Concepción is an attractive town on the river Paraguay north of Asunción in northern Paraguay. With some 83,000 inhabitants it is known as La Perla del Norte (pearl of the north) for its climate, beautiful setting, elegant homes, public buildings, and its history. This is also the place where adventurers and backpackers come to board the Aquidabán boat, a living relic that sails up the Paraguay river once a week to Vallemí, Fuerte Olimpo and Bahia Negra in the extreme north of Paraguay.
As a major river port, fishing is also an important activity. For the visitors there are several boats that offer one-day sport fishing services to sites located in the vicinity of town and further north. During the weekends the city fills with people from Pedro Juan Caballero and Brazilians from Mato Grosso do Sul who come to fishing in the Paraguay river. Also youths from nearby towns and villages come to enjoy the city's nightlife.
The city's three museums each represent a different era of Paraguay's history. The Museo Villa Real is a testament to the city's role during the Triple Alliance War when it was used by Mariscal López as a headquarters for his troops. The Museo Cívico displays several paintings from Concepción's heyday as a trading post. And the small Museo de Arte Contemporáneo has examples of Paraguayan contemporary art including works by renowned Concepción native Carlos Colombino.
HistoryConcepción was founded in 1773 by Agustín Fernando de Pinedo, the Governor of the Spanish colonial Province of Paraguay, close to the existing settlement of Belén to protect territories to the south from attacks by the indigenous Mbaya tribes, also as a centre for growing yerba mate, and for defense against the Portuguese who were always trying to extent the boundaries of its colony, Brazil, over the Spanish territories. Concepción remained exclusively a military outpost for almost 40 years until 1812 when civilians were allowed to settle in and a local government (cabildo) was established. In 1864, Mariscal Francisco Solano López set off from here with 2,500 soldiers to attack the Mato Grosso of Brazil, an event that triggered the Triple Alliance War against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. A few years later Mariscal López met his demise in Cerro Corá (175 km to the east and now a national park) and his wake was held in Concepción.
In 1884 the town became a municipality and with its strategic location on the Paraguay river it rapidly became an important shipping hub during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Yerba mate and wood arrived from other Paraguayan departments as well as the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. These goods were then transported downriver to Argentinian ports where they were re-embarked to Europe and Asia. During this period Concepción saw its grandeur and received a large influx of Italian, Spanish, and Arab immigrants who left their mark on the city in the form of beautifully decorated manors. Many of these buildings are still preserved and some have been nicely restored.
Though its prominence faded somewhat Concepción continues to be an important national transportation hub. Boats departing from the renovated and upgraded port of Concepción serve as a lifeline for the people in the Chaco on the western side of the river and the northern section of the region (on the eastern side of the river) where the roads are frequently impassable and the Paraguay river becomes the only way of communication.
A promoter of the arts: Carlos Colombino
OrientationAvenida Agustín Fernando de Pinedo is the main avenue and cuts the town in two, running north to south. The city spreads for about 25 blocks east to west until it reaches the river Paraguay. The city centre is a compact grid system very easy to walk. Presidente Franco is the main street runing east to west and ending right at the port. Avenida Capitán Herminio Mendoza and Avenida Eligio Ayala are the other boundaries of the downtown area to the north and south respectively. When coming from Asunción via Route 5 you enter the city from the east on General Bernardino Caballero, which turns into Mariscal López after crossing the Avenida Agustín Fernando de Pinedo. The city centre, with the Municipalidad, the Cathedral and the Plaza Libertad, are all on this street, but most of the shops are on Presidente Franco, which is two blocks to the north. If coming through the Chaco you enter the city from the south after crossing the river Paraguay through the Nanawa bridge and passing by the new port to the left and the airport to the right.
address: Calle Brasil and General José Eduvigis DíazTourist enquiries can be directed to the Gobernación. You can also ask for information at the Casa de la Cultura Carlos Colombino which is run by the Municipalidad and where the director is a locally renowned tourist and history guide of the city.
