Encarnación has a modern riverfront or ‘costanera’ beach vibe in a small city. Unfortunately, the low town (zona baja) that once was has been demolished after it was vacated to make way for a dam and its resultant rising water levels, which after being built, turned out to be wildly overestimated. However, you can find 2 historical ruins (UNESCO World Heritage Sites) nearby. Located on the Paraná river at the border with Argentina, this small city is equidistant from Iguazu Falls and the Paraguayan capital of Asunción.
This article is based on my visit to Encarnación in the month of March. All of the photography and videography in this article is my own – no stock photos, no posing, no filters!
What to Do in Encarnación
Visit the Ruins of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná
These ruins are what is left of the Jesuit missions of the 17th and 18th centuries when the Christian group was spreading it’s religious beliefs to the indigenous population of South America. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins are interesting to explore for an hour or so and are accessible by taking a bus from the Encarnación bus terminal along Route 6 to the town of Trinidad (10,000 PYG / €1.50 / $1.50 each way).
There is a bus stop on Route 6 and the ruins are just a few minutes walk from the main road. You can easily find the location of the ruins on Google Maps. The cost of entrance is 25,000 PYG (€3.50 / $4) although we walked straight in as there was no one around at first but after a few minutes, a member of staff appeared and asked us to come over to the office (that we hadn’t seen) and pay there.
Visit the Ruins of Jesús de Tavarangüé
To get the ruins of Jesús de Tavarangüé, it is about 12 kilometers from the bus stop at Trinidad and Route 6 so you will have to take a taxi to get there. We found a taxi at the service station on Route 6 to bring us there.
It was an impressive vehicle that had vinyl graphics such as animals and flames, which I can only assume were for the purposes of speed enhancement. Both the paint and the door panels had been stripped down which probably made the car lighter and more fuel efficient as a result. The taxi driver waited for 30-60 minutes and then brought us back to Route 6 where we took a bus back to Encarnación. Again, Google Maps will show you the location of the ruins if you want to be aware of the route.
Although less expansive than the ruins at Trinidad, these ruins are more intact and have great views over the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside.
Go to San José Beach
Playa San José is a nice beach along the river. It was clean and good for swimming. There were groups of locals playing volleyball until sunset and several bars and restaurants along the beach. Although the riverside, or ‘costanera’, is nice for a walk, with fast food restaurants like Burger King right on the beach, it feels a bit ‘commercial’ and isn’t really the atmosphere that I look for or enjoy at a beach spot. However, from the beach of San José, you can see the city skyline of Posadas in Argentina which is nice against the backdrop of the sunset.
It turns out that this is because it is actually an artificial beach. The beach and the costanera although only a few minutes walk, feel slightly isolated from the city with a large vacant green space, as wide as a few football pitches, between them and the city. This desolate area is where the low town (zona baja) that once was, has been demolished. It was vacated to make way for a dam upriver and its resultant rising water levels which were expected to flood that part of the city. Although after being built, it turned out that the rise in water level was wildly overestimated. So the old part of the city that had been vacated to avoid disaster, was never actually flooded, and in the end it was demolished after it’s vacant buildings began to attract antisocial behaviour (link to that story here).
Go to the Fun Fair
The fun fair is at the edge of the city and does well to occupy some of the open space that I spoke about above. Ride the bumper cars or take a ride on the ferris wheel. At the time of my visit, I’m guessing that it was low season because we were the only people in the whole place… I don’t even know why they even bothered opening the place! Anyway, it’s good fun from time to time to get in touch with your inner child and enjoy these types of things, and no harm to have a beer in hand.
How to Get to Encarnación
Where is Encarnación?
Encarnación is located in the Itapúa Department (state), Paraguay. It is a small city just 4km from the neighbouring city of Posadas in Argentina which can be seen just across the river.
Getting Between Encarnación and Asunción or Ciudad del Este
Bus is the best way to get between all of these cities. The bus from Ciudad del Este to Encarnación took about 4 and a half hours and cost about 60,000 PYG (€8.50 / $9.50). You can go by bus between Encarnación and Asunción although on the day that myself and another guy were travelling there, one of the hostel staff just happened to be driving to Asunción, so the two of us took a lift with him for 50,000 PYG (€7 / $8) each.
The journey took about 6 hours and although it was probably cheaper (bus usually costs 70,000 PYG / €10 / $11), I regret not getting a bus. A bus coach wouldn’t have cost too much more, would have been more comfortable in terms of space and most importantly would have had fresher air than the guy’s car, which had an incredible amount of fuel fumes for the whole 6 hour journey. Anyway, at least it was good to get picked up and dropped off door to door.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Encarnación
I stayed at Maui Waui International Hostel and it was a nice little place, located between the beach and the main street of the town, and not too far a walk from the bus terminal. A traveller’s phone and wallet was stolen from my dorm room while everyone was out in the front yard having a drink but I suppose that this wasn’t really the fault of the hostel because there were lockers provided.
It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the cuprite was a member of hostel staff or a guest staying in the dorm. Unfortunately his things were out in the open on the bed side table and not secured in a locker. This is just another situation that serves as a reminder to always keep your things locked away in a locker, even if you are in a small hostel and only out of the room for a few minutes!
Seasons: When to Visit Encarnación
Paraguay’s high season for tourism is from April to September. The main exception to this, and especially for Encarnación, is Carnaval, which takes place from the end of January to the end of February.
I visited in early March and there weren’t many tourists which was great because I don’t like places that are overcrowded… although maybe ‘high season’ isn’t too much to worry about in a place like Paraguay. There are always a few backpackers but I’m guessing that not too many tourists come here. Myself and another guy from my hostel were the only visitors at the two UNESCO World Heritage sites during our few hours exploring them! I guess that this is not a surprise as they are some of the least visited UNESCO sites in the world.