Itaipu dam, Paraguay. The second largest dam in the world

Itaipu dam, Paraguay
Itaipu dam, Paraguay

Paraguay is not the most popular country in South America I’d even say one of the least popular. Maybe the reason is its unlucky geographical location to be squeezed between such giants like Brazil and Argentina! Anyway most tourists skip Paraguay and to be honest we are not exception. From few travelers we met who had been to Paraguay the main thing about it were nice and friendly people. Considering all “for” and “against” we decided not to deepen into the country and spent only few days near Argentina-Brazil border, in Ciudad del Este. Our main reason of visiting was to see Itaipu dam, Paraguay.

Ciudad del Este is located at so-called Las Tres Fronteras (The Triple Frontier) where meet the borders of three neighbor countries; Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. And if first two share the world largest waterfall by volume Iguazu; Paraguay has only the second largest hydroelectric dam in the world to boast and it’s their own fault.

Ciudad del East for neighbors especially for Argentinians is a kind of Duty Free shop, most tourists come here particularly for electronic shopping. Huge malls and supermarkets are all around the city with the highest concentration near the border. We not big shopping lovers so this part wasn’t in our agenda. But if you want or need to buy a new camera, phone or computer it’s a good place, people say prices are notably less than in Argentina or Brazil.

Itaipu dam, Paraguay
Itaipu dam, Paraguay

Itaipu Dam, Paraguay, the second largest hydroelectric dam

Rare tourists like us who come to Paraguay come to see the Dam. Once the largest dam in the world nowadays Itaipu is the second after Chinese Three Gorges Dam at the Yangtze River. Itaipu dam and   satisfies about 80% of electricity need of Paraguay, almost all the county and 20% of Brazil. So if something goes wrong at the dam  there will be an energy collapse in all Paraguay. Like on 10th November 2009 at 10 pm when due to the transmission lines damage and subsequent power failure there was an absolute blackout in Paraguay but for a short time only 15 minutes.

Some impressive facts about Itaipu and its size. First, from all iron and steel used for the construction could be built 380 Eiffel towers. All the concrete would be enough to build 210 modern football stadiums. In total  in construction were involved more than 40 000 workers. The dam is one of the most expensive constructions built in modern history. Quite impressive isn’t it? And some sad statistic during the construction of Itaipu died 100 workers.

The dam was named after a small rock island nearby and on guarani language “itaipu” means “a rock that sounds”. Itaipu is located on Parana river and being binational company it’s run by Paraguay and Brazil.

Itaipu dam, Paraguay
Impressive construction. Itaipu dam, Paraguay

Ecological impact of Itaipu dam

Behind the impressive Itaipu dam numbers there is an ecological disaster. One more example how people for their own profit and convenience can destroy natural environment and a unique place. For hundreds of years there was a waterfall on Parana river and not just any ordinary waterfall but the argest in the world, bigger than Iguazu. One day people decided they needed more energy and changed the riverbed, removed rocks, built concrete constructions and named it the modern wonder of the world. And it was a wonder and the largest dam for some time till other people somewhere else didn’t do the same and built even larger one.

By this Paraguay solved the power problem for years but lost the great wonder of the world and there is no way back to restore it even if the dam will be completely destroyed. Now instead of the largest waterfall in the world by volume we have the second largest dam. And I must confess it’s not even a bit as impressive as the modern largest waterfall Iguazu.

By the way except for destroying the waterfall the government resettled 10 000 local people how lived in the vicinity.

View from the dam on Parana river. Itaipu dam, Paraguay
View from the dam on Parana river. Itaipu dam, Paraguay

How to get to the dam

You can get inside the complex only with organized group and a guide. There are free daily excursions for tourists in Spanish language. Excursion includes a 20-minute documentary about the construction and current using of the dam, transport (shuttle bus) to Itaipu and back with two stops at the dam for photos. All tour takes 1,5 hours. Important! Excursion starts from Itaipu Information center that is 1 km before the dam itself if you drive from the city. You can get there by public bus just ask to stop at Itaipu Visitors’ Reception Center (Centro de Recepcion de Visitas).

On Fridays and Saturdays at 7.30 pm (8.30 pm in winter) there is a Monumental lighting at the dam so you can see it all lighted with thousands of lights. To get there you can with a tour that you can book at the Visitors center better to do it one day before.

Monday falls

In one of the parks a bit outside the town there is a nice waterfall with a strange name Monday. It’s beautiful and quite big of course not as big and impressive as Iguazu, 45 m height and 120 m width but quite with nobody around. The entrance is 7000/$1,5.

Moday falls, Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
Monday falls, Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

Accommodation in Ciudad del Este

We stayed at Hummingbird hostel, 17$ for a double with AC and shared (between two rooms) bathroom.  Good place, nice, clean, with a yard and outside kitchen, breakfast included (toasts, jam, butter, tea/coffee, fruit), supermarket nearby. The owner is a local lady who speaks good English and can give useful tips about the city and Paraguay. You can get to the hostel from the border almost by any public bus, about 5 min. drive.

Campbell with electromobile at Visitors center of Itaipu dam, Paraguay
Campbell with electromobile at Visitors center of Itaipu dam, Paraguay

Transport

We as usually used public transport, buses. There are many in Ciudad del Este and they are cheap.

From Puerto Iguazu, Argentina to Ciudad del Este we got by bus as well, price ARG 35/$2,5. Buses leave from the bus terminal in Puerto Iguazu. It drives through Brazil because there is no other road to get from Argentina to Paraguay but doesn’t stop there at all so you don’t get stamp in and out of Brazil you just stamp out of Argentina and stamp in to Paraguay.  Just in case you worry about too many stamps in your passport or need visa for Brazil. Most tourists get 90 days on arrival for Paraguay check HERE conditions for your country.

Budget

Paraguay is notably cheaper than Argentina and similar to Brazil.

  • Accommodation – 40 000/$8;
  • Food – 22 000/$4;
  • Transport – 5000/$1.

Total: 67 000/$13 per day each.

That was our short visit to Paraguay after we went to Brazil in search of nice beaches and warm water.

Moday falls, Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.
Monday falls, Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.
View over Parana river from the dam view poing. Itaipu dam, Paraguay
View over Parana river from the dam view point. Itaipu dam, Paraguay
Moday falls, Ciudad del Este
Monday falls, Ciudad del Este

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