Esteros del Iberá, Argentina’s Wildlife Secret
Many travelers, when considering the best place to view wildlife in South America, immediately think of the Amazon. It is true that the Amazon basin is one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, with a high concentration of diverse species. However, one aspect of visiting the Amazon is that the animals are well camouflaged by their dense, leafy surroundings and therefore require patience and a bit of luck to spot.
There is an area of Argentina and Brazil that is less well-known than the Amazon, but arguably a better wildlife viewing region because of its relative lack of trees and dense foliage. In Brazil this region is known as the Pantanal, and it is the world’s largest alluvial flood plain, with distinct wet and dry seasons.
Across the border in Argentina is the Esteros del Iberá or the Iberá Marshlands. Iberá is a smaller region than the Pantanal, but it is very much worth a visit for anyone interested in wildlife. The Iberá is home to over 350 types of birds and other species such as anteaters, marsh deer, howler monkeys, capybara, and the two types of caiman found in Argentina.
Iberá takes some effort to reach. The tourist infrastructure here is not very developed, which one can argue is a good thing, as it helps to preserve this fragile habitat. The adventure starts when you arrive to the Corrientes province of northern Argentina. Most travelers fly into the airport in Posadas, and the transfer to Iberá can take 3-5 hours by vehicle, depending on the amount of rainfall in the previous 24 hours. I stayed at the Aguape Lodge, a surprisingly comfortable and civilized lodge located at the end of a very long, very bumpy road in the small town of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. From the Posadas airport, part of the transfer is on a paved highway, but after about 2 hours of driving one must turn off onto a dirt road. We had just arrived after a heavy rainfall, so the dirt road was thick with mud. Our driver gamely plowed into the mud with his 4X4 truck, and the car fishtailed back and forth as the tires managed to advance on the slippery surface. We carried on like this for a good 3 hours, the truck fishtailing in the mud, the skill of our driver deserving all the credit for keeping us on the road and arriving to the lodge safe and sound.
As someone who had previously struggled to peer through the treetops and get a special glimpse of animals in the Amazon, I was immediately struck by the accessibility of the animals in Iberá. With the guides from our lodge we visited a walking path built over the marshy shore of a lake. We walked a few feet and saw a nest of juvenile caiman taking in the morning sun; we walked a few more feet and saw a Masked Yellowthroat bird perched on the head of a capybara rummaging through the lily pads (pictured at right); a few more feet and we saw a marsh deer curled up in the reeds. The concentration of animals and the ease of spotting them in their natural habitat was impressive. Later in the afternoon we took a boat ride out on the lake to observe the many species of birds and caiman active in the water.
Though the transfer from the airport should not be taken lightly for anyone considering a trip to Iberá (and I would only recommend it to those who have a good sense of adventure, since the weather makes the length of the drive and road conditions unpredictable), this is one of the best locations in Argentina to view wildlife.
There are several great ways to combine a visit to Iberá with other highlights of northern Argentina, particularly Iguazu Falls. For an example, check out our Off the Beaten Path in Argentina: Iberá, Jesuit Missions and Iguazu Falls itinerary and ask us how we can incorporate a visit to Iberá into your custom itinerary to Argentina.