Los Esteros del Iberá
Few places in Argentina are more peaceful, or more magical, than this vast wetland reserve, which stretches over 13,000 square km (5,000 square mi)—an area almost the size of Connecticut—of Corrientes Province. "Iberá" is Guaraní (the local indigenous language) for "brilliant water," and the name couldn't be more apt. Set between Buenos Aires and Puerto Iguazú, they make a fascinating, albeit time-consuming, detour on trips to the falls.
The wetlands are made of more than 60 shallow shimmering lagunas (lagoons), separated by sandy banks and punctuated by dense floating "islands" of vegetation. Most aren't fed by rivers; instead, the water seeps into them from the underground tables of the Paraná River basin.
The esteros are home to an incredible variety of wildlife, including two species of yacaré (Argentine alligators), capybara (the world's largest rodents), long-legged marsh deer, and around 400 species of birds. Small, flat-bottomed launches take you alongside these animals and the colorful vegetation, into the heart of the Laguna Iberá, one of the biggest lagoons.
Although hunting is forbidden here, patrolling an area this size is almost impossible and some of the inhabitants, like the aguará guazú (maned wolf) and the lobito de río (neotropical otter), are close to extinction.
The tiny town of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini (population 800), on the eastern shore of Laguna Iberá, is the base for exploring the Esteros del Iberá. A handful of lodges and guesthouses are scattered about its dirt roads. Most of these places organize transfers, boat trips, hikes, and horseback riding. Many offer all-inclusive packages, an advantage as the town's few restaurants have limited offerings. Note that there's no bank in the town, and no credit card facilities, so bring ample cash supplies with you.
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