The Pantanal – The World’s Largest Wetland System

Imagine a place where all around you is nothing but trees and swamps.  Imagine a place where you have a 95% chance of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat – a percentage higher than what is guaranteed while trekking the Amazon Rainforest.  Imagine a place so massive that it is 10 times larger than Florida’s Everglades.  Unbelievable, right?  I know, but such a place does exist and it is called the Pantanal.

The Pantanal

The Pantanal

What is the Pantanal?

The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland system covering an area just shy of 200,000 square kilometers (80,000 square miles) located mainly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.  The Pantanal – which gets its name from a Portuguese word meaning “bog” or “wetland” – also extends into Mato Grosso and portions of Bolivia and Paraguay.  Roughly 80% of the Pantanal is submerged under water during the rainy season (November – April).

How Can You Get to the Pantanal?

Getting into the Pantanal is challenging given its vastness, lack of towns, and sparse population.  The only way to visit the Pantanal really is to arrange a tour that will allow you to stay anywhere from a couple of days to a full week.  Campo Grande is the main point of entry to the Pantanal if you are coming in from Mato Grosso do Sul.  You can find several tour companies offering overnight tours here or in Cuiabá if you are coming in from the North via Mato Grosso.  Since Kooks and I went with G Adventures for this trip to Brazil, and we came from the South, our two-day stay was pre-arranged at São João Farm with them. 

São João Farm has a "Kamp Krusty" vibe to it!

São João Farm has a “Kamp Krusty” vibe to it!

When Should You Go to the Pantanal?

The Pantanal can be visited at any time of the year, but the best time to go would be the Dry Season (May – September) when the water has receded a bit and travel within the Pantanal is a bit easier.  Trust me it is not an easy trek into the Pantanal!  From Campo Grande to our ranch stay at São João Farm, our private van driver took almost an hour to get there driving on dirt roads.  In fact, I don’t even recall seeing any paved roads and we were really just on the outskirts of the Pantanal.  Imagine how much more difficult it would be the further in you went during the wet season!

Piranha fishing is a popular activity that you can do within the Pantanal, so try to get here around April or May as those months have the ideal water levels to catch these deadly predators.  Bird watching is best done around June and July.  Jaguars are quite common in the Pantanal the further in you go.  However, we weren’t in far enough in the bush to see any during our two days there, so check with your tour company about when the best time to see them would be!  They are probably the most sought after species for viewing here.

Given the low-lying ground and the fact that you are surrounded by nothing swamps and marshes, it will be noticeably hot during the day and very cool or chilly at night during the Dry Season.

Typical Pantanal Lunch

Typical Pantanal Lunch

What Do I Need to Bring With Me to the Pantanal?

The following items are recommended for the Pantanal:

  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Camera/Camcorder with Universal charger
  • Binoculars
  • Yellow Fever certificate
  • Malaria pills (at your discretion)
  • Hiking pants and jacket
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Snacks and drinks
  • Some cash (100 Reais should be more than enough for a 2 – 3 day stay)
  • Soap & shampoo
  • Rain jacket and umbrella (if going during the Wet Season)
Bird Watching in the Pantanal

Bird Watching in the Pantanal

Some people may ask if a Yellow fever shot is mandatory when going into the Pantanal due to the presence of mosquitoes surrounding the swamps here.  Officially, it is not required by the Brazilian government, but it would not hurt to get a Yellow fever vaccination, anyways, if you plan to explore other parts of South America, especially Peru where it is required.

The ranch home stays in the Pantanal will have some food and booze available, but most likely on a cash only basis and at marked up rates.  You are best to stock up either in Campo Grande or Cuiabá.  100 Reais was more than enough for Kooks and I during our two-day stay here, but we could have even brought less had we decided to buy some bottles of booze like some of our group did.

What Can I See or Do in the Pantanal?

The Pantanal is a great place to visit for those who enjoy eco-adventure tours.  Some of the most popular activities you can do here include nature walks, bird watching, piranha fishing, horseback riding, driving boats out in the various swamps and lakes, and jaguar spotting.  Animal that can be found here include a variety of species, such as caiman, piranhas, macaws, Marsh deer, toucans, and jaguars.  Make sure to bring a couple of charged camera batteries with you as you will have plenty of opportunities to capture amazing wildlife scenery in the Pantanal.