Immigration officeAlthough Concepción is not a border town, there is an equipped to provide entry and exit stamps for those travelling independently along the Paraguay river. If you plan to continue from Bahia Negra to Brazil's Pantanal region it is possible to get your exit stamp in Concepción though there is an immigration office in Bahia Negra. If you are planning to cross over into Porto Murtinho, Mato Grosso do Sul, you can get exit stamp at Carmelo Peralta on the Paraguayan side of the border, however it may be easier to obtain it beforehand in Concepción.
- Asunción – 05:00-23:15, every 1.5-2 hr. GS.90,000 (GS.70-80,000 if bargain hard or entered outside of the station). Bus companies Nasa, La Concepcionera and La Santaniana run their buses through the Transchaco highway. The bus journey takes 6 hr, depending on the route. La Santaniana, La Sampedrana, Norte Poty, Canindeyú and La Ovetense run from Asunción along Route 3. This route is about 1-2 hr longer.
- Pedro Juan Caballero – 06:00-16:00, every 1.5-2 hr. GS.35,000. Nasa and Cometa del Amambay take 4-5 hr for this trip.
- Cerro Corá National Park – 06:00-16:00, every 1.5-2 hr. GS.30,000. Same buses as from/to Pedro Juan Caballero.
- Vallemí – 08:00, 13:00 (further to Asunción), 18:00 from Vallemí, vis-versa similar. GS.50,000. 2-4 hr, depending on the season and the coffee break along the way.
- Pozo Colorado – Frequent connections, see Asunción. GS.60,000-80,000. All buses from/to Asunción taking the western route also stop here.
By roadFrom Asunción there are two road alternatives to reach Concepción. Drivers can either head northeast along Route 3 past San Estanislao and turn west at Yby Yaú on Route 5 for a total distance of 460 km; or head northwest along the Transchaco Highway up to Pozo Colorado then turn east on Route "Coronel Rafael Franco" to Concepción travelling through the Chaco wilderness and crossing the Paraguay river through the Nanawa bridge for a total journey of 410 km.
Route 5 links Concepción to Pedro Juan Caballero 215 km to the northeast at the border with Brazil.
Heading east is Route "Coronel Rafael Franco" that links Concepción to Pozo Colorado in the central Chaco where it joins the Transchaco Highway and continue northwest to reach the Mennonite colonies of , Loma Plata and Neuland which are 335 km away. This route offers the chance to watch birdlife and the wilderness of the Chaco. The Transchaco continues northwest, past Mariscal Estigarribia and reaches the Bolivia border after 630 km from Concepción.
Port of Concepción
By planeThe Mariscal Francisco Solano López is to the south of the town on the road to the bridge. There is a once a week scheduled domestic flight to Asunción with Setam. This flight departs Asunción's Grupo Aerotáctico military airbase and makes a stopover in Concepción before continuing its route to Vallemí, Fuerte Olimpo and Bahía Negra, and then makes the flight back to Asunción stopping at the same places.
Statue of María AuxiliadoraThe massive white statue dominates the city main avenue, Avenida Agustín Fernando de Pinedo, this 24-metre high monument is called the Monumento a la Madre or Monumento a la Virgen, and was erected in 2002. You can climb a few stairs to a lookout platform at the feet of the virgin's statue to enjoy a city view. At night the cream-colored statue is nicely illuminated. The monument is next to the Salesian high school and the San José church.
Church of San JoséAlso worth visiting.
Museo al Aire LibreOpened in 1973 in the central promenade of the avenue it is an exhibition of old tractors, train cars, old vehicles, wagons and mill machinery that were part of the Concepción history.
Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la ConcepciónThe cathedral is a tall and striking building in yellow and white, not old but classical in style and with clean, elegant lines. Its construction began in 1960 after the collapse of a large part of the old church and the demolition of what remained of it. The works concluded in 1968 and in December of that year the inauguration of the new church took place. Inside you can find a holy water font carved in pink marble. The wooded altarpiece depicting the empty tomb with angels and soldiers is the work of Concepción-born artist Carlos Colombino, who specialises in wood creations. Other works of art inside the cathedral include a painting of the Virgin of Chestokowa, a gift of Pope John Paul II to the Diocese of Concepción.
Museo Diocesano de Arte SacroRight next to the Cathedral with a collection of religious objects like silverware used in the religious cult, many of such pieces go back to the Hispanic colonial period of Paraguay and others correspond to the period of great economic boom of the city. There are also ancient religious vestments, old documents, objects of personal use of the priests, portraits, watercolors and views of the different churches. Around 700 objects of great religious and artistic value.
