Ciudad del Este is Paraguay’s largest city, located on at the edges of the Parana River which forms a triple border with Brazil (home to sister city Foz do Iguazu) and Argentina (home to the smaller Puerto Iguazu). This is a city of extremes, from the bustling commercial sector to the large scale wonders of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam and the nearby Iguazu Falls. Many tourists find Ciudad del Este overwhelming and are scared off by the city’s shady reputation. However those who delve deeper will find Ciudad del Este has its own particular charms. The city boasts an active nightlife which draws partygoers from neighboring Foz de Iguazu. As Paraguay’s most ethnically diverse city there are many restaurants serving food not found elsewhere in the country such as authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. And while all pale in comparison to Iguazu Falls, the nearby Salto Monday and Monumento Moises Bertoni are good ways to enjoy Ciudad del Este’s natural side. If Ciudad del Este (often abbreviated to CDE) is your first entry into Paraguay rest assured that chaos surrounding the Friendship Bridge is the antithesis of the laid back tranquilo atmosphere in the rest of the country.
Ciudad Puerto Presidente Stroessner was officially founded in 1957 as part of the Marcha al Este (see The Marcha al Este) road construction project intended to create a route for Paraguayan goods to reach the Atlantic by way of Brazil. Shortly thereafter the Puente de Amistad (Friendship Bridge) was built stretching over the Parana River and linking the new city to Foz do Iguazu. But it was the construction of the Itaipu Hydroelectric power plant (then the largest in the world) that really prompted the rapid expansion of the city. Construction began in 1975 and continued for almost twenty years during which time the population of Ciudad Puerto Presidente Stroessner ballooned. In 1989 just days after a coup ousted General Stroessner from power the city was aptly renamed Ciudad del Este, meaning City of the East. Today, in combination with the Itaipu Hydroelectric power plant Ciudad del Este is known for its high level of commerce. Forbes Magazine declared it the third largest commercial city in the world after Miami and Hong Kong in 1996. Though the action has died down since then Ciudad del Este still pulsates with commerce, both legal and otherwise.
A number of factors combine to make Ciudad del Este the commercial hub that it is. This tax-free zone is a major draw for foreign shoppers who take advantage of the low prices, favorable exchange rates, and astonishing variety of products available. Between the street stalls selling handicrafts and cheap designer knockoffs to the fancy shopping galerias selling electronics and high end goods there is something for every taste and every budget in Ciudad del Este. The Brazilian government allows its citizens to bring up to US $300 worth of merchandise into Brazil without having to pay an import tax. Many people make big business from this exemption. Every day thousands of Brazilians journey over the Friendship Bridge by car, motorcycle and foot to buy goods in Ciudad del Este for re-sale across the border in Foz de Iguazu. These professional shoppers have earned the nickname sacoleiros derived from saco, the Portuguese word for bag. Indeed the commercial sector, which starts literally inches from the border, is jammed with people carrying bags and boxes stuffed to the brim with electronics, designers knock offs and all manner of other goods. However, the value of these goods is rarely less than US$300; Ciudad del Este’s vendors are more than happy to provide sacoleiros (as well as tourists) with false receipts to present customs officials. After sundown larger scale smugglers head for makeshift drop off points up and down the Parana’s rarely patrolled riverbanks, unloading boxes from rickety boats and picking up parcels thrown off the bridge. While Ciudad del Este is notorious for drugs and weapons trafficking the majority of the goods smuggled into Paraguay are foodstuffs such as onions, tomatoes, chicken and beer.
Trash in CDE ‘s Commercial Area
In order to pass over the border more efficiently sacoleiros generally dispose of as much product packaging as possible before packing up their purchases. Sadly all these materials end up littered all over the streets of Ciudad del Este. In fact, locals can tell if the day’s sales have been good based on the amount of trash strewn around at night.
Though Ciudad del Este is infamous for all manner of trafficking these unsavory aspects of the city are unlikely to affect your visit, unless you go looking for trouble. Vendors in the commercial sector have a vested interest in keeping crime against tourists and shoppers to a minimum Still, you should keep your guard up, as you would in any crowded marketplace. Do not wear flashy clothing or jewelry and keep valuables such as cameras and cell phones well hidden. Using common sense should keep you from being the victim of petty crime. Because of the cramped conditions the commercial sector can pose certain physical safety concerns. Be sure to duck out of the flow of traffic to look at maps or consider purchases. Sacoleiros are moving fast, often with large quantities of merchandise and limited visibility. Avoid carrying large bags which will hinder your flow through the narrow maze of people.
