Argentina is the eighth biggest country in the world and within its 2,780,400 square kilometers exists magnificent bio and geographical diversity. The National Parks Administration is the agency that preserves and manages these areas, a total of 33 protected spaces that occupy almost 4% of the total Argentinian territory. Visiting some of these natural wilderness areas is a must for any traveler looking for a special experience. Here are the top national parks to visit in Argentina.
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
Los Glaciares National Park was created in 1945 (726.927 km 2) and is located in the area known as the Austral Andes in Argentina, southwest of Santa Cruz province. It holds impressive landscapes of mountains, lakes, glaciers and woods. The Park has got a big portion under ice and snow (almost half of its area) in the west and the arid Patagonian Steppe to the East.
The name refers to the glaciers that are born on the Ice Caps: the largest continental ice extension after Antarctica (Patagonic Continental Ice) with 47 big glaciers, and more than 200 smaller glaciers, gives the possibility of a unique approach and views.
The parks hold typical species from sub-Antarctic woods and the Patagonian steppe: Condors, black-chested buzzard Eagle, Darwin’s Rhea, Guanaco, and puma. The flora is mainly composed of lengas, ñires and guindos.
The closest city is Calafate, center of all activities and services. Today the Park offers several options to visit all year round. The most popular is the Perito Moreno Glacier that produces a cyclic phenomenon of forward and backwards movements’ creating spectacular ice falls from its walls. As well there are beautiful big lakes as a result of the pressure of the Antique ice such as Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma
Parque Provincial Aconcagua
Aconcagua Provincial Park is located in the Andes Mountain range with important mountains over 5,000 masl in 70,000 hectares. Its 112 km form the city of Mendoza, the Argentinean wine province. Its not a National park, but we list it for its great attractions.
This area preserves glaciers, watersheds, high Andean flora and fauna (such as Condors, pumas, and high Andean rodents), and archeological Inca sites. As well it’s a popular spot for winter mountains sports such as climbing, trekking and skiing. The Aconcagua Mt. (6962) Masl. It go 2 ways of approach to start the ascend in “Quebrada de Horcones” and “Quebrada de las Vacas”. This mountain has got routes for different skills and levels of climbers.
The word “Aconcagua” has several interpretations. The most known comes from the Quechua “Akon- Kahuak” meaning stone sentinel and in the Aymara language Kon-Kawa: snow peak.
Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi & Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes
Nahuel Huapi is the oldest National Park in Argentina (1934). Its 7005 km2 surround Nahuel Huapi Lake in the foothills of the Patagonian Andes. Its landscapes represent the north Patagonian Andean Zone consisting of three types: Altoandino (with perpetual snow above 1,600 mt) the Andino-Patagónico (in the lower reaches of the hills) and the Patagonian steppe. As well it includes small parts of the Valdivian Forest. The landscape is breathtaking: lakes, rapid rivers, waterfalls, snow-clad peaks, glaciers and extensive forests. In the Mapuche language nahuel means “jaguar” and huapi means, “island”.
In between the fauna we can find are River otters, Andean huemul (small deer) foxes, cougars, guanacos, magellanic woodpeckers, condors, green austral parakeets, geese. The dominant tree species in the park are the lengas, coihue, and the ñires.
The park surrounds Bariloche, “Gateway to Patagonia”, this city is also known as “Chocolate Capital” and the “Honeymoon Capital” of Argentina.
Los Arrayanes National Park used to be part of the Nahuel Huapi National Park, but was created in 1971 to protect the forest of Arrayanes (Luma Apiculata) a rare cinnamon color 300 year old tree. You can walk in a special trail, built to protect the soil and roots of these fragile trees. Its located 3 km away form Villa la Angostura in Neuquen Province and can be reached by boat from different points of the Nahuel Huapi Lake. There are some few deers, guanacos, and little monkeys of the Busch, guanacos and small foxes. As for birds we will find, condors, eagles, hawks and woodpeckers.
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
“Land of Fire” National Park consists of an archipelago The biggest island is the “Isla grande Tierra del fuego” (divided between Argentina & Chile) with an area of 48, 100 km2 and other islands include Cape Horn & Diego Ramirez.. Taking National Route 3 from Ushuaia city, going along the Pipo River Valley, accesses it. There are many bays and coves, beaches and cliffs, creating a perfect shelter for sea fauna.
Among the most notable animals in the archipelago are austral parakeets, sea gulls, guanacos, foxes, kingfishers, condors, king penguins, owls, and fire crown hummingbirds. Only 30% of the islands have forests, which are classified as Magellanic Sub polar. The northeast is made up of steppe and cool semi-desert.
The earliest human settlements go back to 8,000 BC; Europeans reached in 1520 with Magellan’s Expedition “Land of Fire” came from the views of bonfires that the natives built. Local populations were displaced in the second half of 19th century, and the area boomed in sheep farming and gold rush. Today, the main activity is Petroleum extraction in the North and tourism, manufacturing and Antarctic Cruise logistics are important in the South.
Punta Tombo Rockery harbor is the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in South America. It’s located in a peninsula into the Atlantic Coast in Chubut Province (110 km S of Trelew and 188 from Puerto Madryn.) The Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve, is protected since 1979, and is part of the new marine national park at Golfo San Jorge.
