Paraguay: The Chaotic Ciudad del Este

Not far from one of the most beautiful touristic attractions in the world, all kinds of illegal activities are taking place: money laundering, cigarette smuggling, drugs and arms trade. However, there is no reason to avoid visiting the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este (City of the East), as this city also attracts thousands of tourists around the world for its unmatchable appeal.

Photo of Ciudad del Este by dckf_$êr@pH!nX and used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo of Ciudad del Este by dckf_$êr@pH!nX and used under a Creative Commons license.

The city is located at the triple border with the Brazilian city Foz do Iguaçu and Argentinean city Puerto Iguazu, and is only minutes away from the Iguazu Falls. The proximity of these other cities make it easy to compare the three. While Ciudad del Este is known for its chaotic downtown traffic jam, the opposite is true of its neighbor Foz do Iguaçu with its well-designed and organized surroundings. In terms of size, Puerto Iguazu only has 1/10 of the population of its other two neighboring cities.

Ciudad del Este is very popular among tourists for its reputation that anything can be found there, from counterfeit Viagra, pirated CDs, exotic pets, and AK-47 rifles. Paraguayan Blogger Muna Annahas blogs about how shocking the landscape of Ciudad del Este can be for a tourist:

On the way I saw all kind of things like people with babies and small children in motorcycles without helmets, teens jaywalking and crossing the route, small booths on the side of the streets selling all kinds of fruits and other small items.

I honestly hate the route, there is absolute not respect for the other drivers, its a no law route…

It is a small growing city that most of its income comes from goods sold to the Brazilians, in Ciudad del Este you can find all kind of goods, huge malls with all kinds of stuff you can ever imagine, from original to counterfeit…from delicatessen to car accessories, from perfumes to laptops parts…everything you can possible imagine, you can find there.

One of Ciudad del Este’s most profitable activities is cigarette counterfeiting. Blogger and journalist Marina Walker Guevara, Mabel Rehnfeldt y Marcelo Soares write about it on the blog Ciperchile [es]:

Paraguay se ha convertido en uno de los mayores productores mundiales de cigarrillos de contrabando, con más de US$ 1.000 millones desaparecidos anualmente en el mercado negro. Aprovechan las facilidades de la Triple Frontera, por lo que los negocios se han expandido hacia las mafias brasileñas. Hoy fabricar cigarrillos en Paraguay es aún más barato que hacerlo en China y se han confiscado cajetillas paraguayas en lugares tan lejanos como Irlanda.

Desde allí, durante años, los cigarrillos se contrabandeaban al Brasil en furgonetas, camiones y hasta autobuses a través del Puente de la Amistad (…) Brasil intensificó los controles en la frontera en 2005 de manera que los contrabandistas mutaron de las carreteras al agua. A partir del atardecer, lanchas de motor parten de cualquiera de los 300 muelles improvisados a lo largo de la periferia del lago Itaipú.

Paraguay has become one of the major producers of contraband cigarettes worldwide, with over one billion dollars disappearing annually on the black market. The smugglers take advantage of the ease of movement on the triple border to expand the businesses into the Brazilian mafias. Producing cigarettes today in Paraguay is cheaper than producing them in China, and Paraguayan cigarettes have been confiscated in such distant places as Ireland.

For years, cigarettes have been smuggled to Brazil in vans, trucks, and even buses through the Friendship Bridge that links Ciudad del Este with Brazilian Foz de Iguazu. (…) When Brazil intensified the controls in the border in 2005, the smugglers went from the roads to the water. During sunset, boats sail from any of the 300 improvised piers along the Itaipu lake.

Ciudad del Este now the second largest city in Paraguay, with a population estimated at 320,782 in 2008. The city grew in population during the building of the Itaipu dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant located on the Paraná River. Many of the employees hired to work at the dam during its construction, continue to work there as technical staff today.

The city also has its charm, a result of the green landscape and the cultural mix that take place in a border city. Victor Ortiz blogs about it on Catarsis Heuristica [es]:

Lo que nunca olvidaré son los árboles. Cientos de ellos (alejándose del centro de la ciudad), rodeaban las rutas y caminos. (…) Tampoco olvidaré lo poco que estoy acostumbrado a escuchar hablar el portugués (o portuñol). Ellos (los brasileños) dicen que el español es un portugués mal hablado. Para mí el portugués es un español mal pero muy mal hablado.”

I will never forget the trees. Hundreds of them (moving away from downtown) surrounded the roads and routes. (…) I won't forget how I am not used to hear Portuguese either or portuñol, (the mix between Spanish and Portuguese). They (the Brazilians) claim that Spanish is Portuguese poorly spoken. I say Portuguese is Spanish poorly spoken.

Ciudad del Este is also a popular location for tourists who want to visit the Iguazu Falls, the waterfalls of the Iguazu River located on the border of the Brazilian state of Paraná and the Argentine province of Misiones. The Iguazu Falls are one of the most impressive and beautiful falls in the world, with 275 falls along 2.7 kilometers (1.67 miles) of the Iguazu River, some of the falls reach up to 82 meters.

Photo of Iguazu Falls by ewanr and used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo of Iguazu Falls by ewanr and used under a Creative Commons license.


  • Ricardo

    There is also a HUUUGE legal market for electronics. The truth is also that, for the tourist, CDE is incredibly safe as the amount of money a tourist could carry is nothing compared to what people are used to in this city.

  • It is not a good place to be;all the ilegal activity there is is is a dangerous place.

  • Juan Francisco Achucarro Ruiz

    Belen Bogado
    Is it really necessary to start this article with such harsh lines?

    Don’t take it personal, but we as Paraguayans are tired of mediocre articles like this!

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