March 26, 2020
Argentina is a fantastic place to go wild.
No, I’m not talking about dancing at the boliches (night clubs) until dawn. Nor do I mean getting blasted on Fernet (a bitter herbal liquor) and soda at a neighborhood asado (barbecue).
What I’m talking about is exploring the extensive Argentina wildlife lands and natural habitat.
Stretching about 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) from north to south, Argentina has a variety of ecosystems ranging from desert and jungle in the north to windswept Patagonian plains and cold-water coastline in the south.
In this expanse covering almost 3 million square kilometers, you can encounter 985 species of birds, 345 of mammals, 248 of reptiles, 145 of amphibians, as well as multitudes of fish, insects and other fauna.
Argentina has 46 nationally protected areas which include national parks and reserves. Add on to that even more provincial parks and private reserves. Some are near human populations. Others are further afield and you will need to go on an arranged tour, but that will be worth the extra cost.
If your goal is to see lots of wildlife as well as breathtaking natural landscapes, the best places to go to are the Northeastern provinces and the Atlantic coast of Patagonia.
Oh, the variety of wildlife you will see!
In the northern jungles are jaguars, maned wolves, coati, and toucans.
In contrast, along the Southern Atlantic coast, you'll encounter rhea, penguins, elephant seals and whales. Come, get your hiking boots on and your camera ready as we explore the breadth of Argentina wildlife!
And yes – you can get there by bus!
The northeastern corner of Argentina includes the provinces of Formosa, Chaco, Missiones, Corrientes and Entre Ríos. They border Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay. This region is also called Mesopotamia, alluding to the two mighty rivers cut through this landscape, not the Tigris and Euphrates, but in Argentina, the Paraná and the Uruguay. These rivers work in concert to create several vast hot and humid wetlands, which makes for an abundant natural habitat for Argentina's wildlife.
The best times for wildlife viewing in the Gran Chaco (Formosa and Chaco provinces) are fall and early winter (March-June), as the summers are so hot (up to 50ºC / 122ºF) that even the animals take cover! Another good time is the austral spring (October-November), as its ecosystems are called the Dry Chaco mostly in the thickly forested Chaco Province. Yes, if there's a Dry Chaco, then you would guess correctly there is also a Wet Chaco, which is in the neighboring Formosa Province, which includes two major nature reserves: Bañado de La Estrella and Parque Nacional Río Pilcomayo.
The most northeastern provinces of Misiones, Corrientes and Entre Ríos have a tropical climate year-round. Any time is a good time to come, but do expect it to be warmer in summer. The ecosystems in this region are the Paranaense and Yungas forests, but they are more like jungles than forests. Among the region's protected areas are the world-renowned Iguazu; Falls, as well as Esteros del Iberá and Parque Nacional Pre-Delta.
In terms of Argentina wildlife, northeastern Argentina will not disappoint you! The world’s largest roedor (the capybara) is there, as is the country’s largest amphibian (the cucurú toad). Let's not forget the largest South American deer (the pampas deer), the largest canid (the maned wolf), and the largest feline (the jaguar). While not the largest, northeastern Argentina also boasts the continent's loudest animal (the black howler monkey).
These are just a handful of the national and provincial parks and reserves in the northeastern region.
In the northeast corner of Formosa Province, on the border with Paraguay, is this gem of a national park. Comprised of 51,889 hectares (128,220 acres) of Humid Chaco forest in the Río Pilcomayo river basin, it has a bit of everything for you.
Three estuaries wend through the park, where vast fields of water lilies provide a home for caimans, waterfowl, and fish (including piranha)! In the surrounding forests and savannahs, you’ll find black howler monkeys, who will snatch your food if you're camping near them. The park is also the territory of giant anteaters and five types of wild cats.
In all, this national park has registered 324 bird species (25% of which are waterfowl), 85 species of mammal, 42 of reptiles and over 30 of amphibians. There are hiking trails, boardwalks, and lookout towers to allow you to enjoy it all. The most easily accessible sector is Laguna Blanca.
Closest town: Laguna Blanca (20 km south)
How to get there: Local bus.
Wildlife to see: Black howler and other monkeys, jaguar, tapir, capybara, crab-eating fox, caiman; cormorants, toucans, storks.
