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Much like their neighbors in Bolivia, Paraguayans long to have easy access to the sea. After all, hanging out at the beach is a quintessential Latin American pastime the rest of the continent can frivolously enjoy. Ever inventive, the people of this landlocked nation have found a creative alternative: a riverside town dubbed “The Pearl of the South.”
Unfortunately, the closest ocean beaches are in tropical Brazil which requires a pricey international flight, an unattainable expense most citizens of this underdeveloped nation simply cannot afford. But determined not to miss out on the fun, a robust tourism industry has developed in one of the country’s most beloved towns.
Locals have long been coming to Encarnacion to bathe in the waters of the mighty Parana River, but it wasn’t until the turn of this decade that tourism really began to boom. Upon realizing the enormous economic potential in 2008, a joint venture between local and federal governments saw the city’s entire costenera (waterfront promenade) undergo a complete redesign.
In truth, this megaproject had been earmarked decades ago, but a drawn-out hydroelectric project from the 80s flooded much of the city and brought progress to a standstill. The final stage of the dam didn’t come to conclusion until 2011, further raising water levels by an additional 7 meters (23 feet). With the Parana River’s water finally settled once and for all, the new costanera could, at last, be completed and was inaugurated that same year.
Featuring kilometers of waterfront walkways and new infrastructures such as tiki huts and beachfront bars, the development quickly became an instant hit. Encarnacion locals and beach-going domestic tourists descended on San Jose – the city’s central beach – in droves, with some 300,000 visiting during the inaugural season alone.
In fact, San Jose is now so popular there is barely even room to pull up a towel during peak periods. To meet demand, the nearby and equally picturesque Playa Mboi Kae has undergone significant redevelopment as well.
As Paraguay’s go-to holiday destination during the stifling summer months, some in the industry have gone as far as to label it the “New Rio de Janerio.” An exaggeration perhaps, as Encarnacion certainly does not possess the exotic glamor of Brazil’s undisputed tourism superstar.
Nevertheless, for the people of the landlocked nation of Paraguay, the golden sands and refreshingly cool waters of Playa San Jose are undoubtedly the next best thing.