Our base for visiting the area, Ciudad del Este founded in 1957 – when the bridge to Brazil was built – is the second largest city in Paraguay with a population of over 300,000. What’s amazing is the fact that Forbes lists it as the third largest commercial city in the world between 1990 and 2002.
That’s partly because of the proximity of the Itaipu Dam, but also due to smuggling which is estimated as five times the size of the Paraguayan economy. And every day thousands of Brazilians use the Friendship Bridge to come shopping; spending $1bn+ per annum on cheaper goods.
The city is a melting pot with large populations of Taiwanese, Iranians, Koreans and Lebanese. Street stalls occupy every square inch of space selling all sorts of things under the sun. Ten minutes of walking in this town and we are exhausted by the noise, fumes and visual assault on our senses. Hilary termed it ‘a s*** hole’.