dating back to (and before) its founding in 1537.
3. Paraguay is one of only two countries in South America that is landlocked
The country lies between Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. The northwestern boundary that the country shares with Bolivia is formed y the meeting of the Rio Apa and the Rio Paraguay. The rest of the northern border is formed by the Rio Parana, a string of mountain ridges, and the Rio Apa. The southern border of the country is defined by the Rio Pilcomayo, Rio Parana and Rio Paraguay.
4. Paraguay is home to the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant, the Itaipu Dam
The Itaipu Dam measures 25,300 feet in length and 643 feet high. It began to generate electricity in 1984, after 14 years of construction. In 2008 and 2009, the dam generated between 90 and 95 TWh each year. This is the largest energy generating facility in the world. The dam lies on the border between Paraguay and Brazil on the Rio Parana, and is co-owned by both countries. In 2008, the country produced 90% of the energy for Paraguay and 19% of the total energy for Brazil.
5. Only about 2% of the entire population of Paraguay lives to the west of the Paraguay River
Paraguay’s territory is divided into two areas. The area to the west of the Rio Paraguay is called the Chaco, and accounts for 60% of the total land area of Paraguay. This land, however, only provides homes for 2% of the total population of the country. The rest of the citizens of Paraguay live in the eastern region within 100 miles of the capital city of Asuncion.
6. Iguacu Falls is located just outside of Paraguay on the Argentina/Brazil border.
There are over 275 individual cascades within Iguaçu Falls, spread out across the Iguaçu River. If the falls were unfurled from their winding form, they would measure over two miles wide. They were originally formed by a volcanic eruption, which resulted in a large crack that formed between two previously joined pieces of land. In comparison with Niagara Falls, Iguaçu is twice as wide and even taller than New York and Canada’s natural wonder.
7. Roman Catholicism is the primary religion of Paraguay
The first bishop was assigned to Paraguay, and in particular the diocese of Asuncion in 1556. Jesuit and Franciscan priests began to arrive soon thereafter in an attempt to convert the native Indians of the land. The Jesuits protected the Indians from Spanish and Portuguese capture, and the Indians accepted this protection until the Jesuits were driven out of the country 150 years later. At that time, the Indians returned to their previous way of life and belief systems.
In the 1980s, the majority of Paraguayans were Roman Catholics. Other religions in the country included Mennonites and Protestants. People are free to choose their religion, but between 92% and 97% of all residents choose Catholicism. Law declares that the president of the country must be a Roman Catholic believer.
8. Poverty estimates believe that up to 50% of the population of Paraguay lives below the poverty line
The wealth distribution of Paraguay is extremely lopsided. There are very few very wealthy citizens, and very many very poor citizens. To illustrate, in the 1990s, only 10% of Paraguayans controlled 75% of the nation’s land and 46.6% of the nation’s income. The poorest 60% of the population earns only 20% of the total income earned by the country as a whole.
9. Most food in Paraguay is cooked using cassava and corn as a base ingredient
Cassava, also called Yucca, is a plant that is native to the continent of South America. The root of the plant can be portioned into approximately 12” long pieces that resemble a large potato with a root like skin. This starchy food is used to prepare traditional Paraguayan foods such as typyraty, farina, chipa and almidon. Corn is the second grain that is commonly used in the preparation of dishes. One of the most common meals made from this base are bori bori (soup).
10. Paraguay is one of the most ethnically diverse populations in South America.
The most common nationality is the mestizo people, who have Spanish and Guarani ancestry. They comprise approximately 95% of the population of Paraguay. The primary language spoken in the country is Guarani, one of the only remaining signs of the ancestral culture of the Indians. Other demographic groups in the country that account for the remaining 5% of the population are Germans, Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans, Chinese, Arabs, Ukrainians, Southern Europeans, Brazilians, Afro-Paraguayans and Argentineans.