Along with spring, in September, thousands of penguins start arriving to Patagonian Coasts from Brazil. More than a million and a half arrive each year. And stay here up to mid March but the best season to see them is after November, once the babies are born. One of the best features of this Reservation is that you can see the penguins very close.
There are Trails and boardwalks across the arid, gravelly terrain, full of small shrubs and burrows where the penguins nest. Other fauna include Patagonian hares, foxes, gulls and cormorants. Dolphins and whales swim offshore.
Esteros del Iberá (In process of becoming a national park)
The Iberá Wetlands is located in the province of Corrientes in Northern Argentina and covers between 15,000 and 25,000 m2. Its one of the most important fresh water reservoirs in the continent and the second-largest wetland in the world after Pantanal. It is included within a provincial protected area; there are ongoing plans to upgrade its status to national park
The Iberá, name comes from the Guarani ý berá: “bright water” It consist of a mix of bogs, swamps, stagnant lakes, lagoons and courses of water within a subtropical and tropical ecosystem with huge biodiversity and home of abundance of wildlife, including alligators, marsh deer and hundreds of bird species.
This destination is recommended for conservationist tourism, based on eco tourism and active rural tourism. It’s accessed from Posadas’s city.
Parque Nacional Los Cardones
The Cardones National Park, created in 1996, is located in Salta province, with 659 km 2 and protects 4 Eco regions: Altos Andes, Puna, Monte de Sierras & Bolsones and Yungas, with hills and ravines at the height levels between 2,700 m and 5,000 m. The name is given after the bush formations of Cardon grande cactus.
The park’s arid, scenic landscape consists striking array of colors, desert wildlife, Cardon bush and unusually large native cacti reminiscent of the American west. There are also several rivers, with plenty of opportunities for aquatic exploration and adventure.
The scenic portion of the Calchaquies Valley, offers visitors an experience of the unique mountainous/tropical geography of this area. Nearby towns such as Cachi and Cachi Adentro offer a great introduction to the area’s local traditional lifestyle, as well as an opportunity to sample some of the province’s less renowned (but still delicious) wines. It also features fossil remains of extinct animals, as well as dinosaur tracks.
Parque Nacional Los Alerces
Los Alerces National park is, in the Andean region of the Chubut province in Patagonia. World heritage since 2017, It was created in 1937 to protect the Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides), or lahuán, as called by the native Mapuche people and has a total surface of 2,360 km 2, comprising several different ecosystems: the Valdivian Temperate Rain Forest, the Andean-Patagonia Forest, the High-Andean Steppe and the Patagonian Steppe.
The Alerce is huge sized conifer tree, grow up to 50 m. It is evergreen and it looks like a sequoia it is an extraordinary long-living tree, some specimens found in the park are 3,600 years old. That makes them the oldest living thing in Argentina and one of the oldest on Earth. They grow extremely slowly, around 1 mm. per year.
“Alerce” comes from a mistake made by the Spanish who thought it was the same tree as the European Alerce (Larch) but it has no relation to the Patagonian Alerce. That is why, it is also known as “False Patagonian Cypress”. The original name is Lahuán (Mapuche language), meaning “cure” or “remedy” due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Despite its longevity Alerces forests are retreating and have very limited geographical distribution.
Parque Nacional Iguazu
The Iguazu National Park created in 1934 with 67.620 km 2 has got one of the New World Wonders: Cataratas del Iguazú, the largest waterfalls in the world. Since 1984 is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. Located in Misiones province, northern border with Brazil, the Iguazu Falls receives more tan 2 million people each year.
The huge Iguazu River is part of the Parana River, South America’s second largest river after the Amazon. It consists of 275 waterfalls with drops from 60-82 meters at the highest point. In the upper plateau from which the water falls, there are several islands that form separate falls. The most impressive is known as the U shaped “Devils throat” with 150 mt wide and 700 mt long.
In terms of average annual water flow, Iguazu River is ranked after North America’s Niagara Falls. However, when Iguazu River is at its highest, Iguazu Falls becomes the largest waterfall on the planet with a maximum-recorded water flow of 452,000 cubic feet per second.
The word Iguazu comes from Guarani and Tupi tribes, meaning “big” and “water”. According to a local legend, the falls were created when a furious god divided the river into two levels, to stop the attempts of escape of a beautiful woman who was going to marry him, and runned away with another man.
The Iguazu National Park is also home to exotic flora and fauna. Some animals are easily spotted but others you have to be more lucky: in between its the jaguar, ocelot, tapirs, giant ant eaters, tufted capuchin monkeys, coatis, black fronted pipping guan, solitary tinamou, harpy Eagle, toucans, caimans and more tan 2000 species of plants.
Parque Nacional Laguna Blanca
Laguna Blanca National Park has an area of 112.5 km in the west of Neuquen province, close to the town of Zapala. The lagoon is situated in the Patagonian steppe, surrounded by hills and gorges.
This natural reserve contains important aquatic and bird fauna and was created in 1940 to protect the lagoons great biological importance and in particular the population of black necked swans Other species we can find are several kinds of ducks, cotos, Magellan geese and flamingoes. Near the lagoon is the Salamanca cave, historically inhabited by humans, where rock paintings, typical of northern Patagonia, can be seen. Other Mapuche and prehistoric human artifacts have been found in the park.
By: Patricia Wissar