Flocks of giant jabiru storks with their distinctive red ringed necks glided across the waters before we came to land on a grass strip next to beautifully manicured gardens around low rise white washed buildings. This was Rincon del Socorro, my base for the next few days. This working ranch is right on the edge of the wetlands and the perfect spot from which to venture out to explore, after a fortifying afternoon tea with homemade cakes of course.
Hosted by the charming Leslie & Valeria Cook, the estancia and many hectares of land on the Esteros del Ibera were purchased by Doug Tompkins, a prominent land conservationist who is campaigning for this important bird and wildlife haven to be assigned National Park status in order to protect it. He has pledged to donate his own land purchase to the state when it becomes a National Park.
We paddled out early one morning with our guide and a local boatman who can call to all the birds. The sheer diversity of birdlife is quite overwhelming here from vivid kingfishers to southern screamers and their chicks, rheas, tanagers, seedeaters and so many more. The small islets that dot the marshes also harbour caiman and capybara (know here in Argentina as carpinchos) and there are also large mammals such as the jaguar and puma in the vicinity, although sightings are quite rare.
This is in fact Argentina’s answer to Brazil’s Pantanal with dense Atlantic rainforest to the north towards Iguazu Falls, giving it equal ecological diversity to its northern Brazilian cousin and arguably perhaps more easily accessible. What gives it the edge is the quality of the lodging here and the attention to detail by your hosts. They will ride out with you on polo ponies to explore the vast estate, perhaps spotting howler monkeys, deer and at night, even chinchillas.
They will prepare a traditional Argentina asado barbeque lunch for you after a chilly morning spent bird-watching on the lake or arrange a tour of their organic garden. They can fly you out to their private fly-fishing lodge in a remote part of the northern Ibera and their children love meeting similar aged visitors and showing them their school and stables.
When we could tear ourselves away from this luxurious lodge, we headed northwards towards Iguazu where dense forest harbours tapir, toucans and monkeys and bromeliads and thick ferns replace the sparser savannah. Iguazu Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world with 275 separate falls, depending on the water levels, ringed around the horseshoe shape of the Devil’s Throat.
The main pathways inevitably are always busy with visitors but there is a way of experiencing these Falls without quite the numbers of people. Stay a little farther away in a beautiful boutique property. You can still visit the Falls by day but have the advantage of a superb birding guide around the lodge itself.
Head to quieter pathways by jeep around the Falls for some beautiful views of the roaring waters before you join the crowds and peer over the walkway down into the spray below. Also a stop enroute to the Falls at the ruins of a once important Jesuit mission make this a wonderful journey to North-East Argentina beyond the usual short stop at Iguazu.
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