Esteros del Ibera in the north east of Argentina is a vast wetland notable for its incredible wildlife and landscape. The marshlands are home to cayman, capybaras, piranha, monkeys, snakes and thousands of different types of birds. Esteros is extremely isolated and getting there was a long and tedious journey—an overnight bus to a small town, followed by a 3-hour drive on a dirt road in a 4×4 to a tiny village called Carlos Pelegrini in the national park, which had no street lights or even proper roads.
It was made completely worth it by the expanse of nature that we had almost completely to ourselves. We were so surprised by the fact that Esteros has such a potential for tourism yet hardly anyone knows it even exists. Luckily for us this meant we saw very few other people. We stayed in a little posada (guest house) who also took us on two boat tours and a walking tour. On the boat tours we saw an abundance of birds: great egrets, great pampa-finch, storks, falcons, red-crested cardinals, southern screamers, and lots more we couldn’t identify! We also saw cayman everywhere, generally lying half in and half out of the water waiting for their lunch to find them. Capybaras were the funniest sight. They are technically the largest rodent and about the size of a Labrador. They also bark like dogs and can be quite grumpy! They graze on the marshlands or hang out sitting in the water. On the walking tour we saw a family of howler monkeys—they are blonde with black faces. When the males reach full maturity at 7-years-old they turn fully black haired.
On our last night there was a huge thunder storm and it rained heavily for about 15 hours. We were worried that the road out of the village would be flooded and we might be stuck for an extra night or two—which often does happen. Miguel, our lovely 4×4 driver, arrived to pick us up and drove us back to the nearest town (120 km away), at parts with no visibility out of the window at all due to the sheets of rain. He reassured us by saying: ‘todo bien’ (everything’s fine)! As we pulled into the bus terminal a bus saw us and asked where we were going, luckily it was heading to our next destination: Corrientes.
Picturesque Colonia del Sacramento is one of the main gateways into Uruguay from Argentina. Only 1 hour away from Buenos Aires by boat, its tranquil old town has been awarded UNESCO world heritage status. Founded by the Portugese in 1680, it was of strategic importance due it being placed on the tip of the north peninsula of the Río de la Plata. Its most famous street, Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs), has two equally interesting theories on how it got its name. One story states that prisoners who were convicted to death were led up the street to be tied up and drowned when the tide came in. Another claims that the sighs refer to the sounds of the many brothels that were allegedly located on the street.
More relaxed than nearby Buenos Aires, Uruguay’s capital Montevideo has a population of less than 1.5 million. That being said, the country’s entire population is only around 3.5 million. The city’s old town, where we were staying, is largely pedestrianised, with outdoor markets situated in front of old colonial buildings on cobbled streets. Interestingly, most of the old films set in Cuba were actually filmed in Montevideo’s old town, as they share a striking similarity, and Hollywood directors were unable to gain access due to US/Cuba relations.
Situated 30km north of Buenos Aires, Tigre is a town that lies on the Paraná Delta, consisting of several islands and covering 14,000 square kilometres. It takes its name from the tigers that were hunted there in its early years. Initially it was settled by Europeans who had come to farm the land. Later the port was developed so that fruit and wood could be transported along the Paraná river. One of the islands features a house built for the former Argentinian president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in 1855. Following his death it was declared an historic monument. It now serves as a museum and is enclosed in glass walls for protection. Although parts of the town are interesting it is sadly something of a tourist trap now, with a theme park, speedboats and jet skis ruining what could be a tranquil place.
Puerto Madero is the waterfront area of Buenos Aires. Built in 1897 to allow direct docking for cargo ships, which was not possible due to the river being shallow, it only remained properly in operation until 1911. As cargo ships got increasingly larger, the port became unable to accommodate them and an alternative port was built. Following years of degradation, it has seen a massive regeneration, now featuring bars, restaurants and hotels.
Like many other major cities, Buenos Aires has its own Chinatown. Roughly the same size as the one found in London, it predominantly consists of restaurants, supermarkets and shops selling cheap asian tat. Not exclusively populated by the Chinese, there are also businesses run by Tawainese, Japanese and Thais. Interestingly, it is where most Argentinians go to buy “exotic” food, such as fresh fish, basmati rice and noodles.