World Borders: How to get from Argentina to Paraguay (Iguazu to Ciudad del Este via Brazil)

In my series on World Borders, here’s how to get from Argentina to Paraguay (via Brazil), yes you will end up going from Puerto Iguazu to Foz do Iguacu and onwards into Ciudad del Este. This is a complete guide from my journey.

The view from my bus crossing the bridge from Brazil to Paraguay at Ciudad del Este in 2010

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…

My El Practico Bus Argentina to Paraguay via Brazil 2010

The first thing to know is – you board a bus at Puerto Iguazu bus station with PARAGUAY as the destination on it. These buses are yellow and single decker with the words El Practico on it. They leave fairly regularly throughout the day. I did my crossing on a Sunday morning, around 10 am I think. I don’t think you can buy tickets in advance, just check out of your hostel or hotel in the town of Puerto Iguazu and head to the bus station (there is only one main bus station in Puerto Iguazu). I would definitely recommend doing this early morning – no idea if the border would be open at night – nor if it would be safe to risk 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 current name for this city, which literally 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 digress 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 paid 5 Argentine Pesos for the bus and asked with the driver to confirm if he could stop at the border for me to get my passport stamped. I was the only person on the bus that wasn’t from either Brazil, Argentina or Paraguay. Those three countries have some kind of agreement with each other that prevents them needing visas or passport stamps.
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.
Of course to travel in South America you should have some grasp of Spanish at least (I studied in Montevideo but my Spanish is 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. Importantly I had my passport in hand and all my money changed into Paraguayan Guarani. This is important – change ALL your Argentine Pesos (except for the price of the bus) into Paraguayan Guarani in Puerto Iguazu. You can even do this on a Sunday morning – I found a bank/exchange place in town at 9am to get mine changed.
After boarding the bus you will be driven out of the town of Puerto Iguazu to the border bridge with BRAZIL. Yes, don’t be alarmed at this point, you are still on the bus to PARAGUAY! At the Argentine exit customs you MUST make sure you ask the driver to let you off to get your passport stamped. Most on the bus may not need it – they’re mostly locals.

My Argentine Exit Stamp (came and went 8 times from Argentina in one trip!)

Get your passport stamped and back on the bus. Then you cross the Iguazu River into BRAZIL. But you don’t stop at Brazilian border control. The driver of the bus does this route regularly and the sign on the front of the bus lets you know that you are heading to “Paraguay Directo”. We’re now in BRAZIL, in transit on a bus if you like.
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 20 minutes or so in Brazil on the bus you arrive at a crazy bridge. Again you see a border checkpoint here, but we by pass it. It’s the Brazilian border point. Your eyes will remind you that your were in Brazil for 20 minutes, your passport will not. There is no need to get your passport stamped at either Brazil passport checkpoint, BUT once your bus gets onto the bridge, Keep your eyes peeled for the Paraguay entrance border checkpoint. Why? Because the driver won’t stop there, but you need to tell him to stop there for you.

My border bus to Paraguay in 2010

The unfortunate thing is that when you tell him to stop, he sadly cannot wait for you as the passengers onboard wouldn’t accept waiting for a foreigner to get a passport stamp. The bus continues on its route and you are literally DUMPED out into the madness of the city of Ciudad del Este.

It is not recommended to cross this border by foot by the way, mainly because of robberies and safety issues. For the sake of 5 Pesos you might as well get the bus. I had to run to the front of the bus and yell at the driver to stop, this was a few hundred kilometres ahead of the checkpoint. I had assumed he was stopping soon. SO I had to get out on my own. I asked him if he would wait and when I realised he wouldn’t, then I had to grab both my bags. This was my arrival into Paraguay!

The Paraguayan Immigration Checkpoint at Ciudad del Este – hidden shyly behind a building site!

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.

My Paraguayan Entrance Stamp at Ciudad del Este 2010

I honestly have no idea if this is the easiest way across the border into Paraguay but I enjoyed this bit of travelling as I was the only traveller about. It was crazy and the city was mayhem. People were approaching me and trying to sell me things. You may want to stay the night (or a few) in Ciudad del Este but I was on a whirlwind trip and wanted to head straight to Asuncion.

My taxi from the Ciudad Del Este border to the bus station – Paraguay 2010

So from opposite the passport control, I found a taxi driver who would take me to the central bus station in Ciudad del Este for a fee of a few US Dollars (but thousands of Guarani). These are normally trustable but agree a price first and get yourself off the busy, crazy streets!
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.
Happy Border Crossing!

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