Eco­tourism in Ar­gentina

THE ECO­TOURISM COR­RI­DOR OF AR­GENTINA'S NORTH COAST BOASTS THE FAS­CI­NA­TION OF LO­CA­TIONS THAT ARE AB­SO­LUTELY UN­TAPPED

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - Sumario - TEXT & PHO­TOS BY EN­RIQUE MOLINA

The bor­der area that abuts the coun­try's fur­ther north is called El Litoral (The Lit­toral) by the Ar­gen­tineans. This is the case with the fa­mous Iguazu Falls, lo­cated on the Triple Bor­der (Ar­gentina-brazil-paraguay). The nu­mer­ous wa­ter­falls on the Ar­gen­tine side be­long to the prov­ince of Mi­siones, named af­ter the ar­chi­tec­tural re­mains of the Je­suit Mis­sions, which be­came a World Her­itage Site. The fol­low­ing prov­inces on the left are Cor­ri­entes, Chaco and For­mosa.

In all of them, there are some lit­tle­known Nat­u­ral Parks, which are a con­ti­nu­ity of the Iguazu Falls Park, be­cause in its non­stop in­ter­re­la­tion, na­ture knows no bor­ders. They all have as­pects in com­mon in terms of con­fig­u­ra­tion, while they are part of the basin of the great Paraná River and, in the same breath, they are very dif­fer­ent. Its enor­mous ap­peal paves the way for trav­el­ers keen on ad­ven­ture tourism, those who want con­tact with a very pris­tine na­ture, away from the jam-packed and crowded des­ti­na­tions. So, let's get to know the Eco­tourism Cor­ri­dor of the Ar­gen­tine North Coast.

ES­TEROS DEL IBERÁ

Thou­sands of years ago, the Paraná River ran through this vast flat re­gion, drawing huge me­an­ders. For ge­o­log­i­cal rea­sons, the wa­ter­course was re­moved, thus leav­ing thou­sands of la­goons that were wa­tered by the tor­ren­tial sub­trop­i­cal rains of the re­gion. This set up a one mil­lion-hectare wildlife re­serve, Ar­gentina's largest: an eco­log­i­cal jewel of world im­por­tance, at the level of Brazil's fa­mous Pan­tanal. Although I would dare to say a whole lot more, be­cause it is flowed by rivers loaded with agro­chem­i­cal pol­lu­tion, while the Es­teros del Iberá are ex­clu­sively made up of pure rain­wa­ter, in clear honor of its name, since Iberá means “bright wa­ter” in Guarani. Cer­tainly, the first thing that caught my at­ten­tion was the clarity of its wa­ters. You could make out the bot­tom with a va­ri­ety of col­or­ful aquatic plants and graz­ing fish.

De­spite low hu­man den­sity, those who live there de­pend on hunt­ing, fish­ing and live­stock for liveli­hood. Luck­ily enough, the gov­ern­ment has been able to strip of this preda­tory vi­sion and get a new ap­proach based on com­pat­i­bil­ity be­tween con­ser­va­tion and pro­duc­tion, with the in­valu­able help of Amer­i­can mil­lion­aire Dou­glas Tomp­kins, who through its CLT (Con­ser­va­tion Land Trust), buys ex­ten­sive prop­er­ties that are then do­nated to the State, while rein­tro­duc­ing miss­ing na­tive species on the premises. Today, there is enough aware­ness to know that eco­tourism is more prof­itable than other ne­far­i­ous and ill-fated ac­tions. For ex­am­ple, one of the most amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of my life was the horse-drawn boat ride, where a lo­cal hitches his pow­er­ful horse to the boat by ty­ing a rope to the bri­dles. The end re­sult is an un­for­get­table ride in­side the grass-car­peted sur­face. And like

this one, there are many ac­tiv­i­ties aimed at en­joy­ing na­ture with­out caus­ing any dam­age to it.

That im­pacts the meek­ness of birds and other an­i­mals, which al­low the ap­proach to be ap­pre­ci­ated and pho­tographed close at hand with­out the need for large tele­photo lenses. They no longer see hu­man be­ings as their en­e­mies, but as part of the en­vi­ron­ment, who does not kill them, who does not at­tack them. What pre­vails is the ex­pe­ri­ence of con­tact with na­ture with­out any tourist mas­si­fi­ca­tion.

BAÑADO DE LA ESTRELLA

Most of na­ture's won­ders have been form­ing over thou­sands or mil­lions of years, but this has been around for only 70 years. In the 1960s, the Pil­co­mayo River, which bears a lot of silt in sus­pen­sion, formed a dam that di­verted part of its wa­ters to the great plains of the prov­ince of For­mosa. Thou­sands of hectares were per­ma­nently flooded and life changed, cre­at­ing patches of forests in what was a semi­arid plain died. But its hard­wood trunk still sup­ports vines that arise from the wa­ter and give it a new lease on life with ghostly for­ma­tions called cham­pagnes. Mean­while, on the aquatic sur­face, caran­day palm forests have been per­fectly adapted to this wet­land, the sec­ond largest in Ar­gentina.

This site is of great or­nitho­log­i­cal im­por­tance; and just one of its at­trac­tions is sail­ing down the wa­ter­course to dis­cover at first glance a mul­ti­tude of birds.

At the mo­ment, it is a great place for trav­el­ers who like se­cluded places. Even though it has a ba­sic tourism in­fra­struc­ture, the Bañado de la Estrella was cho­sen this year as one of the Seven Ar­gen­tine Nat­u­ral Won­ders, in a con­test where more than a mil­lion peo­ple voted.

EL IM­PEN­E­TRA­BLE

In the ad­join­ing prov­ince of Chaco lies this nat­u­ral park of de­fi­ant name, due to its dense and closed plant cover, with species of thorny shrubs that grow and make it nearly im­pos­si­ble to get off the beaten track. There is also a di­ver­sity of wet­lands. With all this, the place has the fas­ci­na­tion of the un­tapped en­vi­ron­ments.

Its dif­fi­culty has led to the con­ser­va­tion of se­ri­ously-threat­ened an­i­mal species, such as the yaguareté (jaguar), the tatu car­reta (the largest ar­madillo in the world, a true relic of an­te­dilu­vian wildlife) or the anteater. The main species of trees are the que­bra­cho. As the name in­di­cates, the que­bra­cho (axe-breaker in English) is very hard wood; and the palo bor­ra­cho (drunken stick) gets this name be­cause its trunk swells heav­ily to store liq­uid.

To get to this site it is nec­es­sary to en­ter through the In­ter­pre­ta­tion Cen­ter in Mi­raflo­res, where the vis­i­tor will re­ceive all kinds of in­for­ma­tion. From there, there are 60 km of dirt roads that should be trav­eled in a four-wheel-drive ve­hi­cle. The prop­erty is perched on the nearby towns of Mi­raflo­res and Juan José Castelli. The food is ex­cel­lent and the crafts­man­ship made by the lo­cal Wichis abo­rig­i­nals is also very in­ter­est­ing.

Ac­knowl­edge­ments: Ni­colás Fresco from INPROTUR and to the Tourism Of­fices of the Cor­ri­entes, Chaco and For­mosa prov­inces.

Ex­plo­rar los humedales prop­i­cia dis­fru­tar ex­pe­ri­en­cias inigual­ables. / Ex­plor­ing wet­lands re­sults in en­joy­ing unique ex­pe­ri­ences.

Barca tirada por ca­ballo. Es­teros del Iberá A horse-hauled boat. Es­teros del Iberá

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