There are two tourism information offices, one at the border and another downtown. The border office (located next to the Immigration office) has plenty of maps and pamphlets but the staff can be hit or miss. The downtown office, named Turista Roga is new and modern and includes a cyber cafe. Tel: 061 511 626, 061 508810, 061 508 811, Border office: Puente de la Amistad in the median across from Shopping del Este, Turista Roga: Avenida Adrian Jara and Mariscal Estigarribia in front of the Parque Verde plaza. Mon-Sun 7am-7pm
Brazilian Consulate Americans who wish to visit the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls or continue travel in Brazil will need to obtain a visa from the consulate if they don’t already have one. Keep in mind there is a processing time of one to two days though it is possible to do it in one if you show up early with all the necessary paperwork. Tel: 061 500 984/6, Corner of Calle Pampliega andPai Perez #205, www.consbrascde.org.py, Mon-Fri 8am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Argentine Consulate Tel: 061 500 945, 061 500 960, 061 500 638, seventh floor of the Edificio China building on Boqueron and Adrian Jara, www.embajada-argentina.org.py/V2/consulados/consulado-gral-en-cde, Mon-Fri 8am-1pm
The Softer Side of Ciudad del Este
Ciudad del Este is known for its commercial sector, packed to the brim with vendors and shoppers alike. Only a few blocks away though the atmosphere quiets down, and stall-lined streets give way to green plazas and pretty houses. Many of the city’s neighborhoods were originally built for Itaipu employees. With larger properties and nicer houses the Area Uno (all Itaipu neighborhoods are numbered Areas) was reserved for higher ups in Itaipu, although current owners no longer have to be affiliated with the hydroelectric plant. Just opposite the man-made Lago de la Republica from the center of town the Barrio Boqueron neighborhood has become the focal point of the city’s nightlife with several upscale bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Some of the area’s wealthiest families live fourteen kilometers away in the exclusive Parana Country Club. Taking a stroll through this gated community you could easily imagine yourself in an upscale neighborhood of Southern California. Large mansions abound (and are not surrounded by walls as in most of the country’s wealthy areas) and there are several
sports fields. From here the view of the Parana River and the lush vegetation growing on its shores is unparalleled. Rather than walk the club’s teens ride around in golf carts or ATVs. At the entrance to the country club are a supermarket, school, restaurants and a hospital, ensuring that many residents need not venture into Ciudad del Este’s city center at all.
Localiza Tel: 021 683 895, Aeropuerto Internacional Guarani, Mon-Sat 9am-1pm, 2pm-4pm
Avis Rent a Car Tel: 061 504 770, Avenida San Blas 1294, www.avis.com.py. There is also an office in the airport (Tel: 0983 602 825) but they only deal with advanced reservations, Mon-Sat 8am-6pm
Many larger businesses are willing to accept dollars, euros, and Brazilian reals and Argentine pesos without any problem. However smaller purchases made on the street should be made in Guaranies. If headed to Iguazu Falls change money beforehand as park entrance fees cannot be paid in Guaranies.
Cambios Chaco Tel: 061 514 221, 336 Monsenor Rodriguez almost at Regimiento. Piribebuy, Tel: 061 509 500, 860 Adrian Jara almost at Curupayty, www.cambioschaco.com.py, Mon-Fri 6:15am-3:30pm, Sat 6:15am-1pm
Maxi Cambios Tel: 061 509511/3, Corner of Avenida Adrian Jara and Curupayty, www.maxicambios. com.py
Forex Tel: 061 501 075, Shopping King Fong, office number 115, Avenida San Blas almost Regimiento Sauce, www.forexparaguay.com.py
Most travel agencies offer three basic packages: The Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam combined with the Itaipu zoo and museum, Salto Monday combined with the Monumento Moises Bertoni, and of course Iguazu Falls. Some also offer Ciudad del Este city tours but the highlights are rather mundane. It is unnecessary to hire a tour guide for the Itaipu reserve – if you do not want to ride the bus hiring a taxi for the day is sufficient although a guide can take the legwork out of requesting special permissions for the Itaipu engineer’s tour or to visit the Tati Yupi reserve. Guided tours are recommended for Moises Bertoni because of the need for special vehicles. If you plan to stay in Ciudad del Este but want to visit both the Brazilian and Argentine side of the falls in one day a guide can be useful for border crossings although hiring a private taxi may be cheaper and serve the same purpose. In addition to the agencies listed below all Asuncion based travel agencies have Ciudad del Este/ Iguazu Falls packages available. Agencies are accustomed to working with citizens of Mercosur countries who do not need entry and exit stamps. Be sure to specify you will need to go through immigration controls at all borders in order to avoid future problems with passport controls.
Exchange Tour Tel: 061 500 766, 061 50067, Edificio Saba, Avenida Nanawa 90, www. exchangetour. com.py
Mavani Tel: 061 514 386, Edificio Saba, Avenida Nanawa 90, www.mavani.com.py
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