Sunday, January 6, 2013

How to get from Argentina to Paraguay

By Jonny Blair

Here's how to get from Argentina to Paraguay Via Brazil

OK so there are a few different ways to cross the border between Argentina and Paraguay but I did the route from Puerto Iguazu, ARGENTINA to Ciudad del Este, PARAGUAY. In December 2010. Although in hindsight, the border crossing seemed easy compared to others I've been to, there is still a need to get things right, read on and I'll explain exactly what I did. This was one of the oddest border crossings I have ever done, for one reason and that is that in the space of 45 minutes I was in three countries...confused? Yes it did confuse me a bit...this is the first of many reports on crossing world borders from my various travels...

The first thing to know is - you board a bus at Puerto Iguazu bus station with PARAGUAY as the destination on it. These buses are yellow and single decker with the words El Practico on it. They leave fairly regularly throughout the day. I did my crossing on a Sunday morning, around 10 am I think. I don't think you can buy tickets in advance, just check out of your hostel or hotel in the town of Puerto Iguazu and head to the bus station (there is only one main bus station in Puerto Iguazu). I would definitely recommend doing this early morning - no idea if the border would be open at night - nor if it would be safe to risk it.

I was on my own and I was basically wanting to get across into Paraguay and then onwards to Asuncion.

Ciudad del Este, the name for this city means City of The East, is on the other side of the river from Argentina. The river acts as the border, and the bridge is the preferred crossing. As this is a post about the border crossing, I won't change the subject but I had already been to Tres Fronteras - the point where you can see all three countries. It gets confusing when you realise that your bus to Paraguay goes VIA BRAZIL.

So the cost is 5 Argentine Pesos for the bus and I asked the driver to tell if he would stop at the border for me so I could get my passport stamped. I was the only traveller on the bus that wasn't from either Paraguay, Argentina or Brazil. Those 3 countries have some kind of visa agreement with each other that means they don't require visas (or in some cases passport stamps) to cross the border.

I actually reckoned a lot of "backpackers" (I dislike that term, but I actually am one...) would be going from Iguazu through into Paraguay next to see the popular Ituapu Dam and the Jesuit Ruins in Trinidad. But after talking to around 30 people at the hostel (the marvellous Hostel Inn Iguazu Falls) I realised not one of them was going to Paraguay, nor did they want to go. A few of my fellow travellers even said to me "why would you want to go to Paraguay?"! With that kind of statement it that makes me realise that some of us are avid travellers and some are just not up for the travel melarkey. An avid traveller will literally go anywhere, anytime. Someone who is not in the avid traveller mode, will be much more choosy about where they go. I'll go anywhere. Whether these guys in the hostel wanted to head to Paraguay or not was up to them, but I was now alone and there were no other "backpackers" on my bus or in the station that morning at all.

Of course to travel in South America you should have some grasp of Spanish at least (I studied in Montevideo but my Spanish is shocking) so you can chat to locals and bus drivers. Once I saw the "queue for Paraguay" developing, I joined it, bag laden to the core and sweaty. Importantly I had my passport in hand and all my money changed into Paraguayan Guarani. This is important - change ALL your Argentine Pesos (except for the price of the bus) into Paraguayan Guarani in Puerto Iguazu. You can even do this on a Sunday morning - I found a bank/exchange place in town at 9am to get mine changed.

After boarding the bus you will be driven out of the town of Puerto Iguazu to the border bridge with BRAZIL. Yes, don't be alarmed at this point, you are still on the bus to PARAGUAY! At the Argentine exit customs you MUST make sure you ask the driver to let you off to get your passport stamped. Most on the bus may not need it - they're mostly locals.

Get out, taking your bags with you and get your passport stamped and then straight back on the bus. Make sure the driver waits for you. Then you will cross the Iguazu River into Brazil but you won't stop at Brazilian border control. This is a regular route and the sign on the front of the bus lets you know that you are heading directly to Paraguay. So we are now in BRAZIL, "in transit on a bus" officially.

You will drive through the city of Foz Do Iguacu, you can read on my website many more of my reports on the actual waterfalls and my first trip across into Brazil. Most people on this route will have just been to the awesome Iguazu Falls.

After about 20 minutes in Brazil on the bus you arrive at the border bridge. Again you will see a border checkpoint here, but you will by pass it. This is the Brazilian border point. Your eyes will remind you that you were officially in Brazil for 20 minutes, but your passport will not. There is no requirement to get your passport stamped at either of these Brazilian passport checkpoints, BUT once your bus gets onto the bridge, keep your eyes peeled for the actual Paraguay entrance border checkpoint. You should do this because the driver will not stop there, so you need to tell him to stop there for you to get out and get your passport stamped.

Unfortunately when you tell the driver to stop and you get out, he won't wait for you as the passengers onboard Don't want to hang around waiting for a gringo to get their passport stamped. You get out and are immediately in the madness of Ciudad del Este, while your bus continues on its route.

It is not recommended to cross this border by foot by the way, mainly because of robberies and safety issues. For the sake of 5 Pesos you might as well get the bus. I had to run to the front of the bus and yell at the driver to stop, this was a few kilometres ahead of the checkpoint. I had assumed he was stopping soon. SO I had to get out on my own. I asked him if he would wait and when I realised he wouldn't, then I had to grab both my bags. This was my arrival into Paraguay!

I had to find the place to stamp the passport now - it was hidden shyly in a very obscure spot in the middle of a building site on the Paraguay side of the bridge. I wish I had a video from above of my trip that morning - it was just crazy. It was hot and I was bag laden, but within a few minutes I found the passport place and was the only person in there. They stamped my entry and I was now legally in Paraguay! In the last hour I had been in 3 countries, though officially just Argentina and Paraguay.

I must admit though that I honestly am not sure if this is the easiest and best way across the border into Paraguay but I love these types of adventures on my own. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of my travels because I was the only traveller about. It was a zany place at the border and the city was so busy. People everywhere trying to sell me things. Some people might want to stay a night or 2 in Ciudad del Este but I was on a fast trip and basically wanted to head straight to Asuncion, the capital.

I got a taxi from opposite the Immigration Office - the driver may even have ripped me off but he took me to the bus station in Ciudad del Este for a fee of a few US Dollars (thousands of Guarani by the way). This huy was just hanging around beside his car for a tourist like me. Agree a price first. You can normally trust these guys.

I hope my new series of border crossings will be useful for my fellow travellers. I'd love to know if others have done the same border crossings as me and had similar experiences.

Safe travels!

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