Caiman - Just one of many species to be found in the Pantanal

Caiman – Just one of many species to be found in the Pantanal

So, there you have it, folks.  Some basic info and tips about the Pantanal that you should consider for your trip to Brazil.  The Pantanal was something I was really anticipating ever since I first heard about it on a travel show I watched a few years ago.

Leaving society behind for the next two days was both exciting and terrifying as we had no idea of what to really expect at São João Farm, especially since we were arriving on the same day as the USA vs. Portugal match – an important match for the Americans as either a win or tie would put them in good place to qualify for the Round of 16.  Would we be able to watch this crucial match at the ranch?  There was only one way to find out!

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Casa do João – Bonito’s Best Restaurant!

Our group had one more night in Bonito before making an early morning trek to the Pantanal, the World’s largest wetland system, where we would be staying at a remote ranch for the next two days.  We decided to celebrate our last night in civilization by eating at Casa do João, one of Bonito’s oldest restaurants whose specialty is Traíra, a type of predatory fish found in Brazil.

The History

Casa do João was originally a wooden colonial house in the middle of a large field surrounded by many animals and an orchard of exotic fruits.  It was a popular place for family gatherings and entertaining friends.  As a result, João came up with the idea of opening his home to locals by adding a bar and offering traíra, which is a predatory fish found in the Amazon, and extremely difficult to de-bone.

Casa do João's Main Bar

Casa do João’s Main Bar

As the popularity of the restaurant grew, so too, did the need to expand!  Everything that you see at Casa do João – from the veranda to furniture – is made from recycled wood.  The materials used at this restaurant come from old forest fires, fallen trees, disused corrals, and abandoned houses.  Casa do João is by far the most eco-friendly restaurant that I have ever eaten in.

Today, several of João’s children and friends help run Casa do João.  Many of their positions range anywhere from cooking to hosting to running the souvenir shop next door.

The Location

Casa do João is located a couple of blocks away from the town square of Bonito at Nelson Felicio 664A.  It’s about a 15 – 20 minute walk from Muito Bonito Hotel where we were staying, and not the easiest place to find if you are unfamiliar with the side streets in town.  To get there, you will head down Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá until you pass Taboa Bar. At the next intersection, you will make a left down Rua Sen. Filinto Müller and keep walking straight for the next two blocks until you pass Rua Vinte e Quatro de Fevereiro.  You will see the sign for Casa do João on your right-hand side.

Busy Night at Casa do João

Busy Night at Casa do João

The Menu

Casa do João is renowned for its fish platters.  If fish doesn’t tickle your fancy, then you can also try their filet mignon or grilled chicken options.  Side dishes include items such as potato wedges, sautéed potatoes, white rice, cheese, and fish sauce.  All of these extra items come with a charge between $5 – $9 Reais ($2.50 – $4.50 US).

You can also order different broths for appetizers, such as soups and salads.  I tried piranha broth, which came with parmesan cheese, spring onions, and croutons, for about $17 Reais ($8.50 US).

Piranha Broth

Piranha Broth

The house specialty is traíra, which is a predatory fish found in the Amazon, and extremely difficult to de-bone.  Of course, I ordered a plate for myself, which comes with rice, fresh salad, traíra pirão (famous fish sauce), and a special home-made sauce for about $30 Reais ($15 US).

Traíra wasn’t originally my first menu choice as I had initially wanted to order some caiman.  But, since caiman were out of season at the time, I opted for traíra instead.  You can also order other exotic fish entrees, such as pirarucu, pacu, tilapia, and pirarara.

Traíra for One

Traíra for One

Dessert options include ice cream, homemade sweets, local fruits, cakes, and mousse.  Drink options range anywhere from liquor to beer to pop to caipirinhas to wine to coffee.