Best season: All year, though austral spring and fall are best; summer (December-February) is the rainy season.
Website: Parque Nacional Rio Pilcomayo
Lodging: Small hotels (Laguna Blanca town), camping (in the national park).
For the more adventurous, another reserve to see Argentina wildlife is the Bañado de La Estrella (translated literally, "the soaked (or dipped) star"). This is not a formal reserve nor a protected area, and more just a locally designated area of the Formosa Province. During the rainy season, this humedal formed by the Río Pilcomayo can extend over 1 million acres, making it the third-largest wetlands in southern South America.
Several small Pilagá indigenous villages are entry points into the Bañado. One such village is El Vertedero (45 kilometers north of Las Lomitas) and is best for birdwatching. The other good entry village is Fortín Soledad (70 kilometers northwest of Las Lomitas), where you can explore the wetlands in a canoe and visit Pilagá communities. The entire Bañado is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Sunsets and sunrises in Bañado de la Estrella are stunning.
Closest town: Las Lomitas (45 km south)
How to get there: Arrange a tour.
Wildlife to see: Giant anteaters, capybara, maned wolf, jaguar, caiman, anaconda; plus over 100 species of bird, including jabiru, black-faced ibis and roseate spoonbill.
Best season: April-October
Website: Banado de la Estrella
Lodging: Basic hotels and camping in Las Lomitas
Missiones Province is compared to a finger pointing to the nexus where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. At the tip of the finger lays Iguazu, one of the planet's most famous national parks.
Still, this vast reserve (measuring 67,620 hectare / 167,093 acres) is much more than the well-known thundering waterfalls. As you’re walking the trails from one part of the falls to another, you have the chance to spot the park’s numerous reptile species, 80 types of mammals, more than 430 bird species, and over 500 species of butterfly! There are macaws, parrots, toucans and hummingbirds, black and white tegu lizards and caimans, and several species of large cats.
The park has six hiking trails. The 1.1-kilometer boardwalk out to the Garganta del Diablo (the top of Iguazú Falls) gives sight to numerous bird and reptile species, including caiman lurking in the waters. The Circuito Inferior (1.4 kilometers) and Paseo Superior (1.9 kilometers) are trails that lead to different viewpoints of the cascades. Be sure to hike the less-visited Macuco Trail to get away from the crowds and closer to wildlife.
Beware that mischievous coatis hang out where the tourists are!
Closest town: Puerto Iguazú (18 km north)
How to get there: Local bus.
Wildlife to see: Coati, caiman, black capuchin monkeys, toucan, macaw
Best season: All year long
Website: Parque Nacional Iguazu
Lodging: Hostels to five-star hotels, and camping (Puerto Iguazú), luxury hotel (national park)
Esteros del Iberá, the second-largest wetlands in southern South America, began its life as a provincial reserve. With the donation of a large expanse of land, it is now in the process of becoming one of Argentina’s newest national parks: Parque Nacional Iberá.
The main access point to Iberá is Colonia Carlos Pellegrini where you will find the main ranger station and several hiking trails, as well as boat tours into the waterways that you can get arranged.
A variety of wildlife may be seen and at a pretty close range. These include howler monkeys, capybara, and caimans.
Floating through the estuaries will give you the opportunity to see marsh deer, caiman, and many waterfowl that live on the islands. In total, Esteros del Iberá has over 40 species of amphibians (including the cucurú toad), 53 reptiles, and numerous mammals, including pampas deer, maned wolf, and black howler monkey. Birdwatchers, bring your binoculars. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded! Sunsets and sunrises here are magical.
Closest town: Mercedes (Corrientes Province) (120 km southwest)
How to get there: Local bus
Wildlife to see: Capybara, marsh deer, black howler monkey, caiman (two species); birds include jabirú and wattled jacana.
Best season: Year-round, though June-September is more pleasant; October for prime birdwatching.
Website: Parque Nacional Ibera
Lodging: The full gamut, from ecolodges to small hotels (Colonia Pellegrini and various estancias); also camping (Colonia Pellegrini)
Before you see the "wild-life" (pun) in cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, make a stop at Parque Nacional Pre-Delta in western Entre Ríos Province for some true Argentina wildlife.
