The Esteros del Iberá is one of the most important fresh water reservoirs in the continent and the second-largest wetland in the world after Pantanal in Brazil. It guards both great biodiversity and a rich cultural heritage. The region is a combination of different landscapes: in the lowest areas, the rain deposits its water in the wetlands and ponds that gave it its name; while the higher areas are characterized by small remnants of Paranaense jungles, palmar groves and never-ending grasslands briefly interrupted by small bundles of trees.
The Iberá Wetlands are home to more than 4.000 animal and plant species. It is an excellent location for bird watching, and visitors have the possibility of observing a wide array of native species - there are over 350 bird species in the Esteros.
There are plenty of hotel options for guests to base themselves in and explore the wetlands, but there are some things to take into account when designing a trip, mainly questions to do with access - whether to us the overnight bus to Mercedes, or a commercial flight to Posadas, or a private small plane flight from Iguazu or Posadas straight into the heart of the wetlands. All three options have their pros and cons, it is just about matching the right one to the right guest.
There are four different areas that guests can stay in and that we will go through each one by one.
1. Hotel Puerto Valle at the northern end of the Esteros, 40 minutes from Posadas, where there is an airport, and just 4 hours drive from Iguazu.
2. The ramshackle village of Carlos Pellegrini where there are various mid range and budget properties, notably Aguapé Lodge and the Posada de la Laguna, both of which have direct access to the main lagoon, the Laguna Iberá. CP is 3-6 hours from Posadas (the time depends on rain and the state of the road) and 2 hours from Mercedes.
3. Some 45 minutes south of Carlos Pellegrini, we find Rincon del Socorro, an old cattle farm turned ecological reserve and beautiful hotel, that also serves as the CLT headquarters, and Posada Uguay, a family-oriented alternative, with warm, personalized service.
4. The remote San Alonso Lodge an exclusive lodge set on an island with the same name in the west of the Esteros. The natural, pristine environment that surrounds it offers an extremely high possibility of sightings including the reinserted fauna. Accessible only by air or water.
Rincon, Uguay and San Alonso all form part of the Conservation Land Trust's group of properties. CLT is a remarkable & vital project started by Doug & Kristine Tompkins that has undertaken one of the most ambitious and successful rewilding projects on the planet. The Esteros has gained National Park status thanks to CLT, and many indigenous species live on in the Esteros only due to the incredible work done by the trust. Staying at their properties is a wonderful way to help the CLT as all profits are ploughed back into the project and directly help the fauna and their ecosystem.
Puerto Valle is the only five star luxury lodge in the Iberá Wetlands, an authentic Argentine estancia built in 1868 on the Paraná River bank, an exceptional location with amazing views north towards Paraguay.
Just two hours away from Buenos Aires by plane, Puerto Valle is the ideal destination to combine with a trip to the Iguazu Falls, and it is easy to stop over at the San Ignacio Jesuit Ruins, which are conveniently located 1.5 hour drive from the hotel en route to Iguazu. Puerto Valle includes transfers to and from Posadas airport (PSS) and for an extra cost can take guests all the way to Iguazu (with free stopover at the Jesuit ruins).
The hotel is divided into two - in the main house there is a two-story apartment that is ideal for a family: on the ground floor, it has a master room with a king-size bed, a small living-room and a large bathroom, and on the first floor, there is a large living-room that can accommodate two beds and a cradle. There is a terrace on the ground floor and a balcony on the first floor, both with great views of the Parana River. There are a further four rooms in the old house, all decorated with adobe walls, tall ceilings and ample spaces starting at 35 m2, each with a king-size bed and a small living area that can accommodate an extra bed. Each room has an outdoor terrace.
Then, closer to the river, in four units of two rooms each, there are eight huge (60m2) new deluxe rooms all with a modern layout and broad windows, with exclusive views of the Paraná River, a private terrace and outdoor shower. They each have a large bathroom and dressing room. Rooms are equipped with a king-size bed, and can include an additional bed.
The hotel is surrounded by more than 14 hectares of park, landscaped by prestigious firm Carlos Thays. Excursions include a boat trip on the Paraná River, exploring the the waterways that reach into the Paranaense Forest. This is not part of the Esteros but is still an excellent trip - the forest is home to more than fifty tree species, resulting in an ecosystem that is the ideal setting to see a vast variety of bird species.
