Paraná River

Paraná River

South American River

The Parana is the second largest river in South America after the Amazon. Adjusting for the difficulties of translation, if we take the names given by the indigenous peoples of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina to the Parana River (this is the accent on the name pronounced in Spanish and Portuguese), their meanings are very similar – generous nurse, savior, mother of the sea, river of happiness and misfortune – in short, life itself. And it is bright, varied and abundant. Along the banks of a thick wall of tropical jungle, where only palm trees, lianas and ferns in general, hundreds of species, as well as hundreds of species of orchids and other flowers. There live here about 300 species of birds and 80 species of mammals, including aquatic, more than a hundred species of reptiles and amphibians, and species of butterflies, beetles and other insects – countless species. In the waters of the river there are 355 species of fish, from small fish that feed on phyto- and zooplankton to very large. Some Dorado (35 kg), Surubi (60 kg), Manguruya (up to 100 kg), and Rays (more than 100 kg) can grow in the Parana.

The confluence of the Parana and Rio Grande Rivers in the Brazilian highlands marks the beginning of the Parana’s journey to the ocean, heading southwest. The source of the Rio Grande is on the western slopes of the Serra da Mantiqueira Mountains, 850 km away, in the Serra da Canastra Mountains, begins Paranaiba. The topography of the Paraná River bed in the upper reaches creates whirlpools, rapids and waterfalls. The first of the large waterfalls in the Parana is Urubupunga (12 m). The next famous Parana waterfall, Seti Kedas or Guaira, alas, can only be spoken about in the past tense, it was flooded during the construction of the Itaipu Reservoir in 1982. And that’s what the sacrifice in the name of energy was worth: The height of this complex of waterfalls was not much, 34 m, width – no more than 5 m, but here formed a spillway of colossal power, equal to almost three water flows of Niagara Falls – up to 13 300 m3 / s Across 160 km from the disappeared Seti-Cedas, at the place where the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina converge, is one of the most famous waterfalls in the world – Iguazu, or rather, also a complex of 275 waterfalls at the confluence of the Iguazu River into the Parana. Many rocky islands, among which there are relatively large, separate these waterfalls of varying power from each other. On approaching the rocky, horseshoe-shaped barrier, the Iguazu River flows in a full-flowing stream before plunging down to a depth of 80 meters. This place is called “Devil’s Throat.” Only about 900 m of the total width of this barrier of 2.7 km are not covered by water. In 2011, Iguazu was recognized by UNESCO as one of the natural wonders of the world.

Between the towns of Posados and Corrientes there is another, small, waterfall – Apipe. Taking Corrientes one of its most full-flowing tributaries, the Paraguay River, just below the Parana turns to the south and reaches 1.5-2 km in width, counting its arms and tributaries. Then the river quietly and leisurely carries its waters through the Laplata Lowlands, passing through the vast marshes of Iberia, passing the town of Rosario, the river turns to the southeast. Its stream splits into 11 branches with channels, the width of the delta reaches 65 km in some places. Below the town of Diamante, on the plain pampas, overgrown with grasses, between the banks of the Parana – 50 km, and after the river Uruguay flows into it, the Parana estuary is formed, a shallow bay (up to 10-20 m) Rio de la Plata, more commonly called La Plata, up to 320 km long and up to 220 km wide. In translation from Spanish, Rio de La Plata – the Silver River, but this name arose by chance, by consonance with the English River Plate “river plate”. Contrary to its name, La Plata’s waters have a distinct yellow-rust color due to the presence of iron oxide particles in the water.

In Brazil, in the Serra di Captiva mountain range (in the northeast of the country) a cave with petroglyphs at least 10 thousand years old was recently discovered. It is quite possible that people of this prehistoric period reached the Parana, but there is no exact evidence of it There is undeniable archeological evidence that Indians mastered the banks of the Parana in X-IX centuries BC. During the Portuguese colonization of the 16th century Tupi practically disappeared, mainly because of assimilation with the Portuguese and lack of immunity to diseases introduced by them, today there are only small reserves of Tupi. But another tribal group of the same people, the Guarani, has survived. The Guarani Indians are considered today the indigenous inhabitants of southern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina, and above all of the upper and middle Parana basin. Of course, in ancient times they were hunters and warriors, and did not hesitate to eat the bodies of their enemies. But they were also farmers. Working exclusively with the hoe, they grew maize, yams, peanuts, manioc, tobacco, cotton and much more. In the north of present-day Argentina lived the Mataco, Tupi, and Arawak Indians, then to the Atlantic Ocean the Teuelche and the Araucan, mingling sometimes with the Tupi Guaraní.

The first European to sail the Paraná and discover Apipe Falls in 1527 was the Italian Sebastian Cabot (Caboto), son of John Cabot, the famous explorer of Canada. The great ethnic cauldron that boiled over in this part of South America from the beginning of the 16th century so mixed up all the indigenous and nonindigenous ethnic groups that met here (Europeans and the blacks they brought as slaves), then the Creoles (descendants of Spaniards born in America) and the mestizos, that many of today’s Latin Americans living in the Parana basin find it difficult to identify their origins. Except for the immigrants from nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe and some of the smaller Native American communities. But, in a civilizational sense, Europe won. This is reflected first of all in the linguistic environment: Spanish and Portuguese are spoken here, most toponyms are also of Spanish or Portuguese origin, and cities have a Europeanized look. To a lesser extent, the European influence has touched the religious and cultural environment, although the Catholic religion is predominant, the traditional animistic beliefs of the Indians and, most precious, their crafts, style and way of life, subject to the laws of nature, including those of the Parana River, are also preserved. Enlightened natives of Europe treat this way of life with great respect and follow it themselves.

