Ciudad del Este is a small border town in Paraguay, located exactly at the end of the friendship bridge from Brazil. The city is mainly made up of shopping centers and street markets, as loads of Brazilians and other tourists seeing the Iguazu Falls go over to do some cheap shopping as the level of income and shopping prices are way lower in Paraguay than Brazil and Argentina. Just like other border towns (e.g Tijuana on the US – mexican border), the city has a really bad reputation with loads of cases of corruptied police, scams and muggings. We went over to test these rhumors, and our very low expectations of the city might actually have helped us have a much better time there than we had expeted.As our campsite at Hotel Paudimar, was located about 12 kilometers out of Foz de Iguacu (the city on the Brazilian side) we thought it would be best to do the trip from the Iguassu Falls National Park, as the overland truck would bring the whole group there on one of the days. From the falls there were buses market “Parque Nacional-Aeropuerto-Foz) leaving about every hour from the main entrance of the falls. The bus was just a local one, costing one dollar and taking 30 minutes since it was stopping along the road to pick up passengers. From the end station, which was the bus station we just had to walk accross the road and jump on one of the buses saying “Foz-Ciudad del Este”, which was leaving every ten minutes in both directions. The price was around two dollars per person where we got a ticket that could be used for a new bus on each side of the border where we got our passport stamped.
Once at the other side of the bridge it felt like we had stepped into an other World. All the streets were filled with trash, there were cars honking everywhere and people trying to sell you things everywhere. A guy at one of the corners told that he could get us special deals on cameras, so we followed him into a building, down a hallway guarded with two policemen with shotguns and and down a cellar where they sold stolen goods. The unsecure feeling we had down in that cellar stuck with us even on the street markets where we were offered opium and in the many shopping centers where people were smoking inside and people were selling all kinds of things that were either illegal (lots of fake stuff!) on the other side of the border or just much cheaper as it is a duty free zone. The prices and all the fake stuff reminded us actually a lot about China and the crazy traffic and chaotic streets about India. It is weird with borders which sometimes can feel like portals into other worlds, and the friendship bridge really is one of those. You can get some really good deals and some shopping centers are not as bad, like the one ten meters behind the Paraguayan immigration office, but the city is really shabby and there will be lots of people trying to rip you off, so weather you should bother visit the border town really depents on what you are after. Lots of Brazilians go over for some good bargains and if that is what you are looking for then maybe you should also do to. If not then I would much rather stick to Iguassu Falls which have several days worth of sights.