There are three large cities in Paraguay, and they are generally safer than equivalently-sized cities in many parts of the world, and much more so than Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, New York or São Paulo. As long as common sense is applied - bearing in mind that as a foreigner you may naturally attract attention - you are unlikely to run into trouble. Personal ID should be carried at all times ID card/photocopy of passport. The police have a reputation for corruption, and if you are stopped for any reason, they will require ID, and may expect a discreet bribe before allowing you to move on. However, this is more common in rural areas. Women should apply the same policy for being out alone at night as they would in cities in their own country. Loud and/or drunken behaviour in the street is unacceptable and will attract the attention of the police.
Ciudad del Este, on Paraguay's eastern border with Brazil, is a shopping hub for people in the region. The city does have a name as a center for illicit activity such as smuggling, money laundering and counterfeiting, but this should not affect your travels. Be alert to pickpockets, and keep bags and wallets safe, as in any other large city. Do not take part, of course, in criminal activity on any level.
Paraguay's legal system is based on Argentine and French codes, and Roman law; judicial review of legislative acts takes place in the Supreme Court of Justice.
Piped drinking water from the national water company in Paraguay is not healthy, but fruit, vegetables, fish and meat are of very high quality. Care should naturally be taken to eat freshly-cooked food, and not to eat in clearly unhygienic establishments or from street vendors.
The two main threats to health are mosquitos and heat. Use insect repellent, as Dengue fever, transmitted by mosquitos, is endemic to the region, and a serious illness. Hang a mosquito net over the bed at night if possible. Sunscreen and plenty of water are advised; it is also worth copying the wisdom of the regional habit of staying completely out of the sun from at least midday to 3pm. Paraguayans rise early 4-5am to do most of the day's work before noon.
Stray dogs are not uncommon in some areas - these do not usually bother passers-by, but should nevertheless be avoided. Care should be taken when walking in sandals near loose dirt, as a tiny flea known locally as 'pique' tunga penetrans may attach itself to the skin of the foot, especially around the toes. The insect lays eggs under the skin, and this causes tenderness and infection if not taken care of. The usual way to remove 'pique' is to pierce the site with a stitching needle, disinfect the area, and then twist the flea out. Avoid walking barefoot for this reason.
Hospital facilities in Paraguay range from very high international standards to the unsanitary and under-equipped. Visitors should always have medical insurance as for any journey, and in case of serious illness attend the best hospital available. When attending small local medical centres in the countryside, it is advisable to take hypodermic needles, surgical gloves with you. The national public hospital in Asuncion has long suffered from severe overcrowding and lack of funding. Private hospitals in Asuncion, Encarnacion, and Ciudad del Este offer a much higher standard of care, and are well within the budget of most foreign tourists.
Both Spanish and Guaraní are official. Most people in Paraguay speak Spanish and use of English is very limited. Outside of Asuncion and big cities Guarani is all you will hear. Due to the extensive use of Guarani, even those who have managed to learn Spanish do not always speak it very well.
In Paraguay, Guarani is almost always spoken as a mix of Guarani and Spanish, known as Jopara, meaning "mixed" in Guarani. The number system in Guarani is rarely used, and is almost always replaced with the Spanish number system.
Some basic greetings in Guarani include:
Mba'eichapa? = How are you?
Iporã = Good
ha nde? = and you?
iporã avei = good as well
In Paraguay Vos is used instead of Tu. There is a slight change in conjugation but not big enough that you won't be understood using Tu. This Vos is NOT the same as Vosotros. Stems do not change in verbs when using "vos", and the ending is always stressed. For example "tienes" changes to "tenés", "puedes" changes to "podés", "vienes" changes to "venís" etc.
In the northern, and eastern parts of Paraguay, Portuguese is spoken widely. In some places, Nueva Esperanza 80% portuguese speaking, Katuetè 60% the majority speak Portuguese, almost always the result of Paraguayan born, or first generation Brazilian immigrants. There are many cases of Paraguayans, who were born during the era of Brazilian immigration who speak only Portuguese at home, although also fluent Guarani, but very little or no Spanish.
There are also a number of Mennonite communities throughout Paraguay which speak Low German and regular High German.
punctuality and perception of time
Paraguayans do not share the same sense of the importance of keeping to clock time as northern Europeans and North Americans conventionally do; they are closer in this regard to Mediterranean and other Latin American cultures. Visitors from outside Latin America may find it frustrating at first that schedules and timetables are not followed strictly, and perceive frequent 'lateness'. Flights and intercity buses may not run to schedule. For a Paraguayan to arrive late to a meeting is not uncommon, and should not be considered rude. In contrast, punctuality in foreign visitors is admired.
Due to the relatively small number of tourists and foreigners in Paraguay, local people, particularly outside the capital, may express curiosity about tourist visitors, and find their coloring, dress or manners a cause for comment or even gentle amusement. This is certainly not meant impolitely. Good manners are as important to Paraguayans as to any other society. Paraguayans, like Argentinians, have a lively sense of humor.
In the capital, visitors will almost always be able to operate using Spanish. Outside the capital, however, the country's other official language, Guarani, is far more frequent. Throughout Paraguay, people are generally delighted if foreigners take the trouble to speak some Guarani. It is often difficult to find people who speak English, but most Paraguayans are by nature kind and helpful, and will be happy to respond to polite attempts to communicate.
Paraguayan society is generally conservative: foreigners should observe local standards of manners, dress and behaviour to avoid causing offence.
It is considered courteous for men to shake hands whenever they meet. In mixed company among friends and peers, it is usual for men and women to give a light kiss on each cheek. Also when meeting, people will ask how you are 'Qué tal?', 'Como estás?', or perhaps 'Todo bien?'; the response to this is, as elsewhere in the world, that one is fine, 'Bien, gracias'.
Note that in Paraguayan Spanish, 'tu' is not used. The informal word for 'you' singular, is 'vos'. The polite/formal word is 'usted'. In both informal and formal situations, 'you' plural is 'ustedes'.
It is polite to express gratitude for, and appreciation of, help, invitations, food etc. When discussing food, the regional word for 'tasty' in Spanish is ´rico`.