Armazém do João

Armazém do João is the gift shop next to the restaurant.  Here you can find all sorts of handicrafts, artworks, and small trinkets to bring home for souvenirs.  I bought a few fridge magnets myself.  The gift shop is definitely worth a quick visit!

Armazém do João

Armazém do João

Overall, I have to admit that I was very impressed with Casa do João.  From the ambiance to the architecture, this place has a very relaxing, romantic vibe to it.  The portion sizes of their entrees are ridiculously huge, so you get fair value for what you paid for.  My only two minor complaints from dinner was having to wait over a half hour for my piranha broth and not being able to try caiman.  Otherwise, I would recommend checking out Casa do João while you are in Bonito.  The traíra is well worth it!

Casa do João

Casa do João

To book reservations or to learn more about Casa do João, you can visit their website here.  Bon appétit!

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Rio da Plata – Brazil’s Real Life Aquarium

Before coming to Bonito, I typically associated snorkeling as an activity you either did as part of your stay at an all-inclusive resort or while visiting an island, like Caye Caulker, where snorkeling and scuba diving is a popular activity.  As such, I always associated snorkeling with seeing tropical fish in seawater.  I didn’t realize it was possible to snorkel with tropical fish in fresh river water until I came to Bonito with the primary purpose to snorkel Rio de Plata.

Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata

Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata

What is Rio da Prata?

Rio de Prata is a protected river system in Brazil that provides shallow crystal clear water where you can snorkel with tropical fish, like dourado, pacu or catfish.  It is also possible to see caiman, macaws, and snakes either along the river banks or within the nearby area.

Where is Rio da Prata?

Rio de Prata is in Jardim, Brazil, which is about 50 Kilometers southeast of Bonito.  The drive can take just over an hour as the route is a combination of dirt and paved roads.  Having had more than my fair share of overnight bus rides in Brazil, I can honestly say that paved roads in Brazil are nowhere near in the same condition as paved roads in North America, Europe, Japan, Australia or New Zealand.  You need to give yourself at least 1 ½ hours to make sure that you get to Rio de Prata in time for your snorkel excursion.

Driving to Rio da Prata

Driving to Rio da Prata

How Can You Get to Rio da Prata?

The three main cities where it is possible to a day trip to Rio de Prata are Campo Grande, Jardim, and Bonito.

Since I was based in Bonito, here is the route we took:

  • Exit Bonito via road MS 178/MS 382 (you will pass the Convention Center)
  • Take road MS 178 for 50 Km (31 Mi) until you reach BR 267
  • Turn left towards Jardim and drive for a further 2 Km (1 Mi)
  • You will see the sign Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata

You will also need access to transportation as it is about an hour outside of Bonito like I said earlier.  Since it is required by law to book your trip to Rio de Prata via a tourism agency, transportation should not be an issue for you as the agency should give you transportation to and from Rio de Prata as part of your package.

How Can You Book a Trip to Snorkel in Rio de Prata?

As with many of Brazil’s ecosystems, Rio de Prata is officially protected territory.  Thus, you will have no choice but to book an organized tour to be allowed to snorkel in it.  Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata is the official name of this private ecosystem reserve, and they list several official tour agencies from Argentina, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States here on their website where you can book a tour.  Our tour was arranged with the wonderful Muito Bonito Turismo as we stayed at their hotel during our two-day stay in Bonito.  I highly recommend them for their Customer service and professionalism!

Group Shot at Rio da Prata

Group Shot at Rio da Prata

What Does the Snorkel Trip Include?

The tour itself is a bit expensive at around $200 Reais ($100 US), but totally worth it!

It lasts for about 4 hours and includes the following:

  • Transportation to and from Rio de Prata via your tour agency
  • Wetsuit, life jacket, boots, snorkel and mask
  • Accident insurance
  • 60 minute guided trek through rainforest as you approach Rio Olha d’Agua
  • Float down Rio Olha d’Agua followed by a float down Rio da Prata to view pacu and dourado
  • Buffet lunch at the end of the trip (drinks not included)

What Should I Bring With Me to Rio da Prata?

Since you will be snorkeling for half a day, a change of clothes and towel is all that you really need.  Do not wear sunscreen or insect repellent as that is banned by Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata!

