Country Guide

Parks and Reserves

A vast range of well managed and run opportunities

As a vast country, spanning deserts, salt flats, jungle, and being a nation that is proud of this natural heritage, it is no surprise that there are plenty of national parks and reserves to choose from. Obviously the most well known of these are the National Parks at Iguazu, the Peninsula Valdes and El Calafate....but take a look at the Esteros or the Parque Nacional los Cardones for something a bit different. Below are a few of them:

Lanin National Park - Lake District

The Lanin National Park is located alongside the Argentine border with Chile, in the southwest of the Province of Neuquen. It was created in 1937 to preserve the Andean forest of northern Patagonia. The Park covers an area of 412,000 hectares that circle the now extinct Lanin volcano, which rises to an altitude of 3,777m and displays a snow-covered peak all year round. In the native Mapuche language, Lanin means “lifeless rock”. The park, with its 24 beautiful lakes, is a preferred destination for mountain climbers, fishers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Cultural resources: Within the National Park numerous signs allow visitors to piece together the life of the region’s original inhabitants. Cave paintings and ancient burial sites are among the key elements that have been used to recreate the life of these early dwellers. They gathered fruit fro the monkey-puzzle trees and hunted deer and ostriches. Their tools were made of stone, bones and clay.

At present there are seven native communities living in the area. They are Curruhuinca, Cayun, Canicul, Raquithue, Aigo, Norquinco and Lefiman, who add up to 100 families in all. The National Parks Administration has established a link with the Mapuche community to work together to protect their cultural heritage.

Natural resources: The northern area of the National Park, between the Norquinco and Huechulafquen lakes is dominated by the araucaria, the monkey puzzle tree (known as pehuen or araucaria), that is an evergreen conifer endemic to the temperate rainforests of Argentina along the eastern slopes of the Andes. The species is officially protected in Argentina and genetically different from the national tree of Chile. The colihue canes grow abundantly as do the tall Lenga trees, which are now grown commercially for its wood which produces fine furniture.

Fauna: There are two mammals in danger of extinction which are protected in this National Park. They are the “Pudu|, a small deer, and the “huilin”, an otter that only lives on the Chilean side of the park. The Park’s numerous lakes are home to a wide variety of ducks. The most picturesque of these is possibly what is known as “pato de torrents”. It swims against the water current hunting insects and turning stones with its beak. The lakes also attract many birds and consequently bird watchers! Salmon that was introduced as a fishing attraction has displaced the native fish, mainly a type of trout and other lake fish.

Suggestions for talking care of the Park:

Visitors are informed that because the National Park is a protected area the following rules must be observed:

- return with the rubbish that you generated inside the park, do not bury it and please only camp in designated areas.
- Do not make ditches
- Use of containers for personal hygiene, to wash clothes etc. Do not use the rivers or lake areas.
- if making a fire then take the utmost care to do so away from potentially ignitable tinder

Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi - Lake District

The Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi is certainly one of the most important national parks in Argentina and would also certainly have a claim to being the prettiest.

At around 7,500 square kms it is a large park and has a range of different topographies from Patagonian steppe to fir covered forests and deep-water lakes…the most important of which is the Nahuel Huapi itself. Most people coming to the area will head to one of the main towns such as Bariloche, Villa la Angostura or San Martin de los Andes, from which to explore the surrounding forests and lakes.

One reason that this has slowly become one of the most important and most visited regions in Argentina is for the ream of activities on offer. Today it is one of the best locations for fly fishing in the world and, along with walking and mountain biking, in the winter months, it becomes a mecca for skiers.

Parque Nacional los Cardones - The Northwest

Set right up in the mountains to the south west of Salta, the Parque Nacional los Cardones is to be seen to be believed!

Named after the famous giant cactus, or Cardon, of the area, this small national park is only at around 630 square kms and sits on the main road that runs from Salta to the small town of Cachi. As you drive over the top of the Andes the valley spreads out below you and reveals a field of these giant sentinels that stand watch over the land…..there are more than it is possible to count in one sitting.

The reason the Cardon cactus has become famous in the area is due to its internal structure and the fact that, where trees are in short supply in the highlands of the Andes, this cactus provides wood to build. Throughout the area it is possible to visit churches and other important structures that have been built with this plant.

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares - El Calafate and El Chalten

As mentioned in our section on El Calafate, this area and the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares has undergone a huge explosion in interest and population in the last 5 years or so. Comprising two geographically separate regions the park can boast such draw cards as the Perito Moreno Glacier in the southern park, and Mount Fitz Roy in the northern section.

For those that are keen on walking and climbing, then there is no doubt that the northern section of the park and El Chalten are the place to head to. For those that are more interested by the vast ice flows that descend from the Southern Ice Shelf and are looking to be a little less strenuous then the southern section and El Calafate will suit better.

