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Mariscal Estigarribia

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Dec 15, 2021

Mariscal Estigarribia is a town in Boquerón department in western Paraguay that due to its remote location in the middle of the desert-like Chaco region has a kind of faraway atmosphere.

At 520 km (323 mi) northwest from Asunción on the Transchaco Highway this is the farthest place from the capital with tourist services for those travelling on the Transchaco, so you must stop here to stock up of suplies before going any further into the wilderness of the Chaco. It is also a mandatory stop if you plan to continue to Bolivia, 231 km (144 mi) following the Transchaco to the west, or Salta Province in northern Argentina, taking the Picada 500 route 223 km (139 mi) to the southwest, because the Paraguayan customs and immigration office is here, so you will have to go through them and get your passport stamped in order to leave the country.

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The Transchaco passing through Mariscal Estigarribia

Mariscal Estigarribia (or simply Mariscal) is mostly used by travellers as the starting point for touring the attractions of the central and northern Chaco. There are at least three national parks in the region, as well as a number of private nature reserves, some welcoming indigenous communities, and several historical sites from the Chaco War. All are accessible from Mariscal, however it is recommended to venture into the Chaco only with a guided tour which can last from one to two/three days.

Founded as Fortín Camacho, it was founded in the 1920s as a military outpost of Bolivia. It was then taken by the Paraguayans during the bloody Paraguay-Bolivia Chaco War of 1932-35 and renamed in 1933 as Fortín López de Filipis.

When the war ended and a peace agreement was signed in 1938, it was converted into a permanent military detachment and was renamed again in 1944 to Mariscal Estigarribia after José Félix Estigarribia who was the general that successfully commanded the Paraguayan army during the conflict. General Estigarribia had been declared a national hero of Paraguay and promoted to the rank of marshal after his tragic death in a plane crash in 1941.

In the following years a large military base was established by the Paraguayan government to prevent another conflict from erupting with Bolivia. The arrival of the soldiers with their families laid out the groundwork for the birth of Mariscal as a town.

In the 1980s, during the Cold War, a giant military airport, one of the largest in South America, was built presumably with support of the United States to use it as an airbase that would allow a quick deployment of troops, just in case the need arose, in an unpopulated spot in the center of the South American continent, but it has never been used.

Immigrations sign

Mariscal is, unlike the other towns of the central Chaco, not a Mennonite colony where industries prevail over small businesses, so the local economy is more of the kind of a frontier town with services that cater mostly to military personnel who live in the base, truck drivers of the Transchaco transporting goods to/from Bolivia, farmers and ranchers coming to town to stock up of suplies, and travellers on the go that use Mariscal as a base to explore other places in more remote areas of the Chaco. It has a population of about 2,500 residents, however, add up a large military garrison and an important indigenous community in the vicinity and there are some 16,000 inhabitants in the area.

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