Plaza LibertadVery pleasant. It has a beautiful grove that offers good shade, as well as benches to sit in. In the center of the plaza there is a monument dedicated to the heroes of Paraguay. It is surrounded by beautiful buildings such as the Obispado (Diocese) and the Club Social Concepción.
Museo Municipal del Cuartel de la Villa RealA beautiful well preserved historical museum located in a 19th-century building that was once the barracks and the command post for Mariscal Lopez's army, beautifully restored, the building was built during the colonial era. The museum's collection is mostly made up of Triple Alliance War relics including the chassis and wheels of the wagon that once belonged to Madame Lynch and it transported her piano on the great retreat to the north during the final stage of the war in 1869-70. Among the objects on display there are sabres, military uniforms and trumpets, and some recovered unexploded grenades from the Chaco War battlegrounds. Some paintings from Russian Vladimir Kompanietz are on display. There are also indigenous artefacts and utensils, feather headdresses, as well as some bows and arrows.
Museo Cívico MunicipalIn the former Teatro Municipal, an elegant yellow and grey building one block to the east of the Municipalidad. The museum's highlight is a series of paintings depicting many of the architectural gems of Concepcion's heyday, a number of which are still recognizable today. There is also a painting depicting the old port of Concepción from 1890. In the five rooms of the museum there are miscelaneous old objects of the city historical periods. Some interesting old objects include pre-Columbian indigenous pots, a grand piano and an old printing press. Also in the same building is the City Public Library. You can request the museum's Director if he could provide for a guided walking tour of Concepción historic building if his schedule permits.
MunicipalidadThe building was built in 1898 and houses the city's municipal offices. It sits in the center of the block surrounded on all sides by pretty gardens. Inside there are two very large and fine oil paintings, one shows the founding of Concepción by the spaniard Agustín Fernando de Pinedo; the other shows the battle of Nanawa, a victory of Paraguay over Bolivia during the 1932-35 Chaco War.
Monumento al IndioThis is regarded, with 45 meters high, as the tallest monument dedicated to the original inhabitants of the Americas. A creative artistic work, it was built on the structure of an old communications tower. It was inaugurated in 1961 as part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Paraguayan independence.
Post OfficeThis old building on Presidente Franco y Curupayty is still used and is an elegant corner house from 1915, a couple of blocks from the port. It is marked Correos y Telégrafos and was restored with Spanish cooperation.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de ConcepciónBeautifully restored in 2008 and housed in the Mansión Otaño, one of the beautiful historic manors dating back to the early 20th century, the museum houses a surprisingly good collection of Paraguayan contemporary art including works by Ricardo Migliorisi, Carlos Colombino and Ofelia Olmedo. There is also a collection of drawings by well known indigenous artists Ogwa and Pitoé. The excellent quality of the collection is due to the fact that the museum was founded by renowned Paraguayan artist and Concepción native Carlos Colombino.
Puerto de ConepciónThis is the old port of Concepción used mostly for small fishing and leisure boats, as a new commercial port known as the puerto granelero (grain port) has been built further south of the centre. People come on Sundays and Tuesdays to watch all manner of cargo, from tomatoes to mattresses and motorcycles, get loaded and unloaded from the Aquidabán Cargo Ferry (see Northern Paraneña#Do for more details), the only one of two scheduled boats that travels to northern communities along the river where there are no roads.
- Other attractive italianate houses to see from the outside are the Mansión Isnardi, the Mansión Albertini, and the Villa Ida.
Local toursThe Asociación Cultural de la Villa Real is a non-profit cultural organization that organizes historic tours around Concepción from time to time, including guided visits to the local cemetery. Check their website for information on their activities.
Enjoying the river Paraguay
There is a public beach next to the port, very popular on weekends among locals. People come to sunbathing, swimming and fishing. The sunsets are beautiful.
Water taxis in the port can also be hired for a day trip to the mouth of the Ypané river. 8 km to the south, and along the Riacho Negro, the offshoot of the Paraguay river that runs along the other side of Chaco'í. Negotiate the price in advance and bring your own food and beverages.
