Idle days in Esteros del Ibera

Trip Start Sep 22, 2007
Trip End Nov 10, 2007

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, September 28, 2007

In 'Idle Days in Patagonia', written in 1880, W.H. Hudson spends an inordinate amout of time describing the birds he sees around the Rio Negro area. I'm no ornithologist, but by the end of our second day in Esteros Del Iberia in Northern Argentina, I can feel the the first twitches of the mania that gripped Hudson.

Our base at Colonia Carlos Pellegrini is by no means easy to get to. We make our way to the worlds largest bus station at Buenos Aires where buses depart to exotic locations such as La Paz, Rio, and Santiago. We jump on a Mercedes going overnight to Mercedes.

Off the bus, early in the morning, we wake up  in a ramshackle cafe and take in less-than-celubrious surroundings of Mercedes bus station. We make our way to Hostal Ibera, the only place in town that dispenses information about onward travel to the park.

Hostal Ibera appears to be one of those traveller's oases where there is a calm homely air inside and we relax immediately. Over cafe con leche and a medialuna, the hostel owner offers us an all-inclusive package. We decide just to buy the bus ticket there and find our own accomodation when we arrive. Having turned down the offer of a fully inclusive package in Buenos Aires, it feels like the right thing to do.

We meet the lovely Tess McSpirren and Lisa Bracken from Sydney who are also travelling to the park. We also meet a Yerbie from Slovenia who has a bad stutter and is hard to communicate with even although he speaks 7 languages.

The 3 hour mini-bus journey along dirt roads to Estrellos del Ibera gives us the first chance to see what the countryside is like in this part of the world. I see rheas emerging from the grasslands, giant anthills, and capybara sleeping at the roadside. The driver talks to me continuously even though it must must be obvious that I only understand a fraction of his thick local accent.

Soon a wide lake appears and we drive across a long causeway and then a rickety bridge to arrive in the dusty village of Colonia Carls Pellegrini. Our first choice for accomodation, Posada Ypa Sapuki, is fully booked so we backtrack to Don Justino where we get bed and breakfast for A$45 (GBP 7.00) each. Its basic but friendly and clean.

We walk around the village and comment to each other on the huge numbers of birds that seem to be everywhere. One of my favourites is the red cardinal with its bright red headgear. Walking back across the causeway an otter hops across the road, unmistakable from its long body and peculiar gait. Its the first time Ive seen one of them in the wild.

As we walk round that afternoon we spot monkeys, caymen, capybaras with their babies, and everywhere we are surrounded by strange and unfamiliar birds.

Colonia Carlos Pellegrini is on the edge of a waterworld of Esteros del Ibera. When the Rio Parana changed its course a few years back it resulted in an marshland which extends for hundreds of miles. As a nature reserve, it is now protected, but it is adjacent to extensive cattle rearing country. There are plenty of gauchos to be seen riding horseback with big leather boots, wide hats and ponchos.

A couple of hours horsetrekking accompanied by Lisa, Tess, the Slovenian, and a pair of tame gauchos allows us to see more of the scenery around town.

Later in the afternoon we take a launch which travels round the edge of Lago Ibera and gets us close in to the caymen warming themselves in the sunshine. We spot a pair of otters sharing a freshly caught lunch very close to the causeway. Probably one of the ones we saw yesterday on our walk. 

During the trip we have the opportunity to jump off the boat and walk over the floating islands for which the area is famous. It feels a bit like walking on a giant bendy lilo. Its compounded by the sensation that I`m about to break through the thin layer of reeds into the croc infested waters below.

Our guide has a big book of birds which allows us to find the English translations. The southern screamer is my bird of the day. Goose sized, it pairs for life, and makes an incredible honking noise when coming in to land. 

We round off our visit to Estrellos del Ibera by taking a night boat on the lake and using a torch to spot caymen eyes. The combination of full moon and a gentle cool breeze over the expanse of marshland makes it an atmospheric experience. Lisa adds to the fun by squealing with excitment every time she spots one of the big reptiles red eyes in the torchlight.

This little trip was great fun, and comes highly recommended for any potential visitors to Argentina. And I move one notch closer to becoming a bird enthusiast.

Bus one way  to Mercedes A$87 x 2
Bus to Colonial Carlos Pelegrini A$30 x2
Lodgings 2 nights A$45 x 4
Dinner 2 nights A$25 x 4
Horsetrekking  for 2 hours A$30 x 2
3 hour boat trip A$60 x 2
night boat trip  A$60 x 2
transfer to Posadas A$80 x 2

Total A$ 974  or approx GBP150

(Note fully inclusive trip offered for A$ 2360 in Buenos Aires- accomodation may have been higher standard)
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Becky on

Thanks for sharing this. I'm planning to go to Esteros del Ibera in a few weeks and the info. is really helpful. I was wondering how you go to Posadas from Colonia Pellegrini for 80 pesos there a bus? Everything I've read recommends hiring an expensive Jeep for that part of the trip. Would love your advice! Thanks!

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