Then a highlight is the excursion to the Laguna Valle, this is in the Iberá Wetlands. After a short 4x4 trip through the estancia's private forests (not endemic, these are pine and eucalyptus forests planted for logging), the excursion departs aboard a small boat from a cute wooden pier, navigating the attractive waterways through the tall grass and out towards the Laguna Valle. There are plenty of opportunities to watch caiman, capybara, marsh deer and innumerable bird species. Wine and snacks will be served as the sun goes down. The third main activity is also into the Wetlands, overland in 4x4 vehicles towards Cambyretá Portal, where there is ample opportunity to hikes and see the typical fauna and flora of the northern Iberá: birds, capybara, marsh deer, caiman, fox, and armadillo. Cambyretá Portal is the northern entryway to Iberá National Park, crisscrossed by marshlands, pastures and rain forests. Horse riding, biking, kayaking and riverside trail hikes complete the activity menu at Puerto Valle.
Pros: A wonderful hotel, in terms of hotel infrastructure and service, clearly the most "high end" hotel in the Esteros and at H&T we really enjoyed our recent stay there; excellent excursions with lots of bird species, caimans, howler monkeys and capybara seen; good food in the hotel restaurant. Very easy access, no dirt roads and daily commercial flights to nearby Posadas. Rooms with air con... important for many guests as even outside of the peak summer season it can get into the high 30s.
Cons: Not as "in the thick of it" as Rincon or San Alonso - and whilst the wildlife spotting is good, the fauna is more abundant at Rincon. The estancia's many other activites - including the planting of thousands and thousands of trees for logging, and the caiman breeding programme - mean that Puerto Valle, although ecologically minded, doesn't have the same sustainable and conservation credentials as the CLT properties do.
Colonia Carlos Pellegrini is a small town of around a thousand inhabitants. Access is via a commercial flight to Posadas, which if dry is a 3 hour drive north, but if it has been raining this drive can take much longer as the firm sand turns to slippery sludge! The other way to arrive is via an overnight bus to Mercedes, some 10-12 hours by bus from Buenos Aires, followed by a two hour transfer to the town, half of which is paved and half is pot-holed and bumpy.
Posada Aguapé, Posada de la Laguna and Irupé are the three main hotel options in Carlos Pellegrini.
H&T's favourite option is Posada de la Laguna, with Irupé the most economoical of the three, but all three have direct access to the Laguna and their own jetties for boat trips out into the Laguna Ibera.
As well as boat trips, these lodges offer night walks, horse riding, kayaks and guided day walks, and rates include all meals but not transfers. Personally at H&T we prefer staying away from the town, either in a CLT property or at Puerto Valle.
The Conservation Land Trust & their properties
The Conservation Land Trust (CLT) was born from Tompkins Conservation, a non-profit organization founded in 1992 by Douglas Tompkins. This organization is dedicated to the creation and/or expansion of national and provincial parks to ensure the perpetuity of their ecological and evolutionary processes, with the strongest long-term protection guarantee possible. It also supports programs that aim to ensure wildlife protection, the reintroduction of locally extinct species, land restoration, and local development, usually involving ecotourism, sustainable farming and environmental education. In addition, CLT provides funds for the construction of the necessary infrastructure for public access with the goal of preparing the areas to be donated to the corresponding provincial or national government. Basically, the Tompkins have invested vast sums of money into buying up land to then donate it to the nation for use as a national park. Absolute heroes.
In the Iberá region, CLT begun its work by restoring the areas and ecosystems of the properties acquired by Tompkins in Iberá in 1999, aiming to bring the key players of its ecosystem back to the wetlands, and to give back to the local community their native patrimony.
The landscape was slowly restored throughout the years, removing the traces left by livestock farming activities and prioritizing indigenous plants, and thus allowing the native wildlife to find its natural place once more. Gradually, the giant anteater started coming back and its population began to grow, and the situation was the same in the case of the pampas deer, the collared peccary, and the tapir. In the future, this list is expected to also include the jaguar, which is hoped to start roaming the lands soon, meeting with the more frequent characters that can be easily seen today like the caiman, the capybara, the marsh deer, the black howler monkey, and hundreds of bird species.
