Here’s how to get from Argentina to Paraguay Via Brazil

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…

Firstly – you get a bus at Puerto Iguazu bus station with PARAGUAY written as the destination on it. These buses are yellow in colour and single decker with the words El Practico written on them. They leave quite regularly throughout the day. I crossed on a Sunday morning, around 10 am. I don’t think that you can buy tickets in advance, so just check out of your hostel or hotel in the small town of Puerto Iguazu and go to the bus station (there is just one main bus station in Puerto Iguazu). I would recommend doing this early in the morning – I have no idea if the border is open at night – nor if it would be worth risking it.

I was travelling alone and my plan was to get to the city of Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) and then a bus 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 pay 5 Argentine Pesos for my bus and ask the driver to confirm if he will stop at the border for me to get my passport stamped. I was the only one on the bus that didn’t come from either Brazil, Argentina or Paraguay. Those countries have some sort of agreement with one another that prevents them needing visas or passport stamps to border cross into the other.

I actually assumed a lot of “backpackers” (I hate that term, but I guess I am one…) would be going from Iguazu across into Paraguay next to see Ituapu Dam and Jesuit Ruins at Trinidad. But I spoke to over 30 people at the hostel (the excellent Hostel Inn Iguazu Falls) and not one of them was going to Paraguay. A few even said to me “why would you want to go there?”! The kind of statement that makes me realise that some of us are avid travellers and some are just not. An avid traveller will go anywhere, anytime. Someone who is not, will be more picky about where they go. I’m not – I’ll go anywhere. Either way, there were no other “backpackers” on my bus or in the station that morning.

When you travel in South America you should have some kind of knowledge of Spanish at least (I actually studied in Montevideo but my Spanish is still shocking) so you can chat to locals and bus drivers. Once I saw the “queue for Paraguay” developing, I joined it, bag laden to the core and sweaty. But I had my passport in hand and had already all of my money changed into Paraguayan Guarani. This is important – make sure you change ALL your Argentine Pesos (except for the price of the bus) over into Paraguayan Guarani in Puerto Iguazu. You can do this anytime in daylight hours, even on a Sunday morning – I found a small bank/exchange place in town open around 9am to got mine changed in there.

After getting on the bus you will be taken out of the town of Puerto Iguazu to the border bridge with BRAZIL first of all. Yes, don’t be surprised at this point, as you are still on the bus to PARAGUAY! At the Argentine exit customs you need to make sure you ask the driver to let you get off to get your passport stamped. A lot of those on the bus may not need it – the majority of them are 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.

We drive through the city of Foz Do Iguacu, you can read many more of my reports on the actual waterfalls and my first trip across into Brazil. By the way, it’s safe to assume that by taking this route you’ll most likely have just seen the amazing Iguazu Falls!

After twenty minutes roughly in Brazil on the bus you will arrive at an odd bridge. You can see a border checkpoint here, but bypass it. This place is the Brazilian border checkpoint. You will remember being in Brazil for twenty minutes, but your passport will not have any proof of it. You do not need to get your passport stamped at these two Brazilian passport checkpoints, BUT once your bus arrives onto the bridge to Paraguay, keep checking for the Paraguayan entrance border checkpoint. Basically the driver won’t stop so charge to the front of the bus and yell to be let out!

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!

I had to find the place to stamp the passport now – it was hidden shyly in a very obscure spot in the middle of a building site on the Paraguay side of the bridge. I wish I had a video from above of my trip that morning – it was just crazy. It was hot and I was bag laden, but within a few minutes I found the passport place and was the only person in there. They stamped my entry and I was now legally in Paraguay! In the last hour I had been in 3 countries, though officially just Argentina and Paraguay.

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.

I got a taxi from opposite the Immigration Office – the driver may even have ripped me off but he took me to the bus station in Ciudad del Este for a fee of a few US Dollars (thousands of Guarani by the way). This huy was just hanging around beside his car for a tourist like me. Agree a price first. You can normally trust these guys.

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.

All around the world fellow travellers are raving about this little piece of backpacking.

Happy Border Crossing on your trip through South America.

If you want more incredible tips on crossing world borders and popular travel tips and stories, check out Jonny Blair’s awesome travel and lifestyle website Dont Stop Living Happy travels and don’t stop living!