COLONIA CARLOS PELLEGRINI lies at the heart of the Reserva Natural del Iberá, and is mainly accessed via the unsealed but well-maintained RP-40. The journey there takes you through flat, unremarkable land, reminiscent of the African savannah, but with little to prepare you for the wonderfully wild, watery environment of the esteros themselves. The village sits on a peninsula on the edges of the Laguna del Iberá, a 53-square-kilometre expanse of water. The banks of the sparkling lake (iberá means “shining” in Guaraní) are spread with acres of water lilies, most notably the striking lilac-bloomed camalotes and yellow aguapés, and dotted with bouncy floating islands formed of matted reeds and grass, known as embalsados.
If you come from Mercedes by bus or with your own transport, access to the village is over a temporary-looking – and sounding – narrow bridge constructed of earth and rock. Short trails on either side of the road lead through a small forested area south of the visitors’ centre; the densely packed mix of palms, jacarandas, lapachos and willows here is a good place to spot and hear black howler monkeys. They typically slouch in a ball shape among the branches or swing from tree to tree on lianas. Easiest to see are the yellowish young, often ferried from tree to tree on the backs of their mothers. Birds and butterflies abound, while capybaras often graze on the grass.
The village itself is composed of a small grid of sandy streets, centred on grassy Plaza San Martín. There are few services, and no banking facilities, so make sure you bring enough cash with you for your stay (nobody takes credit cards).