OK so there are a few different ways to cross the border between Argentina and Paraguay but I did the route from Puerto Iguazu, ARGENTINA to Ciudad del Este, PARAGUAY. In December 2010. Although in hindsight, the border crossing seemed easy compared to others I've been to, there is still a need to get things right, read on and I'll explain exactly what I did. This was one of the oddest border crossings I have ever done, for one reason and that is that in the space of 45 minutes I was in three countries...confused? Yes it did confuse me a bit...this is the first of many reports on crossing world borders from my various travels...
To start with you should board a bus at the bus station in Puerto Iguazu - the bus will have Paraguay as the destination on it. The bus is yellow and says El Practico on it. They leave quite often during the day. I went early Sunday morning. I'm not sure if you can buy tickets in advance, but check out of your hostel or hotel in Puerto Iguazu the town and head to the bus station - the main bus station in Puerto Iguazu. I would say do this early morning - as I'm not sure if the border is open at night - nor if it would be safe to risk.
I was on my own and I was basically wanting to get across into Paraguay and then onwards to Asuncion.
Ciudad del Este, the name for this city means City of The East, is on the other side of the river from Argentina. The river acts as the border, and the bridge is the preferred crossing. As this is a post about the border crossing, I won't change the subject but I had already been to Tres Fronteras - the point where you can see all three countries. It gets confusing when you realise that your bus to Paraguay goes VIA BRAZIL.
So I paid 5 Argentine Pesos for the bus and asked with the driver to confirm if he could stop at the border for me to get my passport stamped. I was the only person on the bus that wasn't from either Brazil, Argentina or Paraguay. Those three countries have some kind of agreement between each other visa wise.
I actually thought that a lot of "backpackers" (I don't like that term, but I guess I probably am one...) would be going on the route from Iguazu across the border into Paraguay next to see Ituapu Dam and the famous Jesuit Ruins at Trinidad. But I spoke to lots of people at the hostel (the wonderful Hostel Inn Iguazu Falls) and none of them were going to Paraguay. A few of them even said to me "why are you going there?"! That kind of statement that makes me realise that some of us are made to be travellers and some are just not. An avid traveller will always go anywhere, anytime and often for no reason. Someone who is not an avid traveller will be more fussy about where they go. I am not - I will go anywhere. In any case there were no other "backpackers" on my bus or in the station that morning.
If you travel in South America you should have some understanding of Spanish at least (I did a course in Montevideo but my Spanish is still pretty poor). When I noticed the queue for the Paraguay bus developing, I immediately joined it, although I was sweaty and heavily laden with bags. Most importantly I had my passport in my hand and all my money already changed into Paraguayan Guarani. This is important for you to know - before you get on that bus, change ALL your Argentine Pesos (except for the price of the bus obviously) into Paraguayan Guarani in Puerto Iguazu - you are better to have Paraguayan Guarani when you cross the border. You can do this even on a Sunday morning - there was a bank/exchange place in town open at 9am so I got mine changed there.
After boarding the bus you head out of the town of Puerto Iguazu to the border bridge into Brazil. Brazil? Yes! don't be worried at this point as you are still on the bus to Paraguay! At the Argentina exit customs place you have to ensure you ask your driver to let you out to get your passport stamped. Most of your fellow passengers on the bus won't need to get off - on my trip they were mostly locals.
Get out, taking your bags with you and get your passport stamped and then straight back on the bus. Make sure the driver waits for you. Then you will cross the Iguazu River into Brazil but you won't stop at Brazilian border control. This is a regular route and the sign on the front of the bus lets you know that you are heading directly to Paraguay. So we are now in BRAZIL, "in transit on a bus" officially.
You arrive in the city of Foz Do Iguacu which you drive through quickly, I have written a lot more about the actual waterfalls and my first trip across into Brazil elsewhere on this blog. You'd be crazy to be on this route without having visited the nearby Iguazu Falls.
After about 20 minutes in Brazil on the bus you arrive at the border bridge. Again you will see a border checkpoint here, but you will by pass it. This is the Brazilian border point. Your eyes will remind you that you were officially in Brazil for 20 minutes, but your passport will not. There is no requirement to get your passport stamped at either of these Brazilian passport checkpoints, BUT once your bus gets onto the bridge, keep your eyes peeled for the actual Paraguay entrance border checkpoint. You should do this because the driver will not stop there, so you need to tell him to stop there for you to get out and get your passport stamped.
The worst thing is that when you tell the driver to stop, he will not wait for you because all the other passengers onboard won't want to wait for a foreigner to get their passport stamped. The bus will continue on its route and you are basically bundled out into the craziness of the border city of Ciudad del Este.
You are recommended not to cross this border on foot by the way, mainly due to robberies and potential safety issues. Honestly - don't risk it - take my advice for just 5 Pesos you can get the bus. I had to yell at the driver having ran to the front of the bus on arrival in Ciudad del Este, just to get him to stop! This was a few hundred yards in front of the checkpoint. I thought the driver would stop somewhere just over the border, but he didn't. You will need to keep your eyes open for the border immigration point and get out of the bus on your own. I did ask the driver if he'd hang around for me but when I realised he wouldn't, I just grabbed my bags, got off the bus and without flinching an eyelid, here I was in Paraguay!
OK so I was now in Paraguay but I still had to find the place to get my entry stamp on my passport - and it was far from obvious - at the back of a building site on the Paraguayan side of the bridge. I actually wish I had made a video of my trip that morning - looking back it was just madness!. It was hot, busy, stuffy and I was bag laden, lonely, lost and inspired! Luckily within a few minutes I arrived in the passport immigration place and obviously I was the only person in there. They stamped my entry quickly and it was easy here I was in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay! In the previous hour I had now been "in" three countries. Though I had no proof of my Brazilian bus journey (save for a video I took!).
I can't promise you that this is the simplest way across the border into Paraguay from Brazil (or Argentina) but I loved it partly because I was the only real traveller about. I could tell instantly that Ciudad del Este was a crazy city. Lots of locals asked me if I wanted to buy stuff. You can stay a night or two in this border city known as Ciudad del Este if you want but I had no time to linger as I wanted to get to Asuncion fairly quickly.
So from opposite the passport control, I found a taxi driver who would take me to the central bus station in Ciudad del Este for a fee of a few US Dollars (but thousands of Guarani). These are normally trustable but agree a price first and get yourself off the busy, crazy streets!
I hope this series of border crossings will be useful for fellow travellers - please let me know if you have crossed the same borders as me and whether you experienced the same thing or not.
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