Along with the humanitarian civilization, the most valuable thing that Europeans have brought to this region is technological progress. One of its latest achievements is the 14 GW Itaipu hydroelectric power plant, which provides power to Paraguay and Brazil. It is the third largest hydroelectric power plant in the world and in 2010 it generated 92,465 million kilowatt hours. During its construction in 1975-1992 the Mumba Cuerra Program protected a large area of Paraguayan forests, with 17 million trees planted along the banks of the reservoir. About 300 monuments were removed from the flooded area before the reservoir was filled. Today, the city of Foz do Iguaçu (which means “Iguaçu Falls” in Portuguese) receives large sums of money for the development of municipal economy, environmental and social programs due to the reduction in the cost of electricity. A whole cascade of hydroelectric power plants operates in Paraná, and the power industry plans to have about 30 of them in all.

General Information

  • The second longest and most important river (after the Amazon) in South America in the Atlantic Ocean basin.
  • Countries associated with Parana: Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay (comes ashore at La Plata Bay).
  • Origin: confluence of Paranaiba and Rio Grande Rivers.
  • Mouth: Bay of La Plata, Atlantic Ocean.
  • Left tributaries: Tiete, Peixi, Paranapanema, Iwai, Piquiri, Iguazu, Corrientes, Gualeguay, Uruguay.
  • Right tributaries: Paraguay, San Javier, Rio Salado, Chocancharawa, Aguapoi.
  • Feeding: mainly rainwater.
  • Major reservoir: Itaypu.
  • Major cities standing on the Paraná: Brazil – São José do Rio Preto; Argentina – Posadas, Corrientes, Santa Fe, Paraná, Rosario.
  • Major cities in La Plata Bay: Buenos Aires (capital of Argentina), Montevideo (capital of Uruguay).
  • The most important ports are Santa Fe, Rosario, San Nicolas, and Buenos Aires.
  • Length: 4,380 km.
  • Maximum width: 50 km.
  • Average depth: 12 m.
  • Maximum depth: 48 m.
  • Basin area: 2,582,672 km2.
  • Average annual water flow: 17,500 m3/s, can range from 6,000 to 30,000 m3/s.
  • Annual flow to the ocean: 480 km3 together with the Uruguay River – about 650 km3.


  • Hydropower. The largest hydropower plants are Itaipu, Jupia, Ilha-Solteira, Yacyreta.
  • Agriculture: cultivation of mate tea, citrus fruits, tobacco, sugar cane, rice, and a small amount of coffee.
  • Industry in large cities.
  • Gathering: frankincense (aromatic wood resin obtained from trees of genus Boswellia).
  • Fishing.
  • Shipping: transportation of industrial products, agricultural and petroleum products.
  • Services: tourism.

Climate and weather

  • Humid subequatorial in the north, humid tropical in the middle reaches, combined with subtropical in the lower reaches.
  • Average annual temperature in the subequatorial and tropical zone: about +20°C.
  • In the lower reaches of the Parana, the average January temperature is +24°C, while the average July temperature is +9.5°C.
  • Average annual precipitation: 1400 to 1800 mm in the upper and middle reaches, up to 1146 mm in the lower reaches.


  • Waterfalls: Urubupunga, Iguazu, Apipe;
  • Iberá marshes: South America’s second largest marshland (1,400 hectares), a network of marshes, marshes, lakes and rainforests formed by the Parana, with abundant wildlife.
  • National Parks: Serra da Canastra (Brazil), Iguazu Falls (joint Brazilian-Argentine Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site), Chaco (Argentina).
  • Ruins of the Jesuit mission of São Miguel das Missões in the province of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Eicarnación (Paraguay): 28 km from the city, 17th-century Jesuit missions of La Santissima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesús de Travangué, UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Corrientes (Argentina): 19th-century colonial architecture, San Francisco church and monastery (19th century), Church of Our Lady of Mercy (1856), Museum of Traditional Crafts.
  • Rosario (Argentina): Palace of the Lions, La Bola de Nieve historic building, Rosario Cathedral, Monument to the National Flag, Monument to those killed in the Malvinas War, Dr. Julio Mark Provincial Historical Museum, Invention Island, Independence Park.
  • Buenos Aires: La Boca Old District, San Telmo Historic District. Cabildo Town Hall (1754), El Pilar (1732) and San Ignacio (1734) churches. Plaza de Mayo Square (the largest commercial district in the world), the Avenida de Mayo (1889), the Avenida 9 July (1930) and the Avenida General Paz (1937-1941), the Colón Theater (1909).

Fun Facts

  • Three of the largest waterfalls on the planet are on the borders between the states, Niagara is between the United States and Canada. Victoria is between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and Iguazu is between Brazil and Argentina, with the Paraguayan border nearby as well.
  • According to Guarani legends, the Iguazu Falls were created by a river god in a fit of rage, and he himself dwells in the “Devil’s Throat.
  • It has been calculated that the 13,300 cubic meters of water that Seti Quedas (Guaira) waterfall rained down every second could fill a large building like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London completely in 0.6 seconds.
  • The poisonous, sharp spines and needles of the river stingrays were used as spearheads for hunting by the Paraná Indians.
  • At the beginning of the 18th century, the population of Buenos Aires was five times smaller than that of the Jesuit missions.
  • The length of the concrete dam of the Itaipú hydroelectric power plant is almost 8 km, 196 m high (this is the approximate height of a 75-story skyscraper) and 400 m wide. In order to erect this dam, it was necessary to divert the river for two kilometers through a 150-meter channel.
Scroll to Top