Across the river is the island of Chaco'í, home to a handful of families. Most cross the river every day by row boat or motor boat to work in Concepción. Walking along the island's dirt roads you will see the quaint scenes of rural lifestyle typical throughout Paraguay, such as farm animals, crops, and a small church. The island is an interesting side trip away from the bustle of Conpceción's motorcycle clogged streets. Water taxis cross between Chaco'í and the port of Concepción at the end of Presidente Franco street. GS.5,000
The Yate Siete Cabrillas is a luxury charter yacht that offer customizable two to seven day trips along the Paraguay river. It departs from Concepción and goes all the way up to Bahia Negra and return. The cost includes full board and guides.
- To Belén: Belén can be visited as a short excursión from Concepción, as it is only to the southeast. Buses run from Concepción several times a day. The town is sited exactly on the Tropic of Capricorn where there is an allegorical monolith. Belén is the oldest town in the region and was founded in 1760 as a Jesuit Reduction. Lesser known than the other Jessuit towns of Misiones and Itapua in Sputhern Paraguay. The Reduction of Belén had little importance because it was founded shortle before the Expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768, so had little chance to establish itself, and also because it was an experimental venture among the warlike Mbaya indigenous, with none of the success of missions with the more pacific Guaraní. A couple of historians have written books about Belén recently, and this is the oldest settlement in the entire Northern Paraguay. There are a few sites for the visitor to see like the local church. The present school is an original Jessuit building. In the city centre streets one finds old houses of all sizes with the marked and characteristic colonial style, belonging to the most traditional families of the city, with pillars and galleries in the front.
- To Loreto: driving north from Concepción on the route to Vallemí for there is the small town of Loreto, which was not a Reduction, although from its name it sounds as though it might have been. There are several buses per day, every hour or two, departing from the Concepción bus terminal. There is an attractive monument at the entrance of town, like a mini chapel in the middle of the road, blue and white with a tiny dome and cross. The local church is interesting to visit and has a 10 metre bell tower, modelled after the bell tower of the Yaguarón church but built in 2005.
EstanciasThere are estancias around Concepción that welcome visitors. Always ring first to reserve and get instructions on how to get there. You may be able to travel by bus and be picked up at an agreed upon location.
The river Aquidabán, north of Concepción, has some of the finest beaches in the country, with big streches of proper yellow sand, but the best the stream Tagatiyá, which is famous for its crystalline waters and colored little fish.
- Estancia Ña Blanca: (+595 982 917792) from Concepción on the road to Vallemí in the district of San Alfredo. Is the closest estancia to the Tagatiyá stream. There are small waterfalls, crystal clear waters, beautiful scenery. Activities include snorkelling in the Tagatiyá, walking, camping. Also has rooms for guests. Visits only by prior reservation. The estancia is named after the owner, Ms. Blanca Ferreira de González.
- Rancho JMC: (+595 983 776495) the easiest to get to, at Paso Horqueta, a little village on the Aquidabán river, from Concepción via Loreto, an hour journey on the bus that goes to Vallemí. There is a private beach on the Aquidabán where you can camp, ar you can stay at the house. It has 8 rooms for guests.
- Estancia Primavera: (+595 331 242045 +595 971 247648) from Concepción, on the river Aquidabán. Simple place offering camping and two rooms for guests. Lovely isolated beaches. Off the beaten track and the access road is very bad. 4x4 needed, but they can pick you up in Concepción.
FestivalsThe spotlight shines on Concepción during the yearly Festival del Río (river festival). During the festival there are a series of sporting events, making use of the city's riverfront, from triathlons to rowing competitions. At night crowds gather to enjoy traditional food and musical concerts and talent shows. Held in late February at the Port of Concepción.
As Concepción's economy is fueled by cattle ranching and meat processing. There is no better time to see the influence of the area´s cattle ranches than at the yearly Expo Norte fair held every September. There are rodeo shows, food and games, and a beauty pageant.
