We celebrated Christmas in Asuncion and hitchhiked back to Brazil. The road took two full days. Along the way, we made a few stops, and one of them was a small but incredibly beautiful waterfall called Salto Cristal.
Of course, we didn’t really want to return the same way, across half the country. Initially, our plan was to travel from Asuncion directly to Argentina. However, as we mentioned earlier, we didn’t visit the Iguazu Falls when we passed by, so it was essential for us to go back. After all, it’s one of the most famous natural landmarks not only in South America but in the entire world. Additionally, we wanted to celebrate New Year’s Eve properly, and Felipe, Dani, and their wonderful family were waiting for us in Foz do Iguazu.
The road to Paraguari
In addition to Salto Cristal, Andi recommended that we visit the town of Paraguari, which is located not far from Asuncion, roughly fifty kilometers away. To begin hitchhiking, we needed to get out of the city, so we decided to take a bus to Paraguari. From there, we’d rely on hitchhiking.
As usual, we didn’t have any cash on us, so Mom and Aunt Andi kindly escorted us to the bus stop and helped us board the bus (At that time, Andi had already left with her friends to celebrate New Year’s in Florianopolis, which is on the Atlantic coast of Brazil).
However, perhaps taking that bus was a mistake because the journey turned out to be an incredible test of patience. Firstly, it felt like we were in India because Paraguayan local buses were strikingly similar to Indian ones – same design, vibrant colors, the same shape, everything. Even the uniforms of the drivers and conductors, who periodically boarded at stops, were almost identical. Secondly, the driver turned on the music, transforming the bus into a rolling discotheque. The music had some resemblance to Indian tunes, but the main issue was the incredible volume. The most challenging part, however, was that the fifty-kilometer journey seemed to take about two to three hours, with frequent stops.
Paraguari is a very beautiful town founded back in 1775 and boasts rich colonial architecture. We found a lookout point and a camping area on one of the hills surrounding the town. We planned to watch the sunset there and then spend the night in a tent. However, we didn’t expect that the bus ride would be so long and that we would only arrive in the evening.
While still hoping to make our camping plans work, we headed to that hill. But by the time we reached there, the sun was setting fast, and it seemed we wouldn’t make it in time. Yet, we still needed to find a camping spot, so we continued to the planned location. After it got dark, we reached the starting point of the trail up the hill. Unfortunately, there were only residential houses around us and fenced private properties. It didn’t seem wise to explore an unfamiliar area in the darkness, so we turned back and hoped to find another place for our tent. Suddenly, a guy on a motorcycle approached and asked us what we were doing there. We explained that we wanted to go to the camping area, but as we found out, there was indeed a trail there. However, to access the trail, we had to pay him. Since we didn’t carry cash, we mentioned it, and he left without pressing further.
We walked along the road, passing through a rather strange paid city park on one side and a military base on the other side, as indicated by maps.me (and later confirmed by a sign on the gate). We had no place to pitch the tent. So we decided to continue walking to another road, even though it was quite far away. Fortunately, we found an open, overgrown area along the road, where we could set up our tent. It was somewhat strange, and we thought about it for a while, but eventually, we decided to spend the night there. The area was noisy, with music playing, cars passing by, and people walking around. However, it seemed that no one noticed us until the morning. By morning, we didn’t care anymore. The most important thing was that we successfully spent the night.
Salto Cristal Waterfall
Getting to Salto Cristal was an adventure in itself. The waterfall is located deep in the jungle, far away from the main road, and there are no villages nearby. Hence, only tourists go there. So the chances of someone stopping and giving us a ride were slim. Walking 20 kilometers under the scorching 40-degree Celsius sun didn’t sound appealing at all. Fortunately, we were lucky, as a European-looking man stopped for us. He turned out to be a resident who had moved there during the pandemic and had opened a restaurant right next to the entrance of the waterfall. He offered to drive us there for free, which we initially hesitated about.
The thing was, we needed to find a way to access Salto Cristal without having to pay the entrance fee (which was probably not much to begin with, but we never even inquired about it). We had a clear plan on how to achieve this, which involved bypassing the official entrance by following a trail that started in the middle of the road leading to the waterfall. As we passed by the trail, we casually asked the driver to stop there. The entrance was still about five kilometers away, and the driver didn’t understand our intentions. We didn’t really want to explain our plan, but we had to. Surprisingly, he didn’t argue with us, just invited us to visit his restaurant on our way back, and left. So, we embarked on the trail leading to Salto Cristal.
At first, it was a fairly wide road, and we even encountered a tractor along the way. The official entrance to the waterfall used to be here in the past, but now at the end of this road, there are only abandoned structures that were part of the former tourist infrastructure. To reach this area, we also had to walk about two kilometers. Shortly thereafter, we understood why they had decided to change the entrance location to the waterfall. To access it, we had to descend a very steep trail, which was likely already quite dangerous. However, at that moment, it was extremely perilous. The trail was overgrown by the jungle, eroded by rain, and descending was very challenging. To make matters worse, it was blocked by several barbed wires and obstructed by fallen logs. Our route turned into a genuine obstacle course, and even before we descended, we were convinced that it wasn’t worth it. If we had cash on hand, it would have been much easier to pay the entrance fee.
In the end, we descended and found ourselves on the path leading to the waterfall. Now the most important thing was to avoid being seen by any local workers. When we reached the waterfall, it felt like a poolside party. Kids and adults were swimming wearing floaties and bright life vests. Some were having picnics, others were sunbathing, and a few were climbing the rocks beneath the waterfall with safety ropes. There were as many tourists as at a crowded beach during peak season. They all looked neat and clean, while we were dirty, sweaty, exhausted, carrying our overloaded backpacks. We weren’t particularly fond of popular natural landmarks, and here we felt like we had ventured into a city park. Therefore, the waterfall didn’t impress us much.
The place was indeed beautiful, remote from civilization, surrounded by nature. After those dreadful jungles, we had a strong desire to dive in and refresh ourselves under the waterfall’s streams.
Then we planned to sit, eat, and admire its beauty. However, there was a “No Swimming” sign here, people were wearing life vests there, others were smoking, and there was floating trash. All of this combined only made us want to leave as soon as possible. Nevertheless, we decided to take a short break, have a snack, and enjoy the surroundings.
Plus, there were dozens of incredibly beautiful butterflies fluttering around us, and various large lizards crawling, making it amusing to observe them.
The road to Brazil
On our way back, we decided to take the same route we came, which meant navigating through the jungle once again. This time, it was a bit easier going uphill, but it was even scarier due to encountering various large spiders and centipedes. Once we reached the top, we freshened up a bit and headed towards the road.
The sun was right overhead, and the heat was unbearable. Walking on foot was impossible, so we sat on a rock, waiting for someone to pass by. Fortunately, luck was on our side again because a young couple stopped for us after a few minutes, and they gave us a ride to the Asunción – Ciudad del Este highway.
We had a snack near the gas station and caught a ride to the town of Caaguazú. Then a man named Hernando picked us up. He was driving at an incredibly high speed for most of the journey. He lives about twenty kilometers from Ciudad del Este but decided to take us all the way to the border. Additionally, he generously gave us a significant amount of Brazilian currency, simply because he had it and thought we might need it more. It was incredible!
Once again, we crossed this border in the dark, although it wasn’t too late, around 10 PM. On the other side, Felipe welcomed us. So, in one day, we covered about four hundred kilometers hitchhiking and visited one of Paraguay’s most popular natural attractions, Waterfall Salto Crystal. It was a very happy end to a challenging and eventful day on December 30, 2022.
From Paraguay and Brazil with love, Vasya and Nastya.