Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam Paraguay
When you think of Paraguay (which, admittedly, doesn’t happen often), you don’t necessarily think of engineering wonders of the twentieth century. But there, tucked away in the east of the country, is a marvel to rival some of the most famous constructions in the world. It is, though, as controversial as it is magnificent.
Itaipu Dam – the world’s second largest hydroelectric project. Just the name is a source of pride for the Paraguayans. The enormous construction stretches across the Parana River to Brazil and is shared by the two countries. But it’s Paraguay that gets the most from it, both economically and in patriotic satisfaction.
About 80 per cent of Paraguay’s energy supply comes from the dam. It is quite literally the country’s source of light. In a nation as poor as this one, it is seen as an accomplishment that has been unparalleled since it was opened in 1984. There are so many people here who will never visit it and will never see it, but they know that it keeps their towns and villages with constant power.
It’s a shame that they will never lay eyes on Itaipu Dam for it’s a site to behold. Even without understanding the details of the production of hydroelectricity, it is clear that it is a mighty construction. There’s a reason it’s been officially declared one of the seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World.
One of the world’s biggest hydroelectric dams
From a distant viewing platform, you can see the concrete wall spanning the space between the two countries, tall and broad, with a silent strength that holds back the force of the river.
On the bus tour that the dam runs for visitors, you get much closer, and you can really appreciate the size and the amount of work that must have gone into its construction.
As you drive along the top of its wall, you see the water just metres away on one side and, on the other, the massive drop down to the trickle that is allowed out through the sluice gates.
Itaipu Dam has come at a cost, though. And not just a monetary one. My trusty Lonely Planet guidebook puts it best when it describes the propaganda about the site.
“It omits the US$25 billion price tag (mostly from over-invoicing) and avoids mention of environmental consequences”, it reads. “The 1350-sq-km, 220m deep reservoir drowned Sete Quedas, a set of waterfalls that was more impressive than Iguazu.”
It’s hard to imagine waterfalls more impressive than Iguazu Falls. It’s sad to hear that another potential natural wonder of the world has been destroyed for man’s progress.
Progress, though, is undeniable and Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam is a wonder in itself. Until China built its Three Gorges Dam, this was the largest and most remarkable human accomplishment of its type in the world. That’s something that Paraguay has every right to be proud of.
The nitty gritty travel detailsI got the bus to Itaipu Dam from Ciudad del Este. Get on one heading to Hernandarias at the bus terminal at Avenida Adrian Jara and Mariscal JF Estigarribia. Ask the driver to let you off at Itaipu and you’ll see the entrance a couple of hundred metres down in the fork in the highway. There are about five bus tours each day (only in the morning on Sunday). The tour is free but you’ll need to show your passport for identification.