How Did Paraguay Get Its Name?

Paraguays flag flying in the wind
Paraguay's flag flying in the wind | ©Leticia Chamorro/Flickr
Georgia Mizen

Known as the heart of South America, Paraguay is arguably one of the continent’s least explored lands. Although it has a rich and diverse history stretching back thousands of years, Spanish colonisation in the 16th century changed the country’s indigenous way of life, and in turn, its story – we dig deep to find out how Paraguay really got its name.

What’s in a name? Well, when there are conquering forces involved, the answer to that question starts to get a little hazy. What we do know is that Paraguay’s name comes directly from Río Paraguay – the Paraguay river.

This body of water is the lifeblood of the country, flowing for over 1600 miles through Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and pouring into the Río Paraná on the border with Argentina. It’s home to enormous crocodiles, catfish and the black phantom tetra fish, among 350 other tropical species. It feeds the major cities of Asunción and Concepción, providing irrigation for agriculture, a route for trade and underpins the country’s fishing industry.

Fishing in the Río Paraguay

According to the Spanish invaders who occupied the country in the mid-1500s, the name is made up of words spoken by the people known as the Guaraní. There exists much debate over the origin of the words, with some scholars professing that ‘para’, meaning water, and ‘guay’, which roughly translates to birth, indicates that Paraguay means ‘born of water’ or ‘river that gives birth to the sea’. Others say that ‘para’ means great river, ‘gua’ means from or to, and ‘y’ means water, making ‘water from the great river’.

The 16th-century Jesuit friar Antonio Ruiz de Montoya gave the name a more poetic translation: ‘river crowned’. Another theory suggests that the indigenous people themselves told the Spanish that Paraguay meant ‘river of the Payaguá’ – another tribe that lived along its banks.

The river is still essential to Paraguayos today

Today, there is still no consensus on what Paraguay truly means. Spanish and Guaraní are so intertwined in the naming of Paraguay that it’s almost impossible to define where one ends and the other begins. To Paraguayos themselves, it’s a proud name, one that preserves their heritage and their history and celebrates their great river – in not so many words.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article