Snorkeling in Rio da Prata

Snorkeling in Rio da Prata

Bring a waterproof camera if you have one, but don’t worry if you don’t.  You can rent waterproof cameras Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata for about $20 US.  You may also want to bring some extra cash with you as you can buy souvenirs here or drinks for lunch as they are not included with your buffet.

When Can I Go Snorkeling?

Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata is open daily from 7:30am to 5:30pm year round.  However, you need to book your tour in at least one day in advance so they can schedule you a time slot with a group of 10 (tour guide included).

Fish Swimming in Rio da Prata

Fish Swimming in Rio da Prata

Who Can Go Snorkeling?

Anyone 8 years old or above can go snorkeling, although children between the ages of 8 – 12 need to be accompanied by an adult.  Medical restrictions are applied to women more than 5 months pregnant, and anyone with extreme health problems, like diabetes, severe allergies or heart problems or low or high blood pressure, should fill that out on their waiver form so that they receive some extra care and attention from their river guide.

What Other Restrictions are There?

The following are banned on your tour: sunscreen, insect repellent, alcohol consumption, smoking and snacking.

Rio da Plata – Brazil’s Real Life Aquarium

Rio da Plata – Brazil’s Real Life Aquarium

Can I Do Any Other Tours at Rio da Prata?

While river snorkeling is the primary reason most tourists come to Rio da Prata, it is possible to do alternative tours instead, such as horseback riding, scuba diving or bird watching.  An interesting note to point out about the scuba diving tour is that no previous experience or certification is required largely in part that it only lasts for one hour and the depths of the river rarely go deeper than 7 feet.

Does Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata Have Any Accommodations?

No, they do not.  The ranch is part of a private reserve.  You should make hotel reservations either in Bonito or Jardim if you need to stay in the area over night.

Rio da Prata

Rio da Prata

Overall, I found this trip to be one of the best experiences of my life.  The river water was cool, yet refreshing, and my mind was literally blown away by the hundreds of schools of dourado and pacu that swam by me over the next couple of hours.  At one point, we had to switch entry points in the river where the stream was extremely strong and I nearly smoked my knees on some rocks in the shallow riverbed below.

We also had the opportunity to challenge each other by swimming as close as we could to this natural underwater spring that must have been 12 – 15 feet deep below us.  While it looked easy to do, the buoyancy of our wetsuits made it rather difficult to accomplish.

Touching the Natural Spring

Touching the Natural Spring

Meeting Lenir, a woman from Rio de Janeiro that was part of our group, also added to my experience on this trip.  Although there was an obvious language barrier between us as I spoke no Portuguese and she only knew some basic English, I found it interesting to learn from her that Rio da Prata is a popular tourist attraction mainly within Brazil and Argentina (i.e. very few foreign tourists come here).  We also talked about the traditional Brazilian lunch we had, as well as her vacation plans, and her life in Rio.  I also showed her some of the photos I had taken on my waterproof camera on the river snorkel tour and from our boat ride at Iguaçu Falls.

Lenir - My Brazilian Friend

Lenir – My Brazilian Friend

The ranch at Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata is also gorgeous and extremely relaxing with several hammocks strewn about for tourists to take a quick nap after lunch.  I could have sat there all day, but alas, our time at Rio da Prata – and Bonito – was coming to an end.  It was time for us to head back to Bonito for one last dinner before the early morning ride to the Pantanal the next day.

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Bonito – Life in a Small Town

When people think of Brazil, places like Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon or Sao Paolo may be the first things that come to mind.  And while each of these are impressive in their own right, none of these compare to the little known town of Bonito in the Central-West area of Brazil in Mato Grosso do Sul.

Bonito

Bonito

Bonito is a small town of about 20,000 people – so small in fact that there is really just one main street that you can walk up and down within a matter of 30 – 40 minutes.  It is also home to Brazil’s eco-adventure tourism as many Brazilians and a few foreign tourists come here primarily for river snorkeling or rappelling and scuba diving within the Abismo de Anhumas.  We only had two days here in Bonito, so while it would have been cool to have gone snorkeling in Abismo de Anhumas, it was a bit out of our price range ($250 CDN/person), we opted for river snorkeling along the Rio da Prata instead.

