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Asuncion, Mother of Cities and Paraguay’s center of culture, music and shopping

Marla Martin |
Asuncion is one of the few capitals located actually on the state border. It is one of the safest capitals in South America and one of the cheapest cities in the world for foreign visitors.

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Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay, is the nation’s largest city. It has 80,000 people in the city and 1.8 million in the metropolitan area, and all other cities in Paraguay look small compared to it. "Asuncion" means "assumption" and refers to the Assumption of Mary, and as is the case with other Latin American countries, a lot of names are based on religion. It is conveniently position on the left bank of the Paraguay River, in the southwest of the country which gives it a good connections to other part of the country.

And it is a center of the state in the full meaning of the world: the stock exchange, a main port on the Paraguay River, and a cultural and industrial center. Asuncion is one of the oldest cities in all of South America and that gave it a nickname Mother of Cities. Spanish explorer Juan de Salazar y Espinoza established a fortress in 1537. The city saw some turbulent times. After Paraguay gained its independence in 1811, Asuncion flourished and a lot has been built.

In 1864 Paraguay enter the war with neighbors and an occupation by Brazilian troops lasted for six years. An influx of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century recovered the town and gave it today's charm. Asuncion is a tourist destination, a cosmopolitan place where you can find some of the best hotels and restaurants of Paraguay. It has a tropical savanna climate with a dry season from June to September, and the rest of the year is wet. You might wish to visit it during the dry period when the weather is mild and pleasant.

And don't expect some nice but uneducated people: the literacy rate is 95%, a testament that city's many schools, public and private, and two universities are doing a great job. With a majority of the residents under 30 years, it's no surprise one of the Asuncion's main activities is shopping. With its airport that connects it to the world and bring world's goods and artisan crafts, there's plenty to choose from. Of course, there is some, well, merchandise of grey source, but since you are there it makes sense to focus on leather, pottery, and carved wood made by local artists.

Whatever you choice, shopping malls in Asuncion are simply huge, so let your heart guides you. They are also place of good food, from hot dogs to domestic meals with beef, an integral part of Asuncion cuisine. Since you are in Latin America, some cathedral must be visited. The National Cathedral is an impressive building but you must be lucky to catch it open. But it's impressive to see. Three museums are worth visiting: The Municipal Museum, the Visual Arts Museum, and The Fine Arts Museum. They are true museums: not impressive building but with the impressive exhibits.

During your stroll through the city, you may enounters runners all around, that's a common activity in Paraguay, and when you want something more peaceful, there are backyard birds. They are definitively worth to see and you don't have to search for them, just ask locals. El Palacio de los Lopez, the Government Palace or the Presidential Palace as it is known, on the banks of the Paraguay River, was built from the material from the country and it was decorated by European artists.

If you want to take a break and drink some coffee, don't do it. Instead, take a bitter herbal tea tereré. It is made of yerba mate, a plant native to South America, mixed with cold water. That Paraguayan caffeinated drink will get you through the whole day, not just the morning. After it, our coffee looks like a mild milk for babies. Mbejú means cake in the local language and it's a key meal of Paraguayan cuisine. A meal made of mandioca flour, crumbled cheese, pork fat, eggs and milk, and then fried, is a staple of the local cuisine.

It is worth to visit Salto Cristal, some 150 kilometers from Asuncion, a 45 meters high waterfall with crystal clear waters. It was a popular destination even without a marked path and when it was a hard place to reach. That area is also a great place for sports like climbing. From Asunción it is worth to take a Paraguay River tour in which you will enjoy all the nature and wildlife of the river. Wetlands, riverbanks, animals, and patches of forest will impress you with its great fauna all around you.

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