A one day itinerary in Cuidad del Este, including Itaipu dam and Saltos del Monday waterfalls
Cuidad del Este is Paraguay’s second largest city, known for its vast Itaipu dam which powers most of Paraguay, as well as offering endless duty free shopping. It’s just across the border from Brazil and Argentina in an area known as Las Tres Fronteras, the three borders.
For backpackers checking out the magnificent Iguazu Falls, it’s an easy hop across the border to Paraguay, to add another country to the list. British visitors get a visa at the border with no hassle.
Itaipu dam, Hernandarias, Cuidad del Este
The Itaipu damn or hydroelectric power plant is a joint venture between Brazil and Paraguay. Both have equal rights to the power generated. A treaty was signed between the two countries in 1973, with construction starting in 1975 and the first generator unit beginning operations in 1984.
It might seem like an odd tourist attraction but the Paraguayans and Brazilians are both very proud of this facility. On the Paraguay side visits are free, compared to Brazil which charges 42 reales or £8. We were disappointed not to be in Cuidad del Este on a weekend when apparently the evening sound and light show at Itaipu is well worth the ticket price.
In the Guaraní language, an official language of Paraguay along with Spanish, Itaipu means “the sounding stone”.
By 2017 Itaipu dam had produced 2.512.177.180 MWh and established a world record in power generation. That year the dam produced 15% of Brazil demand and 86% of Paraguay demand.
We took a local bus from Avenida San Blas, near our hostel. Any bus heading to the suburb of Hernandarias near the dam will drop visitors close by. We hopped off on the side of the Super Carretera and wandered along the edge of the road leading to the Visitors Centre (Centro de Recepcion de Visitas).
Inside we discovered we had missed the introduction video and another wasn’t scheduled until 1pm, three hour later. We were quite disappointed as this would have given us a good overview of the dam. Apparently it’s in English too.
Instead we were given laminated passes to Bus 7 and directed outside to a double decker sightseeing bus. The bus does a 45 minute circuit of the dam, with one stop at a sightseeing platform where you can alight and take photos. There’s a comprehensive commentary in Spanish, which I caught a few words of.
The bus trip is great though, giving a really good overview of how immense the dam is. It travelled underneath the spillway with its fourteen gates, past the powerhouse and the vast generators, to the Brazil side of Parana River. Then it looped around the ‘rockfill dam’ (apparently all the rocks contained in it could pave a road all the way to New York) and took us up onto the main dam. From here we had our first view of the massive reservoir which is 1,350km square.
Back at the visitors centre, there is a nice gift shop with some local crafts as well as a cafe.
Saltos del Monday, Cuidad Del Este
The Monday Waterfalls on the southern edge of Cuidad Del Este made for a nice afternoon trip. They’re impressive but of course nothing compared to Iguazu Falls. Some travellers may feel the £8 entry fee is not worth it, considering Iguazu costs £10 and has four hours worth of walking trails.
The park surrounding Monday Falls is tiny -it only takes a few minutes to walk from the entrance to the Mirador or sightseeing platform. The view is impressive but the best part for me was taking the elevator to the base of the falls, where you got a much better understanding of the sheer volume of water thundering over the falls. It was another 20,000 Guarani to take the elevator (about £2) but definitely worth it. Unfortunately there’s no steps, so the only way to experience it is paying the extra.
We enjoyed a cold beer in the small restaurant overlooking the falls. As usual, we had the choice between a ‘chopp’ (draught beer) or a bottle. We both chose Heineken – so far, since starting our trip in Buenos Aires, most bars and restaurants seem to offer Heineken, Amstel or Corona as standard. I’m yet to try any local beer but I’ve heard Asuncion has some great craft beer bars so we’ll make that a priority!
To get to the falls we took a local bus to Avenida Monday near Presidente Franco intersection, then walked the final ten minutes. The front of the bus will say Pde Franco or Tres Fronteras on it.
Brazil to Paraguay Border Crossing
Bus from Foz do Iguaçu to Cuidad Del Este
Crossing the Puente Internacional de la Amistad, which forms the border between Brazil and Paraguay, was a simple process with no queues or hassle at immigration.
We took a local bus (7 Brazil reales) to the bridge from a bus stop located opposite the Foz do Iguaçu bus station, at the intersection of Av. Republica Argentina and Av. Kubitscheck. The bus stop is helpfully marked with a sign saying Linhas Internacional and the Brazil and Paraguay flags. This is also where we alighted from the Puerto Iguazu cross-border bus we took from Argentina the previous day.
The bus driver dropped us off at Immigration to get stamped out of Brazil. As local people have free access between the three borders no one else got off, and we’d heard stories of travellers ending up in Paraguay without realising they’d driven straight through the border crossing!
After our exit stamp we walked across the bridge into Paraguay, received an entry stamp and that was that. No form to fill out, no payment or fee needed, and no queues at anytime. It was definitely one of the easiest border crossings I’ve ever done.
Accommodation in Cuidad del Este
We chose to stay at Hummingbird Hostel. It’s a fair distance from downtown, but as we weren’t interested in shopping, that didn’t matter. Local buses cost just 50 cents a trip anyway and we found the local bus system very easy to navigate.
Hummingbird Hostel is at KM4 on Highway 7, which runs from Brazil to Asunción, the Paraguayan capital. Any local bus with Mingua Guazu or Hernandarias on the front will pass that way.
Sylvia who runs the guesthouse speaks English and was very welcoming during our stay. There’s a pleasant outdoor kitchen and covered dining area, where the complimentary breakfast is served.