Jan, 2016: While most people associate carnivale with Rio de Janeiro, a few hours south on the banks of the Rio Parana in Paraguay, the town of Encarnacion provides a much less touristy but none-the-less enjoyable version of the Latin America’s craziest festival. While we were slightly disappointed that we didn’t encounter as much hedonistic partying as we hoped for in Paraguay’s carnivale, our five days exploring Encarnacion were still a great introduction into what is arguably Latin America’s most laid back country. We got our dose of scantily clad performers jiggling down a float filled runway but we also had several nights watching blazing, river side sunsets, dined on an impressive feast of Japanese and got schooled in the fascinating history of the Jesuit missionaries.
Lonely Planet rates the Encarnacion carnivale as one of the best in Latin America and depending on what you’re after, I’m sure it could be. It has all the parades and the dancers but we were slightly surprised at the lack of mad partying or perhaps we just didn’t have the luck or dedication to find it. That isn’t to say we didn’t have fun though. The main parades are held over Friday and Saturday night when everyone piles into custom made stands and then get as silly as possible on large quantities of booze while engaging in battles with hand held cans of a weird foam like substance. By the time you’re stumbling home to get a drunk feed of cheeseburgers or fried chicken, you’re likely to be fairly sticky from said foam like substance. You could potentially also have a slight ring in your ear if you placed yourself too close to the giant sets of speakers. Sunday afternoon the carnivale wraps up with a rowdy party on a man made beach on the banks of the Rio Parana where DJ’s and bands pump out tunes to a fairly loose crowd of sun kissed revellers. After we had recovered sufficiently from our hangovers we had a cracking afternoon, beers in hand bouncing around while another epic sunset called final drinks on the weekend’s revelry.
Whatever our expectations of exploring Encarnacion were, we certainly didn’t expect to find an authentic Japanese restaurant. So, when we walked into the quietly humming, tastefully decorated Hiroshima with a mix of Japanese and Paraguayan chefs plating up long boats of squeaky fresh sushi we were quite blown away. I’m sure that Japanese food officionados may scoff at the idea of there being a high quality sushi restaurant in somewhere like Encarnacion, but after several servings of delicious sushi and fragrant bowls of miso soup or the delicate morsels of agadashi tofu and plates of tempura vegetables we were pretty impressed. The waiters knew what they were doing and were quietly efficient and while there wasn’t a huge wine or sake list there were certainly enough options to keep a bunch of smelly travellers very happy. If you’re ever in Encarnacion we’d certainly recommend a visit.
While most of our time exploring Encarnacion was spent either eating or drinking we did get out for a day of culture to explore the jesuit ruins which dot the countryside about 30-40 minutes outside of town. The Jesuits came to south america in the mid 1500’s but the missions of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangue weren’t established until the early 1600’s. Over the next 150 years they built self sufficient communities which of course introduced a different religion to the local Guarani indigenous tribes but also provided protection and education. The missionaries established the first documentation of the Guarani language and appeared to be fairly strident champions of the indigenous cause back to the ruling Spanish in Europe. Sadly, in the end, the communities which sprung up as a result of the jesuit missions were deemed to have developed too much autonomy to the point of being a risk to Spanish rule, so were attacked and ultimately destroyed leaving only the ruined buildings in the Paraguayan countryside. Today, the towering red ruins make for an interesting if not hot and sweaty excursion and are well worth the trip for a lazy stroll through the beautiful old buildings and gardens.
Exploring Encarnacion for five days got us off to a good start in Paraguay and we looked forward to more adventures as we continued further north.
Encarnacion travel and feasting tips:
- Carnivale in Encarnacion runs over 8 nights in late January / early February with the main nights for the parade being Friday and Saturday. Accommodation books out quickly and gets much more expensive so it’s worth booking ahead.
- Given there were four of us, it worked out relatively cheap to hire a self contained apartment just up from the Rio Parana. Del Rio Apart Hotel (Mñor. Wiessen, Encarnacion) was a great place to stay with friendly staff, tasty toasted sandwiches for breakfast and a good location.
- Hiroshima Restaurant (25 de Mayo, Encarnacion) is definitely worth a visit if you’re craving a change from the usual south american fare.