Things to do in Esteros del Iberá

Things to do in Esteros del Iberá

Nomadic Boys

“Stefan, oh my GOD look at this one, he’s so big. And this one’s staring right at me, look at those teeth…and that one over behind you…and another one over there…yikes, they’re everywhere – hundreds of them!”

Caimans!

We were like two school children in a playground as our boat cruised through the Iberá wetlands on a late August afternoon. This was the hour the caimans were out basking in the sun as our boat waded through. Just behind us, a family of capybara rodents were going about their daily rituals as our boat delved deeper through the high grass of the Iberá wetlands.

Esteros del Iberá

The Esteros del Iberá is one of the hidden secrets of Argentina. It covers over 5,200 square miles (13,700 square kilometres) and comprises a biologically diverse wilderness of still water lakes, marshland, lagoons and islands. It is also one of the most important fresh water reservoirs in the continent and the second largest wetland in the world after the Pantanal in Brazil.

These magnificent wetlands are nonetheless far less talked about or even visited than nearby Iguazu Falls, or the treks across Patagonia in the south of the country. Yet it’s worth a visit simply to get right up close to the abundant wildlife that resides in these waters.

Esteros means marshland in Spanish and “Y Berá” means “bright waters” in the indigenous Guaraní dialect, which is also one of the official languages of nearby Paraguay. They are located in the province of Corrientes in Northeast Argentina, a region famous for producing the country’s yerba maté herb.

Photo: Nomadic Boys

Photo: Nomadic Boys

Where to stay

We stayed at the very luxurious Puerto Valle, located on the banks of the Paraná River, which was originally an Argentinian estancia (cattle ranch) from the 1860s. This is the place to come to really spoil yourself. Your stay includes full board gourmet meals, a private guide and all sorts of activities, such as horse riding, fishing, jungle walks and kayaking. Exploring the marshlands was one of our highlights from travelling in Argentina, a memory that we will cherish forever.

A romantic boat ride through Esteros del Iberá

“Chicos, don’t put your hands in the waters or you could lose a few fingers!”

This was our private guide, Ezequiel’s initial warning to us as we boarded the boat. Of course, neither of us ever intended to put our hands anywhere near these caiman-infested waters! The basking caimans that startled Sebastien earlier were just a few metres from each side of our boat. They were looking at us, lifeless, some with their mouths wide open, teeth exposed, as if they were about to pounce. We were slightly taken aback. What if they tried to leap into the boat and attack us?

Sensing our fear, Ezequiel reassured us:

“Tranquilo chicos, tranquilo! Caimans don’t care for humans. Their main diet is fish and rodents. They only attack us to defend themselves if they feel threatened”.

Ezequiel’s words did put us to ease a bit, but we remained cautious as we stared out at all those scary looking reptiles eyeing us as we passed them by. We tried to focus on the horizon beyond to calm our nerves: you could spot the occasional capybara (the world’s largest rodent) scurrying around, along with deer, armadillos and many species of birds like hummingbirds, kingfishers, parrots and the elegant stork-like jabirus.

Photo: Nomadic Boys

Photo: Nomadic Boys

After around 30 minutes cruising through the high grasslands of Esteros del Iberá, we reached a large lagoon. We rode to the middle where a wooden dock is located and got off. It was a sturdy, well-made structure, beautifully decorated with lots of bird poo.

The sun was about to set. Ezequiel cleaned a spot for us then unpacked a picnic basket of snacks including the local chipa cassava cheese bread and the ubiquitous maté. Maté is the popular tea that every Argentinian swears by. It’s made by steeping the leaves and stems of the yerba maté plant. It’s got a bitter taste, not ideal if you have a sweet tooth like Stefan, but Sebastien took to it like a pro.

There was absolutely nobody around us at all. It was just us, our guide, the sunset and the wetlands. Everything stood still, and we never felt so well connected to nature. It was completely silent. All we could hear was the chorus of frogs and cicadas as the sun slowly bowed out. This was a moment we’d never forget.

As soon as the sun dropped below the horizon, Ezequiel was quick to pack away and get us back on the boat. It gets dark here very quickly after sunset, and he was anxious to return while there was enough light to identify the way out of the Iberá lagoon to take us home. We spotted the turning we needed in time so were able to drift back home less frantically and enjoy the final moments in our boat, watching the dusky purple sky light up with millions of tiny silver stars. This time, when we passed the caimans, we felt at ease, despite the darkness. There was nothing to fear. Nature had completely captivated us that day.

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