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view of Sugar Loaf and harbor
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; May 12, 2005

ciudad del este (paraguay)

On our third day in Iguazu Falls, we decided to dip our toes into the third country that touches borders here, Paraguay. To claim that we visited Paraguay proper would be a stretch; we ducked briefly into the shopping extravaganza that is Ciudad del Este, just across the border. (For Americans, a good analogy here would be visiting Tijuana.)

just over the border into Paraguay

Forty-five minutes (and one transfer) on the bus and we find ourselves about a kilometer from the border where the traffic comes to a complete standstill on the long bridge into Paraguay. The scene is out of a movie. It’s dusty and hot and endless old cars sputter black exhaust next to our rickety bus. We’re on a highway but people are sitting in chairs in the outside lanes selling things like bread, fruit and stereos. Tiny mopeds are weaving through traffic speeding tourists towards the border (a much faster choice than our mode of transport) and there are pedestrians running on the freeway.

lots of stuff for sale

It looks like people are running *from* something, but they’re actually running *to* Paraguay like they’re planning to loot the city. It’s still early in the day but in the opposite direction, people are already returning with enormous piles of stuff (a middle-aged man hunched over with a stack of 20 DVD players tied together on his back, a woman pushing a wheelbarrow full of… well… we’re not really sure, something). The traffic seems hopeless so we jump out of the bus to join the chaos on foot.

When we make it to the border, we have our passports ready. But there is no need. There’s a guy with a rifle in a green uniform, but he seems much more interested in chatting with random drivers than anything else. We’re not even sure where the border actually is, but we can tell by the crazy product-filled streets that we’re in.

getting in and out takes a while

Things are cheap here, and lots of Brazilians and Argentineans (and tourists) come here to shop (or carry back motherloads of goods to re-sell). And there’s plenty to choose from. Huge 5-story complexes with names like “America” and “China” and more street stalls than you can possibly explore. Real Gucci in slick, air-conditioned stores and fake Gucci right outside on the street. Lots of (fairly) new technology is for sale along side mountains of watches and piles of soccer jerseys (we bought some for our nephews). We also bought some blank DVDs from a store that seemed to be exceptionally happy that we could speak a tiny bit of Mandarin (most of the stores and stalls seemed to be staffed or owned by Paraguayans, but there were plenty of other ethnicities represented). We’re not quite sure why everything here is so cheap (perhaps somebody out there can write in to tell us). Perhaps they get some mighty tax breaks since they’re a land-locked country. Surely this whole city couldn’t have “fallen off the back of a truck.”

After many hours of wandering in the pandemonium, we finally decided that we’d seen enough. We climbed in to a bus marked “Brazil” that had no estimated leaving time and sat down next to a woman carrying her everyday groceries and a man with a gigantic bag of stereos. We all waited in the heat, dust and silence for the long line of buses to cross back over the border.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Goods are so cheap in Paraguay because the country has no industries to protect - they import everything they need (for their own use and to supply Brazilians and Argentinians, I'd say) at virtually no tax... As here in Brazil we import goods paying 60% tax, you can imagine why Brazilians are so attracted to this "duty-free" destination...

--Carla (Niterói, Brazil); Jan 19, 2007


I heard there is a big criminality in ciudad del este, is that right? I also read, that the streets are very dirty... and there is a lots of traffic. Besides Ciudad del Este lies in Paraguay and not in Brazil...am I right?

--Lisa (Germany); Oct 7, 2006

Yes, Ciudad del Este is indeed in Paraguay! We say this in the beginning of this entry, but it might be confusing since it's in our "Brazil" section. We were only there for an afternoon, so it is hard to know about the crime, but we wouldn't be surprised if you are right. But we can tell you that there is a LOT of traffic - way too much for our taste.

--Grace & Susan; Nov 5, 2006


You're 'spot on' about Ciudad del Este! I visited "Shopping Americana" with my niece and her husband, who came to Foz from Guarapuava to spend the weekend with me. It's a wild place, for sure, but I found that electronics were still pricier than in the USA. (I was going to replace the mini digital camera that I lost Friday night at Fortal, but decided not at those prices!)

--Rick W. (Washington, DC, USA); Jul 5, 2006


A complete list of shopping stores in Ciudad del Este here:

--Miguel (Brazil); Nov 7, 2005