Inauguration Dance, Paraguay © Marissa Strniste
The 'forgotten' country, Paraguay sits landlocked between South America's tourist favourites of Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, and is unfairly overlooked by all except the most intrepid travellers and eco-tourists.
Paraguay is unique in South America in that it largely resisted the cultural devastation wrought by the Spanish conquistadors and has therefore preserved the cultural dominance of its pre-Colombian Guarani people. Since becoming a republic in 1811 a series of dictatorships have marred its progress, but today Paraguay has a relatively peaceful democracy and is fairly prosperous thanks to its thriving agricultural economy.
Those who fly into the capital, Asuncion, will find a large, relaxed city full of Latin American atmosphere and historical interest. The city's rich 450-year history is reflected in the downtown architecture, including the Cathedral, as well as some modern marvels like the beautiful Lirico Theatre. In addition, Asuncion boasts a fun nightlife, vast shopping malls, and some excellent hotels and restaurants.
Rivers are the lifeblood of Paraguay and a scenic cruise from Asuncion to Concepcion is a popular option for tourists. Concepcion is a laid-back little town about 130 miles (210km) north of the capital, the most notable feature of which is the riverside setting. More adventurous travellers might make expeditions to the western Chaco region, where some fascinating German Mennonite communities can be found living alongside the indigenous Guarani people, and hundreds of species of flora and fauna flourish in the marshes.
Paraguay is essentially a travel book still to be written and, although tourist amenities may be lacking outside of the capital, those keen on experiencing a South American destination off the beaten tourist track will find plenty of charm, unspoilt wilderness and authentic indigenous culture in Paraguay, making it a rewarding and memorable destination.