Unlike most borders in Latin America, Paraguay is one of the few that require pre-authorisation before entering the country. It's also unpopular, with many travellers bypassing Paraguay in favour of Argentina or Chile.
Our research into Paraguay came up rather dry but, because we love a challenge, we added the country to our list.
Now, if you're entering Paraguay by air, arriving in Asunción, the capital, you can apply for your visa one of two ways. The first is when you arrive, at the airport and the second is before leaving Australia by contacting the Paraguayan Embassy in Canberra. We were going by bus from Bolivia so neither of these options were available to us.
Instead, we found ourselves at the Paraguayan embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, applying in person for our tourist visas. To apply for the visa, it is best to be prepared. You will need to take with you;
Pedro Salazar Nº 351
esq. 6 de Agosto Ed. Illimani II Piso 1 Of. 101
Bolivia (+591) (2) 243.3176
The embassy itself is a colonial style building on the corner that backs onto a large office block. The entrance is through this part of the building through the door in the photo. Walking around to the right and up the stairs to "Nivel 1", you will find the office.
At the embassy, you will be asked to complete 2 application forms and to submit the above information. For Australians, the cost of applying for the visa is USD $135 and allows you 60 days in the country.
Then comes the fun part - waiting. We made the mistake of applying for our visa on a Monday at the end of the month (October/November) and were initially told to come back on Thursday. We were prepared to just forget about the whole thing not wanting to spend a whole week in La Paz when the immigration officer called us in.
He kindly advised he could take the information today but due to the accounting system, he couldn't process until the following day, but if we returned at 3pm, everything would be ready for us. So, we filled out the applications, handed over our copies and paid him USD $270 direct (normally you would be given a bank number to deposit this yourself).
You need to ensure the US bills are crisp and newish as older, marked, or damaged money won't be accepted. Card payments are also not accepted.
The following day, we returned to collect our visas, a little before 3pm to find the offices closed for the day. On contacting our immigration officer he apologised and asked us to return in two days (Thursday) and he would ensure it was ready.
Two days later, we had our visas and we were ready to head towards Paraguay.
Travelling to Paraguay, would be another challenge due to the lack of tourist information available for the country. Our initial research showed that buses only left from Santa Cruz in Bolivia towards Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. From Uyuni (where we were doing the salt flat tour), this was more than 20 hours by bus away. It didn't seem logical to travel back across the country to get to Paraguay.
After looking into it a bit further, we found a few other travellers who had made the trip from Villa Montes, 8 hours from Tarija and much more accessible to us given we had set up there for a few days of wine drinking!
Buses leave Tarija towards Villa Montes in the afternoon (5pm onwards) and start from around 50Bs. per person. Shared taxis are also available and while they're more expensive (100 Bs.) they arrive with enough time to catch the connecting bus from Santa Cruz to Asuncion (Trans Rosario leaves Santa Cruz at 7pm).
The road between Tarija and Villa Montes is quite possibly the WORST road we've ever travelled on, and if like me, you get motion sickness, go nuts on the dramamine! We arrived at the terminal in Villa Montes at 11:30pm to find everything closed. Our driver advised us the office to Trans Rosario would open at 2am, the same time the bus would arrive, but this never happened.
The office never opened, and the bus arrived around 3:15am. Sleeping on the concrete while we waited was uncomfortable but, it happens, so we sucked it up. Later that day, I'd find a cockroach sleeping in my pocket that must have crawled in while I was snoozing...
Around 5am we arrived at the Bolivian immigration office to receive our exit stamps and to exchange money. This is when we encountered another hurdle. Everything we had read online suggested the bus tickets were USD $35 each...when we arrived at immigration, the driver wanted USD $70 each and he wasn't going to accept Bolivianos. Not that that would make much difference anyway, because we didn't have enough of those either. (The cost of the bus is the same for everyone, regardless of where you get on or off).
With no ATM, phone, internet or anything for that matter, we were unsure what to do to fix the situation and be allowed back onboard the bus. In the end, we managed to put together enough Bolivianos and some spare US dollars to make the payment. This experience ended up costing us an extra USD $8 per ticket because the driver offered us the lowest possible exchange rate he could.
Back on the bus, we were stopped one or two more times at various checkpoints and then each given a juice box and a packet of biscuits for breakfast before arriving at the Paraguayan immigration check point in Infante Rivarola. (Mariscal Estigarribia, was the place mentioned in most blogs but, this has since changed). Here, we had to remove everything from the bus ready for inspection.
Once all the bags were lined up, they had a sniffer dog go over every thing to check for drugs, while another officer checked the boarding list against each person's identification documents. Then, each person was called over one by one with their belongings for a thorough search before being sent inside to receive their Paraguayan entrance stamp.
Then, we were back on the bus. We did stop again, briefly, at another checkpoint before arriving in Mariscal Estigarribia to have our bus tickets checked. We were served a cold lunch of crumbed chicken and rice with a soft drink once back onboard.
Because Justin and I were heading to Filadelfia, the bus pulled up on the highway, 18km from town, around 2pm in the afternoon. We had to hitchhike in which wasn't a problem, the 2nd car we thumbed stopped to help us but, it didn't make $70 for a bus ticket seem reasonable when they can't even drop you off somewhere decent.
The other passengers taking the bus all the way to Asuncion were advised they would arrive around 7 hours later, making their trip a total of 25 hours long. (Paraguay is an hour ahead of Bolivia).
The road between Villa Montes is mostly unpaved and a little rough but, I don't think it was as bad as it was made out to be in other blogs but, then again I grew up in the country where gravel roads were fairly common.
We would recommend taking snacks and water though as the meals may not be sufficient and as the temperature climbs once you enter the Chaco, you'll want to replenish your fluids.
Safe travels x
The information on this page is solely based on our personal experiences during International Border Crossings, most of which have been overland. We highly recommend checking all advice against the respective countries own immigration website for up to date information.