As the name implies, this 2,608-hectare (6,444-acre) park preserves the natural habitat of the islands in the pre-delta region of the Río Parana; before the river fans into the broad Río de la Plata upon which shores up against Buenos Aires.
In the Pre-Delta, the Chaco and Paranense ecosystems meet, giving you a taste of each one’s wildlife, especially birds. The entry at La Jaula has the best opportunities for wildlife seekers: boat tours, camping and hiking trails.
Closest town: Diamante (4.5 km north of La Jaula entry)
How to get there: Taxi or remis (collective taxi).
Wildlife to see: Abundant birdlife, including tanagers, ducks, storks, and herons; caiman, capybara, nutria, Geoffrey’s cat
Best season: Austral spring (October-November) and fall (March-May); can be quite cold in winter
Website: Parque Nacional Pre-Delta
Lodging: Hotels (Diamante), camping (La Jaula entry to the national park)
Three of Argentina’s four Patagonian provinces stretch from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean, and these are Río Negro, Chubut, and Santa Cruz. The fourth province is Neuquén, which lies entirely in the Andes.
Nature preserves on the Andean side are full of breathtaking landscapes with wildlife, but if you really want to see a wide variety of fauna, both land, and marine, then travel down the Atlantic coast on Ruta 3.
On the wind-swept Patagonian plains, you’ll see a whole menagerie of mammals and birds, including guanacos, maras (similar to hares), deer, rheas (an ostrich relative), and flamingos. In the frigid sea are whales, elephant seals, fur seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, cormorants, petrels and much more.
The best seasons to come are Spring through Fall (September to May). Be forewarned, though: Patagonia is a super popular destination for Argentinians during summer, and winters are absolutely frigid, though mostly dry.
The entire southern Atlantic Coast is strung with national parks and reserves, too numerous to detail here. If time and money are not of concern, then definitely check out the extensive Parque Interjurisdiccional Marino Costero Patagonia Austral between Camarones and Comodoro Rivadavia. Camarones and Bahía Bustamante are the main access points.
Now for some of my favorite nature reserves along Argentina’s South Atlantic Coast. If you really want to connect with nature, you can camp! You’ll be guaranteed mind-blowing walks on the wild side!
Las Grutas is a quaint, Mediterranean-style village in northern Río Negro Province. Along with San Antonio del Oeste, it is part of the Área Natural Protegida Provincial Bahía de San Antonio.
From the cliffs below the village fly flocks of colorful burrowing parrots. In the Spring and Fall, you will see migrating whales and dolphins. In Summer, sea lions loll on the long beaches.
Hike along the strands to fantastic, deserted areas like Piedras Coloradas (4 kilometers south), El Buque (7 kilometers south), El Sótano (12 kilometers) and Cañadón de las Ostras (2 kilometers beyond El Sótano). Excursions into the hinterlands take you to the Salinas de Gualicho salt flats and the fabled Fuerte Argentino.
The waters along this coast are the warmest you’ll find in Argentina and are great for snorkeling to discover the underwater fauna. Wait until low tide when pools (restingas) form in the rock bed, and soak in the warmish waters (18-22ºC / 64-72ºF in summer).
Unless you wish to study the wild life of "Homo sapiens turensis argentinensis" (a.k.a. tourists) on summer vacation, when up to a million per month arrive, it is best to avoid the high season.
Closest town: Las Grutas
How to get there: Bus
Wildlife to see: Burrowing parrots, migratory shorebirds; sea lions (year-round), whales (August-October), dolphins (year-round, peak: September-November)
Best season: Spring or Fall (super crowded in summer; super cold in winter with few services)
Website: Las Grutas Turismo
Lodging: Hotels, hostels, apartments, camping
The main reason people come to Puerto Madryn in Chubut Province is to see the Southern Right Whales. Because of Golfo Nuevo’s calm waters, mother whales come here to birth and nurse their young.
In Puerto Madryn itself, you can witness this touching act of nature at Playa El Doradillo.
Most folks, though, take a boat tour into the bay, which departs from Puerto Pirámides on the peninsula.
Península Valdés, a World Heritage Site, holds many other wildlife sighting opportunities than just whales. As your tour cuts across the steppes, you’ll see grey fox, guanaco, Patagonian mara, puma, rhea and prairie birds.