Staying at one of the CLT properties is a way for guests to become a part of the fauna restoration projects that CLT has started and continues to execute to this day with great success; all the while experiencing the local culture and remaining in close contact with nature.
1. Rincon del Soccorro
Local wildlife roams through the gardens, making it common to come across a capybara, a family of rheas, a marsh deer or foxes. They are not afraid of mankind, and there are no dogs in the ranch that might scare them. It is a haven for fauna.
Rincón del Socorro is a private reserve, owned by CLT, located within the Iberá Nature Reserve. CLT has reached an agreement with the governments of Corrientes and Argentina to donate Rincón del Socorro reserve along with the rest of its properties to create the Iberá National Park. Rincón del Socorro main houses will remain as private properties but in total there are 150.000 hectares that will be attached to the existing Iberá Reserve.
The house was part of a 19th century cattle ranch which covered a large part of the territory between the city of Mercedes and Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. These lands had been devastated by the livestock activities, the hunting of the indigenous species and the deforestation that took place since the arrival of the European settlers; however, what once was cattle farm is today a wonderful, natural reserve.
The main house keeps its classic Spanish style completed by large verandas that cool the rooms during the hot days. There is no air con - important to inform guests - but rooms remain relatively cool thanks to the quality of the buildings, the possibility of cross ventilation, and the use of fans. There is also no TV available in order to make it easier to enjoy the magnificent spectacle happening outside. Rooms are divided among the main house and a series of smaller buildings.
There are a total of eleven beautiful rooms with a maximum capacity of 30 guests. There are 6 superior rooms in the main house, and all of them have a private external door to the veranda through which the communal living area/ dining room can be reached. Two of the rooms are connecting, and the each room has a small living area, separated from the main bedroom by an internal door. It’s a cosy reading room where a third person may also be accommodated, and in one of them only, also a fourth.
Three rooms can be found in independent buildings a few metres away from the main house. These are independent buildings which have the advantage of being completely surrounded by garden, thus having no nearby neighbours. Two of them are standard rooms and one is a premium room.
Finally, there is the matera house that contains a two room family apartment. It has a double room with private bathroom, and a triple twin room with adjoining bathroom. In case of families the apartment has one more room with a single bed that shares the bathroom with the triple twin room. The house has a comfortable living room area, open gallery and a green pergola.
Activities include walking safaris on foot, horseback or by bicycle, vehicle or boat; all different but complimentary ways of experiencing the magnificent sightseeing and learning more about the local fauna. On foot, there is the chance to look for tracks and learn more about the diverse species, it is a good way to detect the presence of recently reintroduced animals. Alternatively, on a horse guests will have a different, higher point of view allowing for a better enjoyment of the landscape and favoring the sighting of deer, among other creatures. The boat trips operate from Carlos Pellegrini - a 45 minute bumpy drive away - but allow guests to get close to the caiman, pampas deer and hundreds of birds. Finally, Rincon also offers nocturnal vehicle safaris that provide magnificent encounters with wildlife that takes advantage of the cool nights to go hunting.
At the lodge, guests can relax by the pool, read the amazing selection of books in the library, or participate in the talks and videos that will allow the visitor to gain a deeper knowledge in the projects carried out by CLT. The ample gardens are constantly visited by the local fauna and make for a lovely stroll. There is also a huge sustainably managed vegetable garden that can be visited.
Pros: A truly sustainable lodge with a positive environmental and social imprint. Excellent service, food, wildlife. Fantastic guides and excursions. Staying a CLT property is the best way to support the vital work they do.
Cons: No air con (important for some) and the boat trips are from Carlos Pellegrini, some 45 minutes by 4x4.
2. Posada Uguay
In Iberá, both the natural and the cultural patrimony are fascinating. To get to Posada Uguay, which is just 8km from Rincon, you pass a small chapel, a school, and a dozen typical local houses peppering the landscape. Many families live there today from cattle farming and the production of local handcrafts. Meeting the residents of this place helps everyone enjoy different personal experiences which enrich both locals and guests alike, allowing new horizons to open. Posada Uguay now forms part of the CLT family, and is one of the many locations where CLT executes its conservation projects, and receiving guests is an important step in this process, as it brings new opportunities and broader horizons to the local residents, many of whom work in Uguay & Rincon to cook and look after guests, along with the CLT guides.