Here then is a summary of our Bonito highlights during those two days:

Pousada Muito Bonito

Located about three blocks from the bus station, Muito Bonito is the best budget hotel in Bonito – if not Brazil – and for good reason!  We stayed here during out two days in Bonito, and definitely see why this was highly recommended by Lonely Planet.

Pousada Muito Bonito

Pousada Muito Bonito

The owners speak several languages, which makes arranging snorkeling trips or getting your laundry done very easy.  The courtyard is both meticulously cared for and one of the most beautiful places in town.  After our overnight bus drive from Iguazu Falls, our group made great use of their hammocks while sipping on some home-made Caipirinhas at about $2 CDN per glass.

Main Dining Area - Muito Bonito

Main Dining Area – Muito Bonito

The rooms were both cozy and comfortable with air conditioning available.  The only part about our room we weren’t certain about was our shower as it was literally just an open concept shower with a pipe leading up the wall and a pull chain that usually gave you either cold or cool water depending on what time of the day you take a shower.  Rooms here go for about $60 Reais ($30 CDN), and you can make reservations here. 

Muito Bonito Courtyard

Muito Bonito Courtyard

Master Grill Restaurante & Churrascio

We arrived in Bonito around late morning on June 20, which gave our group plenty of time to either take a nap, go shopping, walk around town, do laundry or eat before we were to all meet up later in the afternoon to catch the France vs. Switzerland match as one of our group members was from France.

Master Grill Restaurante & Churrascio

Master Grill Restaurante & Churrascio

Kooks and I were kind of hungry, and walked around looking for a place to each lunch.  We ended up choosing Master Grill, an all you can eat self-serve buffet restaurant.  You won’t find this place in the Lonely Planet guide, so all you need to know is that it is on the main strip (Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá) about 2 blocks past Taboa Bar heading East if I remember correctly.

The Friendly Staff of Master Grill

The Friendly Staff of Master Grill

Restaurants are like a dime-a-dozen to me when I travel, but what really impressed me about Master Grill were its friendly staff, buffet style lunch, and the rustic café interior where I could sip on some Skol while watching the England vs. Croatia match.  Lunch itself was about $15 CDN per person, so it is definitely one of the cheapest options available in town.  In fact, it is only open during lunchtime hours operating from Monday – Saturday from 11am – 2pm.

My Buffet Lunch at Master Grill

My Buffet Lunch at Master Grill

Super Mario Bros. Wall Mural

Bonito is small, yet easy enough to get around town on foot, so simply strolling around the main street can be an experience in itself as you never know what quirky things you will see.  Imagine my shock and surprise when I accidentally walked past a small driveway that had a wall mural in tribute to the Super Mario Brothers!  The man-eating plant from the original Super Mario Brothers  game was perfectly detailed, as well as Mario’s sidekick, Yoshi from the Super Mario World series, as was Mario’s arch Nemesis, Bowser.  And if you wanted to know where the bathroom is, Mario had no problem showing you. ;)

Super Mario Brothers Mural

Super Mario Brothers Mural

Unfortunately, I have no idea who painted this mural, how long it has been up here for or who actually owns this particular place.  I think it may have been a private residence, but it is also on Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá.  So, keep an eye out for it and have your camera ready if you are ever in Bonito!

Super Mario Brothers Mural

Super Mario Brothers Mural

Shopping

For once in my life, I would have to agree and say that shopping is one of the best activities you can do in Bonito.  As we were in Bonito during the middle of World Cup 2014, the town was Cup crazy with festive decorations all around and souvenirs a plenty!  Kooks and I used our time to do some souvenir shopping, and got some pretty cool t-shirts for some relatives back home.  I also managed to snag a cool Brazil t-shirt/soccer jersey for myself for about $30 CDN.

