When I left Florianopolis, I took a 14 hour bus to Foz do Iguaçú not only to see the famous waterfalls, but also for my curiosity about the tri-country border. I had read on the internet that the Brazilian-Paraguayan border is delineated by a river which is crossed by a bridge called Ponte da Amizade. Every day, hundreds of thousands of pedestrians, cars, and trucks pass the bridge freely due to the MERCOSUR agreement. This is probably the most important spot for Brazilian trade. Anyway, I wanted to see Ciudad del Este, and the problem was that a $160 reciprocal visa fee was required for US citizens, and obviously I was not going to pay that for a day trip…
Consulting the internet, I learned that the border is barely controlled. This belief was further confirmed by my new Brazilian friend Wellen, who goes to medical school in Paraguay. I was still unsure about crossing over illegally, but with Wellen’s encouragement and offering to take me over I decided to do it.
The next morning, we got on a bus (a really crappy one I might add – you could tell which buses were from Paraguay and which were from Brazil by the way they looked) headed towards Ciudad del Este. A couple hundred meters before the bridge the traffic begins – Wellen says it is not uncommon to be in traffic for two hours to cross the narrow bridge that had one lane in each direction.
I was really nervous as we approached the border, which unfortunately Wellen noticed and said loudly a couple times “Are you nervous?”… Me: “Shh there are other passengers in here!!”
We drove past the Brazilian border quickly (I guess they do not care much about what leaves the country), were stuck in traffic for a bit on the bridge (motorcycle taxis do well here), and approached the Paraguayan border. Here, the bus stopped (Wellen gasped “why is the bus stopping!”), a border police boarded from the back (I freaked as I had no idea this was standard protocol), looked around for 5 seconds, and left. We drove on… I’m officially illegally in Paraguay!!!
Wellen took me on a twirl around Ciudad del Este. We went to a bunch of the shopping malls (there was an infinite number of them). The whole city was covered in stalls and commerce, because this is where Brazilians go to shop. It’s amazing how much things change once you cross the border. We got lunch with my friend’s sister Jennifer at a Taiwanese restaurant, and a couple hours later we headed back to Foz. I am bolder this time so we decided to go back by foot. Actually, it wasn’t even that I got bolder, it was more like I didn’t even realize that we had already crossed the border when we did…
It was a quick 10 minute walk to the Brazilian border, at which we boarded a bus as it was getting checked by the customs officer (I brushed shoulders with him… had another minor heart attack). Overall the border crossing was interesting and uneventful, and the only scares I had were self-induced.
Anyways, if you wish to do the same, the difficulty level is super easy. My advice would be to try not to look like a tourist (i.e. go with another 5 Americans or Europeans from the hostel), and don’t come back with a bunch of shopping bags (Brazilians have a $300 tax free allowance for cross border purchases). Happy crossing!