Posada Uguay is located in a privileged area of the Iberá Wetlands, close to the water and with direct access to the Fernández Lagoon, which ensures that visitors do not have to travel to Carlos Pellegrini to take a boat trip. The lodge, a small, welcoming building, perfectly matches its surroundings, and offers several cool, shady spots to enjoy a cold beer or a mateada, a gathering around the sharing of the local tea, known as maté, in the late afternoon as the sun goes down.
The hotel has four rooms each with a private bathroom. The rooms are simple yet comfortable and spotlessly clean; the property is a more budget conscious option than Rincon del Socorro.
1. Guazuti: Standard quadruple room, it is set up with four individual beds. The beds can be organized as double beds or twin.
2. Aguara: Standard triple room, it is set up with three individual beds. The beds can be organized as a one double bed and a twin, or three twin beds.
3. Teyú: Double bed. Located inside the house, with direct access to the living room.
4. Tuyuyú: Standard double. The room is set up with two twin beds that can be organized as one double bed or two twins.
From the lodge, guests can take advantage of the exclusive access to the Fernández Lagoon, an almost unexplored area where the presence of other people is extremely rare. It’s in this lagoon where the skull of a neotropical otter was found, proving that this species used to exist in the area and inhabit its waters. A 2-kilometre-long channel allows you to access the lagoon, and discover all its islets by boat or kayak. In fact, Uguay is possibly the best spot in the Esteros for kayaking - there is something magical and thrilling about paddling gently past a sunbathing caiman...! The fact that guests are unlikely to encounter any other visitors ensures a high probability of animal sightings.
Every day, guided tours on foot, horse or bicycle will be organized from the Lodge into the nearby surroundings and over to Rincon del Socorro. Trails lead you to the forest and emerge after it with an ample view of the grasslands and lagoon, while the horizon serves as a breathtaking background.
Pros: Only 13 guests; communal dining allows interesting interaction with other guests who are mainly Argentine. Exclusive access to the Laguna Fernandez for boat trips; also the chance to visit Rincon del Socorro for safari walks and enjoy the wildlife there. Staying a CLT property is the best way to support the fantastic and vital work they do.
Cons: Communal dining and breakfast is not everyone's cup of tea..! Cooking is simple, home cooked meals that is OK but could be better.
3. San Alonso
San Alonso is an island at the heart of the Iberá Wetlands. Its coasts are partly bathed by the Paraná Lagoon, while the rest of its surroundings display the purest expression of the Iberá Wetlands. Due to this, it can be accessed both by water or air - but not by road. Its isolation allows it to be fully surrounded by nature, a safe environment which is ideal to host the Jaguar Experimental Breeding Center (CECY). 2015 saw the arrival of the first female jaguar, Tobuna, to this sanctuary, which meant a hopeful roar on behalf of a species that hadn’t been seen in the area for over 60 years. Tobuna was followed by two other females and two males. The offspring of these jaguars will learn how to hunt and will be released into the wild, and so they will balance the ecosystem.
The return of the jaguar to Corrientes is part of an ambitious project conducted by The Conservation Land Trust with the goal of reintroducing native species. The ant-eater (2007), the pampas deer (2009), and the collared peccary (2016) are already roaming the lands, and their offspring have been born in the wilderness.
San Alonso comprises 10,000 hectares between islands and wetlands. Historically, it was used as an extensive cattle farm until 1996, year in which it was acquired by CLT with the sole purpose of protecting its environments. In 2017, these lands were donated to the National Parks Administration. Staying at San Alonso means being a part of the largest conservation project in South America.
The house’s style stands out in its uniqueness due to its elegant simplicity. The lodgings are lined with wood and have been delightfully decorated. The ample veranda receives the shade of the pink lapachos and timbo trees, and so it ensures that the house remains cool even during the hottest summer days. From this privileged spot, one is able to look through the foliage and spot the edge of the Paraná Lagoon. The house contains a total of three rooms distributed among two apartments (each with two rooms and a washroom) and a separate bedroom with an en suite washroom. All rooms contain direct access to the veranda.