There is a small but charming art gallery at the corner of Mariscal Estigarribia and General Garay called Arte Libre belonging to Mrs. Gladys Gaona, which also runs a fine arts atelier and where meetings of the local Reading Club of the city are also performed. In this place you will find works of famous Paraguayan artists such as Carlos Colombino, Emmanuel Fretes, Ricardo Migliorisi, Michael Burt, Felix Toranzos and Gladys Gaona herself. Everything on display is for sale.
Sabor Brasilphone: +595 331 241415address: Calle Mariscal EstigarribiaBrazilian-owned restaurant offering meat and fish dishes, accompanied by various fresh vegetables sides and Brazilian style rice and beans. Popular among locals.
Restaurant Tagatiyáphone: +595 331 241858address: Mariscal López 399 and Eugenio A. GarayFine restaurant inside the Concepción Palace Hotel. Top choice in town.
Restaurante Francésphone: +595 331 242383address: Presidente Franco and Carlos Antonio LópezLovely restaurant inside the Hotel Francés. The surubí a la teja is the house speciality.
phone: +595 331 242956address: Presidente Franco and 14 de MayoPopular restaurant with live music on weekends.
phone: +595 984 266161address: Presidente Franco and General DíazRestaurant and bar with picadas and varied dishes.
phone: +595 331 242762address: Mariscal Estigarribia and Fulgencio YegrosPizzeria and ice cream place.
phone: +595 983 894503address: Mariscal José Félix Estigarribia between Avenida Agustín Fernando de Pinedo and YegrosHomemade burgers and pizzas.
Comedor Ña Benitaaddress: at Mercado MunicipalSmall restaurant inside the municipal market is well known for its owner Ña Benita´s caldo de pescado (fish soup) though other Paraguayan staples such as tallarín con estofado are also good options.
phone: +595 983 501375address: Mayor Julio Otaño near Avenida Agustín Fernando de PinedoHostel type accommodations with private and shared bath rooms. No dorms, but WiFi.
- There are also various inexpensive hospedajes in Concepción. Check out the area around the bus terminal.
Mid-range to splurge
phone: +595 331 241858address: Mariscal López 399 and Eugenio A. GarayThis smart modern hotel is the fanciest in town, with 58 comfortable rooms and a central location. Business centre, pool, lounge for smokers. Good restaurant with fixed price lunches.
phone: +595 331 241895address: Presidente Franco and Juan B. OtañoModern, 16 rustic style rooms with all the ammenities. Pool, parking. Good breakfast and afternoon tea. No restaurant. Very close to the river and port.
phone: +595 331 242383address: Presidente Franco and Carlos Antonio LópezHoused in one of the city's characteristic old manors Hotel Francés is a nice hotel in a building full of character on an elegant corner with historic charm a few blocks from the port. Every room is decorated with Paraguayan handicrafts and unique handmade lamps. There is a large outdoor garden with a jacuzzi and pool. Also a recommended place to eat, the hotel's restaurant has a good breakfast buffet, lunch buffet and excellent fish dishes.
phone: +595 331 240198address: Ruta Coronel Rafael FrancoNew, rustic style hotel with a castle tower facade. Pool, restaurant, big rooms. Convenient if you travel by car.
phone: +595 331 243421address: Teniente Semidei between Don Bosco and SarmientoNew, basic hotel to the west of town.
phone: +595 331 243421address: Teniente Semidei and Don BoscoA simple, family run hotel some 10 blocks from downtown to the west of town. Courtyard include a medium sized pool and guests are welcomed to use the covered quincho and grill for barbecues. Parking.
phone: +595 331 243436address: Teniente Semidei and Avenida General Bernardino CaballeroApartment like hotel to the west edge of town.
phone: +595 985 898446address: near BelénRun by a German, is a rustic style lodge with cabins surrounded by forests. Pool, fish ponds, hammocks to relax in the company of howler monkeys. Meals are homemade.
- Most hotels offer Wi-Fi for guests.
- Why not send a postcard from the beautiful post office building on Presidente Franco street?
- The Concepción Noticias (http://www.concepcion-py.com/) is a good resource for current events.
- phone: +595 331 242655address: Presidente Franco 972
- Vallemí - A riverside town at the top northwest corner of the Northern Paraneña. A cement producer town with more than 50 limestone caves to explore.
- Pedro Juan Caballero - At the border with Brazil and an important commercial city with big shopping centers and duty free shops.