Getting into the World Cup Spirit

Getting into the World Cup Spirit

 

I am sure I could have bargained it down a bit more given we bought all these souvenirs at the same store, but the quality of the material is so good that I know this shirt will last me a lot longer than some other travel shirts I have bought in the past.  I will get my money’s worth out of it for sure.

 Taboa Bar

Our local bar of choice happened to be Taboa Bar, which is located at Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá 1837.  We first went there to catch the France vs. Switzerland match, which France easily won 5 – 2 to clinch first place in their Group and advance to the Round of 16.

Watching France vs. Switzerland - Taboa Bar

Watching France vs. Switzerland – Taboa Bar

Locals and tourists come here primarily to try Cachaça, which is the most popular distilled spirit in Brazil and the main ingredient for Caipirinhas.  It is a quirky little joint that has an bamboo-styled interior almost completely covered in graffiti by the past patrons who have been within its walls.  You book reservations at Taboa Bar here.

Train Trolley

Honourable mention also goes to the train trolley that we saw a bunch of times both day and night during our two days in Bonito.  It is almost impossible to miss this attraction as the conductor will blow its horn for you to hear it from only a couple of blocks away.

The Bonito Train

The Bonito Train

The primary route is along Rua Coronel Pilad Rebuá and the main town square of Bonito.  At night, the train trolley is decorated in festive lights and is reminiscent of the toy trains you might play with at home around Christmas time.  While Kooks and I never went on this quirky little ride, it is perfect for families as the majority of passengers we saw were local children with their parents.  Definitely worth taking a look if you get the chance!

 River Snorkeling

Without a doubt, the number one highlight and our main reason for coming to Bonito was river snorkeling.  Since I will go into a bit more detail about the trip itself, I won’t go into too much detail here.  But, what you need to know for now is that what makes Bonito one of the most unusual places in the world to go snorkeling is that you are literally swimming in a real-life aquarium where you can get up close and personal with tropical fish in some of the clearest, freshest water in the world that is only a few feet deep.

River Snorkeling at Rio da Prata

River Snorkeling at Rio da Prata

Bonito might be small and may not have much to offer in terms of tourism in the town itself, but it certainly was the hidden gem of our trip!  Aside from the river snorkeling, Bonito does give you a true sense of what Brazil really is like outside of the big cities of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.  Definitely make it a part of your Brazil experience if you know you are going to be in Mato Grosso do Sul.

Categories: Brazil, South America, Weech's Wanders | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Ciudad del Este – The City of Chaos

Paraguay is like the middle child of a family – present, but not one that receives much attention.  A landlocked nation situated bang in the middle of South America, this little known nation falls well off most travelers’ radars and for obvious reasons.  It lacks any coastline along the Pacific Ocean, has a long history of political instability, is one of the poorest nations on Earth, and lacks any of the cultural or natural attractions that its neighbouring countries have.  Yet, the anonymity of this country makes it all that more appealing to visit.

Following our half day visit to Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side, Kooks and I had several options for the afternoon – visit the nearby bird aviary, tour Itaipu Dam or go shopping in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second largest city.  Without hesitation, Kooks suggested we go to Ciudad del Este renowned for its duty-free shopping.  I thought it was mainly because she enjoys shopping, but instead, she wanted to step foot in another country as travel didn’t become a big part of her life until I met her three years ago.  With that reasoning, I couldn’t argue with her!

Crossing into Paraguay

Crossing into Paraguay

Getting into Paraguay was an adventure in itself.  For starters, we were told to bring our passports with us as we could potentially be stopped at the border along Puente de la Amistad (Friendship Bridge).  Our group of seven was a mixture of American and Canadian citizens – both which require Visas to enter Paraguay.  It is possible for us to receive a Visa upon arrival in Paraguay, but only at the International Airport in Asunción, which is a 5 hour bus ride West of the city.  Fortunately, border patrol along Friendship Bridge is extremely lax, so we had no trouble entering the city.

Much like my experience crossing into Guatemala from Belize five years earlier, entering Paraguay from Brazil was a complete night and day experience!  As we headed towards downtown, the streets surrounding Shopping Americana, Ciudad del Este’s largest shopping mall, were reminiscent of the streets of Mumbai – crowded, noisy, full of vendors and pollution – organized chaos as I would call it.  How our driver was able to squeeze our mini-van into the narrow alleyways with a mere inch or two to spare on either side without hitting anyone or anything is beyond me!