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego - Tierra del Fuego

Established in 1960 as the first of Argentina’s coastal parks, the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego is located right on the edges of the Beagle channel and up against the Andes to the west and Ushuaia to the east. While most of the 630 square kms is, today, off limits to those that are looking to hike and explore this picturesque park, it is still a joy to come here.

The hiking trails, while not overly taxing, meander along the waterline and amongst the ancient forests of the region and provide interesting and beautiful glimpses of what life for the traditional Yamanas would have been like all those years ago.

This is a wonderfully peaceful part of Argentina and somewhere that we really recommend to our clients...even if only for a few days on the way round to Chile or to Antarctica.

Parque Provincial Aconcagua - Mendoza

Approximately a 3 hour drive outside the city of Mendoza, the Parque Provincial Aconcagua was established in 1983 to protect the highest peak in the western hemisphere, Mount Aconcagua.

There is some dispute as to where the actual name comes from for the mountain, but many think it roughly comes from the Quechua (a tribe of the area) “Ackon-Cahuac” which means “stone sentinel”. There is no doubt, however that the area and this small park, at approximately 710 square kms, are important features in the area.

Up at this sort of altitude even walking up the small mound that provides the first views of the mountain takes a little doing and, for those looking to climb to the top, most would recommend taking around 12-16 days in order to acclimatize.

Parque Provincial Ischigualasto - Mendoza

Lying approximately 200 or so kms to the north of Mendoza lies the relatively unknown park of Ischigualasto. While it may seem like a major detour out of your way to head up here for what is only a small park at 630 square kms, it is still a worthwhile journey.

The park is named after the small river that winds its way through the area, a valley between the Cerros Colorados in the east and the Cerro Los Rastros in the west. Over the years, as it has eroded out the red sandstone, it has exposed a myriad of Triassic remains such as the Herrerasaurus (similar to the Tyrranosaurus Rex) and many others.

Along with these fossilized remains, the park has an otherworldly quality to it and is also known locally as Valle de la Luna as it resembles this solitary and desolate place. One place to visit while in the area is the small museum that features some of the more famous remains and offers a little history of the park and area.

Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes - Peninsula Valdes

Arguably the most famous of Argentina’s national parks, the Peninsular Valdez is truly worth adding to any itinerary. Officially a UNESCO world heritage site and encompassing an area of around 3,600 square kilometers, the peninsular hosts approximately 80,000 visitors every year who all flock to see the abundance of sea life on offer.

All along the 400km or so, coastline are colonies of elephant seals, sea lions and penguins that can be seen pretty much year round. ON top of this, from the beginning of June until the end of the year, the awesome and stunning southern Right Whale move into the sheltered coves to suckle and rest, away from the raging Atlantic waters.

Along with the fascinating wildlife in the region, the peninsular itself is still used today as a farming location with wild llamas (“Guanacos”) and a whole host of other animals including sheep, to be seen inland. While no longer and important income, the peninsular was also a valuable resource for the salt flats that lie in the centre and which are some of the lowest on the planet.

Reserva Natural Ria Deseado and the Parque Nacional Isla Pinguinos

The new combination of the Reserva Natural Ria Deseado and the Parque Nacional Isla Pinguinos (established on the 12th August 2010) has creates one of the most important marine reserves in South America.

Located approximately 500kms to the south of the Peninsula Valdes, the Ria Deseado is remarkable in that it was once a river that has, today, given way to the Atlantic and has thus formed a natural haven for marine life.

The area, and the few islands in the estuary, provide sanctuary for a plethora of marine and land birds, in particular the rock hopper penguin that features a bright yellow crest over its head. The combination of these two parks and the nearby Monumento Natural Bosques Pertificados is a superb way to spend a few days.

Reserva Provincial Punta Tombo - Peninsula Valdes

Located just down the coast from the Peninsula Valdes, the Reserva Provincial Punta Tombo is a useful addition to an itinerary.

Principally a penguin colony for the small Magellenic penguin that arrives onto the shores at the end of the year in order to mate and molt, this is a fascinating experience that allows visitors to wander in amongst the nests and getting up close and personal with them all.

Parque Nacional Monte Leon - north of the Peninsula Valdes

A relatively new addition to the 30 or so national parks in Argentina, the Parque Nacional Monte Leon is located approximately 1,000kms to the south of the Peninsula Valdes, but is similar in both feel and general sites to look out for. While it does not have any sheltered bays, and so no whales, there is plenty of everything else, such as colonies of elephant seals, sea lions, seals and penguins.

One of the largest draws to the park, however, along with the striking and interesting rock formations is the Isla Monte Leon which is a fascinating excursion for those interested in their sea birds.