Earlier this week, I got back from a whirlwind of a trip on My South America Mileage Run Vacation to Foz do Iguacu, Brasil. I spent 2 nights in Foz do Iguazu on the Brazilian side, a side trip to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, 23 hours in Sao Paulo, and 11 hours in Santiago Chile. It was my first time in Ciudad del Este and I didn’t know what to expect. Here are 10 Things I Learned From My Recent Trip to Ciudad del Este Paraguay:
1. Friendship Bridge is not dangerous – I don’t know why many people on the internet claim that crossing Friendship Bridge (the border between Brazil and Paraguay) is dangerous. First of all, there’s Brazilian police at one end of the bridge and Paraguayan police at the other side of the bridge. Friendship Bridge (Pointe da Amizade) isn’t long by any means and it takes about 5-7 minutes to cross on foot. There’s friendly street vendors lingering amongst the bridge to sell snacks and soft drinks and they’re practically harmless. I would definitely avoid crossing the border at night time, but during the day time is fine.
2. You can easily sneak into Ciudad del Este without a passport stamp – The Brazil/Paraguay border is very lax as if the two countries were in alliance with one another. Brazilians don’t need a visa to visit Paraguay and Paraguayans don’t need a visa to visit Brazil. When crossing Friendship Bridge, they don’t even get stamped out of Brazil and into Paraguay and conversely, stamped out of Paraguay and into Brazil. Everyone who walks over Friendship Bridge from Foz do Iguacu to Ciudad del Este and Paraguay to Brazil bypasses BOTH customs offices. Note: I’m not advising you to ‘sneak’ into Ciudad del Este because of the lax border. Do so at your own risk if you don’t have a visa.
3. You officially need a Paraguayan visa to visit Ciudad del Este as an American – Americans do need to obtain a Paraguayan visa beforehand either from a consulate or visa on arrival at Asuncion International Airport. See How To Obtain A Passport Visa For Travel To Paraguay. I’m not sure a visa on arrival exists via land border crossings, but if I were you, I would get a Paraguayan visa or face repercussions if found illegally in Paraguay.
4. Being stamped in and out of Brazil and Paraguay is an honesty policy – As I’ve previously mentioned, the borders between Foz do Iguacu and Ciudad del Este is very lax on both sides, meaning the customs officers don’t check anyone for any type of documentations. As an American tourist with a Paraguayan passport, it is your duty to get stamped out of Brazil before crossing Friendship Bridge over to Ciudad del Este. Also, it is your duty to get stamped into Paraguay when arriving at the Ciudad del Este border. The signage doesn’t make it easy for Americans, but they’re located inside buildings to the right of the sidewalk. Just look for the sign ‘Aduana’.
5. It’s possible to take a taxi from Foz do Iguacu to Ciudad del Este – Be aware a lot of taxi drivers (especially motorcycle taxis) in Brazil are willing to take you across the border from Foz do Iguazu to Ciudad del Este. Furthermore, they will not stop at the Brazilian border so you can get officially stamped out of Brazil, nor will they drop you off at the Paraguayan border to get stamped into Paraguay. A lot of people will use the taxi as a mean of smuggling people between Brazil and Paraguay because of the relaxed borders between Foz do Iguazu and Ciudad del Este.
6. Public buses will not stop at Foz do Iguazu / Ciudad del Este border – Besides taking a taxi and walking over Friendship bridge, you can also take the bus from Downtown Centro Foz do Iguacu to Ciudad del Este from the Central bus terminal station (T.T.U). Just look for the bus with the destination Ciudad del Este from Foz do Iguacu’s Terminal de Transporte Urbano (TTU) station. Be aware that the bus driver will NOT stop at either border for you to get your passport stamped out of Brazil and stamped into Paraguay. If you do take the bus and have a Paraguayan visa, I would advise you to tell the bus driver to just drop you off at the Brazil customs office at the beginning of Friendship Bridge and just walk over to Ciudad del Este.
7. Ciudad del Este is very dirty – They say that Ciudad del Este is like the Tijuana of Paraguay and I can honestly say that it’s absolutely nothing like Tijuana in Mexico. I would have to say that it compares to the hustle and bustle of the Mong Kok district in Hong Kong with the combination of Havana, Cuba because of the disrepair of the streets and the sewer smells. The streets of Tijuana are actually in great shape as I’ve visited in the past few years with walk-able sidewalks.
8. You can buy pretty much anything in Ciudad del Este – Brazilians and Argentines flock over to Ciudad del Este because of cheap black market goods. Just like in Asuncion, you can find counterfeit jewelry, sunglasses, purses, handbags, watches, DVDs, and electronics. Ciudad del Este is also known to be a haven for harboring terrorists as it’s rumored that Osama bin Laden visited shortly before 9/11 happened. Apparently the mastermind of 9/11 was also living in Ciudad del Este for a short period of time with ties to the Arab community there. There’s a large Korean and Chinese community in Ciudad del Este who are mostly electronic business owners that sell counterfeit wares. There’s a large Arab and Palestinian community in Ciudad del Este that mostly deal in the textiles industry.
9. You can play slot machines on the street – I’ve never seen a slot machine in the middle of an open street before and now I’ve seen it all. I went down one street in Ciudad del Este and there were rows of slot machines out in the open with people playing on them. It was a fun sight to see, but I didn’t see anyone win any money.
10. Vendors carry four different types of acceptable currency – They call Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, the Tri Border Area (Triple Frontier) which encompasses Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Of course, Paraguayan Guaranies is the official currency of Paraguay but they also accept Brazilian reais, Argentine pesos, and US Dollars. Vendors carry all types of currency and if you pay in a certain currency, expect change in the same currency back! US Dollars are also preferred in Ciudad del Este because they are strong against the weak Brazilian real and the slumping Argentine peso.