The Streets of Ciuadad del Este

The Streets of Ciudad del Este

Our van parked in a lot just behind one of the main entrances of Shopping Americana.  We had about 2 ½ hours to go shopping or browse through the streets of the city.  I had no intentions of buying anything except a key chain for my Aunt much like I did when I was stuck in Mexico City only a few days earlier.  Kooks wanted to look for makeup and a few other small souvenirs to bring home, as well as some additional clothing for our two-day stay in the Pantanal a few days from now.

As she looked around for a store directory, my eyes were drawn to a Nun who was sitting on a bench nearby casually reading a book.  My first instinct was to take a photo of this Nun in her natural pose, but I hesitated not knowing how strict the security guards nearby would be about me taking photos inside of the mall.  It is usually frowned upon in Canada, so I wanted to show the same respect here in Paraguay.

Toronto Store inside Shopping Americana

Toronto Store inside Shopping Americana

Following this missed photo opportunity, I allowed Kooks to take charge here and decide which stores she would like to visit.  At one point, we ran into the Toronto Convenience Store.  Since I missed my photo-op with the Nun, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice and made sure we got our cheesy photo in front of the store sign.

We found a sports store that sold track pants and other outdoor clothing that Kooks could buy for the Pantanal.  I had a look at the soccer jerseys available for sale.  There was a couple of Team USA jerseys available that I wanted to get for my friend and his American-born wife back home.  At a cost of $70 US per jersey, I found the prices to be more than fair as the same jerseys back home would run me over $200 US each.

I also had my sights on a Team Paraguay jersey for myself, but one of the biggest challenges you will find here in Ciudad del Este are vendors who can take credit card payments.  It was cash only for this store, and between Kook’s clothing for the Pantanal and the two jerseys I bought for my friends back home, our cash reserves quickly dried up and I was done shopping for the day.

Shopping Americana

Shopping Americana

Ciudad del Este is also notorious for its cheap electronics.  For every 3 – 4 stores we walked past in Shopping Americana there was at least one (sometimes two) electronic store right beside them.  All of them had television sets tuned into the ongoing World Cup matches that afternoon.

Please note that if you come to Ciudad del Este to take advantage of the bargains here for electronics, a piece of advice is to make sure you ask to try the camera or cell phone first that you are looking to buy, and DO NOT hand them back to the Retail salesperson as it is a common scam for some vendors to switch boxes with faulty or missing products!

Outside Shopping Americana in Ciudad del Este

Outside Shopping Americana in Ciudad del Este

With about 30 minutes to spare and no more cash to spend, Kooks and I decided to head back to the parking garage and wait with our tour leader and van driver while the others finished shopping.  I took the time to walk around the nearby street to snap a few photos and check out some of the trinkets that these street vendors were trying to hawk.  Such items included hats, bracelets, necklaces, bicycle parts, and even tires!

As our group assembled together following our brief shopping trip, the journey back to Foz do Iguaçu become another crazy adventure in its own right.  Much like we risked entering Paraguay without our Visas, we risked the possibility of paying a fine to the Brazilian Custom agents if they pulled us over and accused us of going over our duty-free limits.

Typically, this not a problem experienced by most tourists as the Customs officials are mainly concerned with Brazilians coming as far away as Curitiba to take advantage of the deals in Ciudad del Este.  We avoided this issue coming back into Brazil, and about the only problem we had been the hour-long traffic jam just trying to cross Friendship Bridge.

Heading Back into Brazil

Heading Back into Brazil

It was a quick, incident-free afternoon in one of the dodgiest cities I have ever been to.  Although I did not get an official stamp in my passport, I was glad to add Paraguay to my list of countries visited.  Kooks and I both agreed that we will come back to Paraguay in the future, and explore more of the interior parts of the country, like the capital of Asunción or the Jesuit Ruins near Encarnación.

Categories: Brazil, Paraguay, South America | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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