The best way to arrive is by air. Beside shortening the distances, the flight allows you to admire the landscape as if it were a great artist’s masterpiece. Circles of bright blue water emerge from the reservoirs that display every possible shade of green. At a low altitude, it is easy to observe the marsh deer and flocks of birds perched in the high branches of a tree. A magnificent show! Flights are surprisingly affordable and within the budget of any high end guest, or a mid range guest looking to spend on a truly unique, positive-impact experience.
The access by boat is from San Nicolás, which you get to via a sandy road after a long transfer from Posadas and board the hotel's private boat. However, 95% of guests arrive via private plane from Rincon, Posadas or Iguazu, and this is what we recommend.
When arriving at the island, everything feels like a luxury, be it finding deer resting at the shade of the trees, being lucky enough to have an anteater walking by you, or waking up to the sounds of a family of howler monkeys that have made their home in the nearby trees.
During your stay, you’ll have the chance to discover the island, which can be explored on foot or on horseback. Kayak outings are also available to fully experience the Paraná Lagoon, and serve as a great opportunity for animal sightings. In addition to this, those who choose to either arrive or leave by boat will have the chance of travelling across the Carambola river, which offers yet another opportunity to immerse yourself in the scenery.
A total of five rooms and three bathrooms, the lodge is able to receive a maximum of 10 guests, but normally guests have the place to themselves... and the wildlife, or course!
Pros: Visiting San Alonso allows you to dive deep into CLT’s work. This means discovering all about its successes and its failures, the process that each one of the rewilding projects went through in order to happen, the social components it involved, and the impact it had in the local development. Truly fascinating.
Cons: Power is obtained through solar energy equipment, and, with this in mind, the San Alonso Lodge has no fans or air conditioning. Not all guests would feel comformatble being this remote.
For ease of access and for guests wanting high end dinning and creature comforts such as air conditioning and TV, Puerto Valle is the best option. Activities are excellent and guests will see plenty of bird life and mammals, especially caiman. Easy connection to Iguazu and commercial flights to Buenos Aires from an airport 40 minutes drive away (on a paved road).
However, for guests looking for a more immersive wildlife experience, and wanting to get into the heart of the wetlands, the CLT properties are the place to go, with Rincon del Socorro the main property for high end guests and Posada Uguay for lower budgets.
The ideal way to get to Rincon del Socorro is to fly in direct to their airstrip on a private flight. The flights are not very expensive and enable guests to connect to Posadas and Iguazu. Bear in mind though that these small planes do not fly in storms, so in summer (December to March) we sometimes need to arrange a back up land transfer - worth pre warning guests about this.
Casa Uguay represents a fantastic option for guests on a tighter budget, and from Uguay guests can do safari trips to Rincon to see the abundant fauna. Uguay also get exclusive access to Laguna Fernandez for bird watching.
Access to either RDS or Uguay is via private plane direct to Rincon, or via commercial plane to Posadas followed by a 4 to 6 hour 4x4 transfer, or via overnight bus to Mercedes and 1.5 hour 4x4 transfer.
San Alonso is an incredible option for guests looking for a truly remote and exclusive wildlife experience. Guests could visit Rincon for a night or two and then fly to San Alonso for a couple of nights, before going on to Iguazu, all via private plane.
Carlos Pellegrini offers more low and mid range options and excellent, direct access to the Laguna Ibera, but also with more human activity in the area, there are perhaps fewer mammals than at Casa Uguay/Rincon. Access to Pellegrini is via commercial plane to Posadas plus a 3-5 hour 4x4 transfer, or overnight bus to Mercedes and a 2 hour 4x4 transfer. Some guests may prefer not to be too remote, in which CP is a good option.
In the height of summer temperatures are VERY high, and there are lot of mosquitoes. Remember that none of the CLT properties have a/c. Our favourite months to visit are from mid March to June, and September to early December.
Please contact us at H&T for more details or to quote a trip.
This blog post was written in part using text supplied by the properties involved.