Covering nearly 13,000 square kilometres (one-sixth of Corrientes Province), the delicate ecosystem of the ESTEROS DEL IBERÁ is a magical landscape that offers some of the best opportunities in the country for close-up observation of wildlife. An elongated sliver of land running through the centre of Corrientes Province, the esteros (marshes) are bordered to the north by the RN-12, to the east by tributaries of the Aguaypey and Miriñay rivers and to the west by tributaries of the Paraná. The southern tip touches the RN-123, which runs east–west from the border town of Paso de los Libres, joining the RN-12 150km south of Corrientes city. In addition to the esteros that give the area its name, you will see a good many lakes, ponds, streams and wonderful floating islands, formed by a build-up of soil on top of intertwined water lilies.
For many years this was one of Argentina’s wildest and least-known regions – a local legend even had it that a tribe of pygmies lived on the islands – harbouring an isolated community who made their living from hunting and fishing the area’s wildlife. Since the Reserva Natural del Iberá was created in 1983, hunting has been prohibited in the area and many locals have been employed as highly specialized guides, or baqueanos, and park rangers, thus helping to preserve the unique environment. The ban on hunting has led to an upsurge in the region’s abundant bird and animal population, with an amazingly diverse range of species thriving here.
In the heart of the reserve, beside the ecosystem’s second largest lake, the Laguna del Iberá, is the spread-out village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini (“Pellegrini”). The main gateway to the esteros, though is Mercedes, a picturesque traditional town 120km southwest of Pellegrini. If driving, note that the road linking Pellegrini to Posadas in a northeasterly direction is not always viable, especially after rain (in any case, best in a 4WD); whatever you do, enquire about its current state before attempting it.