Balnearios are the country parks of Paraguay. Almost anywhere that there is some green countryside and a stretch of clear water one can be found.
With the temperature rising above 40 degrees in summer it is no surprise that people should seek somewhere to cool down.
During the summer season anywhere within reach of Asuncion or any of the other cities fills with tourists at the weekend. Many just come for a day in the countryside. However for those wishing to stay a little longer a balneario will always at the very least have somewhere that a tent can be pitched. Many of the more developed ones have huts or cabins that can be rented out.
The water that runs through the park is always the focus. That is by far the best place to find relief from the summer heat.
Most people are content to just sit in the cool waters either with a cold beer or just taking in the view whilst children splash around.
For those wishing to be a little more active a walk down stream seeking rocks, rapids and small waterfalls can be very enjoyable. And for anyone with even more energy nets are strung out across the streams for games of volley ball.
Balnearios come in all shapes and sizes. Something for every budget and every desire.
The largest have all the facilities of a holiday camp and can cater for many coach loads of tourists on a summer weekend with ease. These places are highly developed with bars, restaurants and accommodation. Somewhere for those who enjoy crowds and who like a few comforts to be laid on.
At the other end of the scale are small family run parks. Here a lawn will be manicured and everything focused towards the stream that runs through the property. These simpler places where the owner greets arrivals at the gate are usually much quieter and more peaceful than the larger balnearios.
Between these two extremes a whole multitude of other variations are to be found.
Where I am in Piribebuy being up in the hills and not to far from Asuncion the countryside and all it can offer has for many years drawn tourists.
The hills around the town are full of crystal clear streams and many at some point along their course run through a balneario or two.
To show the great variety of parks that is to be found nearby I will outline the features of a few of them. each filling it’s own niche during the summer holiday season.
Pinamar is by far the largest and most developed balneario in the Piribebuy area.
It is accessed by a 5 km drive along an eucalyptus filled avenue and from it’s large gate and ticket house it sets out to display it’s stature.
A river takes a wide lazy sweep through the park and has been channelled to provide beaches, waterfalls and deep wide water to swim in. One section of the river has been held behind wall to create a large outdoor swimming pool.
There is plenty to see around the waters as well. Walkways have been laid out and rope bridges cross the river.
On site there is also a bar and a restaurant and number of cabins that can be booked by holiday makers.
The park is well run which is essential in view of the number of visitors it draws. In high summer there may be thousands of people on site. The car park on those days is full of cars and coaches.
During summertime it is not a place for a quiet afternoon out. However out of season the catering may shut down but the park remains open. On a warm autumn day it is quite possible to have the park to yourself.
Another well developed park this has taken it’s business and focus in a different direction.
At Chololo instead of the party goers you are more likely to find nature lovers.
The park itself sits only a little way back from the paved road. Once inside however that could be a thousand miles away.
Chololo like Pinamar is long established and has many on site facilities. It to has a restaurant and for accommodation there is a hotel. No need to rough it here anymore than one wishes to.
As with all balnearios it’s reason far being is a stream. Here rather than being managed it is in many ways left so that it can be enjoyed in it’s natural state.
There are places to bathe but the main features are a number of small waterfalls and the wooded groves that surround them.
These are all very picturesque and are contained within the boundaries of the park. Accordingly access is easy and they are well maintained.
It is very much a place suitable for families to come and enjoy the countryside together.
In common with all balnearios in the off season Chololo is largely dormant. However the restaurant does remain open all year round.
Here despite the site being quite large developments are low key.
The park for a long time was quite hidden away and unknown. It is a little distance from the bulk of the other balnearios. It has in many ways only recently been discovered.
Once again water is the focus. With Salto being Spanish for Falls is it obvious from the name alone what form they take in the park.
The river falls over a wide arc of rock creating a long curtain of water a couple of metres in height.
All around there is green open countryside and falls are a fine sight. Well worth the trip just to see them.
Facilities in the park are basic and it is best to bring all you need with you.
On a sunny day walking around the park and admiring the waterfalls and their surroundings is a very pleasant way to pass some time.
As there are no stores or bars to open and shut with the seasons the park remains open all year round. With however reduced opening hours out of season.
This balneario is a little different to the others.
Water and bathing are still very important but the park does not have access to it’s own stretch of river. A stream runs alongside it but is not accessible from the park.
However long ago the owner decided that the lack of a river need not be a problem and so bought his own water.
So instead of natural water the park has a large covered swimming pool. The roof over the pool both shades the bathers and ensures the party can go on even if it starts to rain.
For this has developed into very much a party place. There is a large covered dance floor and a disco that plays well into the night.
All summer long coaches are parked on the roadside in front of it while the tourists they bring enjoy themselves inside.
With a swimming pool and a disco the target market here is youngsters looking for some lively entertainment.
Open only during the summer months the doors close as summer ends and for the rest of the year it is silent apart from the sound of renovations being made to prepare the place for next year’s party goers.
To demonstrate a small family run balneario I could have selected any one of a dozen or so parks. I have chosen this one as being just a few minutes from my house it is the one In know best.
All the other family run balnearios follow a similar formula.
Here a family has been fortunate enough to have a stream running through their land and to bring in a little income opened their garden up to visitors.
The facilities are simple. A small shop selling drinks and places for guests to cook their barbecues.
The lawn is kept well trimmed and slopes gently down to the water. The water here is fine for splashing about in but not really deep enough for swimming.
It falls over a couple of rock platforms giving children places to investigate and explore. Families visit this and similar parks as somewhere for the adults to unwind and for the children to play safely.
There are no cabins for hire but ample space to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars.
These smaller parks are other than on a couple of high season weekends fairly quiet. Ideal places for an uncomplicated country break.
No staff need ever be employed in these parks. The owner will greet arrivals at the gate and all other duties are carried out by family members.
These are just a few examples of the balnearios that can be found all across Paraguay. Catering to many different markets there is always something there for everyone.
Sadly, didn’t make it to Salto Cristal last April! Could only see and do much in my 14 days.
But there is La Rosada, Carlos Antonio Lopez’ steelworks just to the southeast of the falls in the Ybycui National Park. Which has a nice little fall. And there is a small national park just to the west of that, where you find Bernadino Caballero’s House.
Does Cerro Lambare count as one? The massive monument. The magnificent views. Quite accessible since it is so close to Asuncion itself by the Paraguay River.
Cerro Lambare is one of those places I have never actually been to, although I should. Whenever I have been in Asuncion I have always been heading to places elsewhere in the city. I understand that it was at Cerro Lambare that the locals were camped when the Spanish first arrived in Asuncion Bay.