The coast is home to rookeries of Magellanic penguins, elephant seals, and sea lions; as well as nesting colonies of gulls, cormorants, ducks, herons, and oystercatchers.
Off-shore swim migrating orcas, whales, and dolphins. Tours onto the peninsula visit various sites: Punta Delgada, Punta Cántor, Caleta Valdés and perhaps Punta Norte.
Closest town: Puerto Madryn (94 km from Puerto Pirámides)
How to get there: Local bus (Puerto Pirámides), tour (Península Valdés)
Wildlife to see: Southern Right whales (June-December), land mammals (July-October), elephant seals (August-November), coastal birds (September-January), Magellanic Penguins (November-February), sea lions (December-March), orca (February-April)
Best season: June-February
Website: Peninsula Valdes UNESCO
Lodging: Full gamut of lodging options, from camping and hostels to five-star hostels (Puerto Madryn); hotels, camping (Puerto Pirámides); estancias (Península Valdés)
Want to visit the largest Magellanic Penguin colony outside of Antarctica? Then go out to Punta Tombo in Chubut Province, which is within the Welsh heartland of Argentina’s Patagonia. In fact, it is said the word “penguin” comes from the Welsh pen gwyn, meaning “white head.”
In Punta Tombo, you can walk amongst the penguins, but please, no touching! The males arrive in September, to prepare the nests for their mates’ arrivals the following month. In November, the chicks hatch. The penguin families stick around for a few more months before heading back to sea.
Closest town: Trelew and Rawson (110 km north)
How to get there: Tour from Trelew or Rawson (even though tours are also offered from Puerto Madryn – 160 kilometers / 100 miles north – it makes for a very long day)
Wildlife to see: Magellanic penguins
Best season: September-mid-March; chicks hatch in November
Lodging: Hotels, hostels (Trelew, Rawson), camping (Playa Unión, 5 km from Rawson); there are no lodging options at Punta Tombo
Puerto Deseado and its Reserva Natural Ría Deseado are hidden treasures in Argentina’s Santa Cruz Province. This geological quirk on the South Atlantic provides habitat to the greatest biodiversity along this coast.
Over 40 kilometers of waterways covering 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) await your exploration.
Ría Deseado is an important nesting and resting ground for dozens of migratory marine birds.
Walking along the coastal road into the reserve, you arrive at La Olla, Caleta Zar, La Trampa, La Mina and Cuevas de Picinini where crested duck, Magellan Goose, Crested Tinamou, flamingos, Patagonian mara, and guanaco can be observed.
On a tour, you can get to a variety of islands, each with its resident wildlife: Chaffer has the Magellanic penguins, Barranca de Los Cormoranes has the cormorants and shags, and Larga has sea lions and various marine birds. Quinta and Quiroga both boast Magellanic penguins, gulls, shags, and Isla de Los Pájaros has Magellanic penguins, oystercatchers, and cormorants.
At the inland end of the reserve is Miradores de Darwin, a natural phenomenon of giant, water-polished rocks strewn across a barren landscape that astounded naturalist Charles Darwin.
Another great adventure is to go to Parque Interjurisdiccional Marino Isla Pingüino, lying offshore, which is home to South America’s largest colony of Rockhopper Penguin. Puerto Deseado’s and the Ría’s waters are also home to sea lions, fur seals, several types of dolphins and Southern Right whales.
Closest town: Puerto Deseado
How to get there: Bus; walking to reserve or tours (boating, kayaking, horseback riding) to the farthest reaches.
Wildlife to see: Cormorants (five species), Magellanic and Rockhopper penguins, dolphins, whales (late winter-early spring)
Best season: September-April
Lodging: Hotels, cabañas, camping (Puerto Deseado); on the road into the reserve are Camping Vial Cañadón Giménez and Camping Paraguayito; no wild camping allowed in the reserve
Lorraine Caputo is a travel writer, poet, and translator. She has authored ten guidebooks for South America. Her literary works appear in over 150 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa; 18 anthologies and eleven chapbooks – including the collections of travel poetry, Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and Notes from the Patagonia (dancing girl press, 2017). For more than a decade, she has been traveling through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. Follow her travels at her Facebook page.
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