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 37 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. The local experts at SayHueque have selected a list of our top 10 national parks to visit while you’re 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 a big portion of its territory 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 massive glaciers, and more than 200 smaller glaciers, gives the possibility of a unique approach and views.
The parks contains typical species from sub-Antarctic woods and the Patagonian steppe: Condors, black-chested buzzard Eagle, Darwin’s Rhea, guanacos, and pumas. The flora is mainly composed of lengas, ñires and guindos.
The closest city is El Calafate, which is the center of all activities and services. Today, the Park offers several options to visit all year round. The most popular attraction is the Perito Moreno Glacier that produces a cyclic phenomenon of forward and backwards movements creating spectacular ice falls from its walls. Also, there are beautiful lakes as a result of the pressure of the ice such as Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma.
Check out our tour options to see these icy giants here!
Parque Provincial Aconcagua
Aconcagua Provincial Park is located in the Andes Mountain range and boasts some of the most impressive mountains over 5,000 masl in 70,000 hectares. It’s located 112 km from the city of Mendoza, the Argentinean wine province. Although it’s not technically a national park, we list it for its truly amazing attractions.
This area preserves glaciers, watersheds, high Andean flora and fauna (such as Condors, pumas, and high Andean rodents), and archeological Inca sites. Also, it’s a popular spot for winter mountain sports such as climbing, trekking and skiing. The Aconcagua Mt. (6962 masl) has 2 main trails to ascend in “Quebrada de Horcones” and “Quebrada de las Vacas”. In addition, this mountain has plenty of other routes for different skills and levels of climbers.
Want to learn more? Here we’ve got some ideas to get you started!
Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
Nahuel Huapi is the oldest National Park in Argentina (established 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 environments: Altoandino (with perpetual snow above 1,600 mt), the Andino-Patagónico (in the lower reaches of the hills), and the Patagonian steppe. It also 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 river otters, Andean huemul (small deer) foxes, cougars, guanacos, magellanic woodpeckers, condors, green austral parakeets, geese, and more. The dominant tree species in the park are the lengas, coihue, and the ñires.
The park surrounds Bariloche, the “Gateway to Patagonia”, as well as the city known as the “Chocolate Capital” and the “Honeymoon Capital” of Argentina. If you’re interested in learning more about the tours we offer to this unique destination, take a look at these itineraries, or talk to one of our travel coordinators and plan your own!
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
“Land of Fire” National Park consists of an extensive archipelago. The biggest island is the “Isla Grande Tierra del Fuego” (divided between Argentina & Chile) with an area of 48, 100 km2, and some other popular islands in the area include Cape Horn & Diego Ramirez. You can access the park by taking National Route 3 from Ushuaia city, and continuing along the Pipo River Valley. There are many bays and coves, as well as beaches and cliffs, creating a perfect shelter for sea life.
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 here can be traced back to 8,000 BC; Europeans reached the area in 1520 with Magellan’s expedition and gave the region the name “Land of Fire”, coming 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 a gold rush. Today, the main activity is Petroleum extraction in the North and tourism, manufacturing, and Antarctic Cruise logistics in the South.
If you want to take a look at some travel options, here are a few we recommend!
Punta Tombo Rockery harbor boasts the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in South America. It’s located in a peninsula on the Atlantic Coast in Chubut Province (110 km South of Trelew and 188 km from Puerto Madryn.) The Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve, protected since 1979, is also part of the new marine national park at Golfo San Jorge.
In September, along with all spring, thousands of penguins start arriving to Patagonian Coasts from Brazil. More than a million and a half arrive each year. The best time to see them up close is after November, once the babies are born, though they can be observed until mid-March.
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 are located in the province of Corrientes in Northern Argentina and cover over 15,000 m2. This is 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, meaning “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 to an 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. Interested in learning more? Check it out!
Los Cardones National Park
The Cardones National Park, created in 1996, is located in Salta province, with 659 km2 of land, and includes 4 ecological regions: Altos Andes, Puna, Monte de Sierras & Bolsones, and Yungas. The name was given after the bush formations of Cardon grande cactus.
The park’s arid, scenic landscape holds a 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 with the unique mountainous 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.
Los Alerces National Park
Los Alerces National Park is in the Andean region of the Chubut province in Patagonia. A World Heritage Site since 2017, It was created in 1937 to protect the ‘Alerce’ trees, or lahuán, as called by the native Mapuche people, and has a total surface of 2,360 km2, comprising several different ecosystems: the Valdivian Temperate Rain Forest, the Andean-Patagonia Forest, the High-Andean Steppe and the Patagonian Steppe.
The Alerce is an enormous variety of conifer tree, which grows up to 50 m tall. It is evergreen and has an extraordinary lifespan; some specimens found in the park are over 3,600 years old. That makes them the oldest living thing in Argentina and one of the oldest on Earth.
“Alerce” comes from a mistake made by the Spanish conquerors who thought it was the same species as the European Alerce (Larch), though that tree has no relation to the Patagonian Alerce. For that reason, 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.
National Park Iguazu
The Iguazu National Park, created in 1934, has a total area of 67,620 km2, and features one of the New World Wonders: Cataratas del Iguazú, the largest waterfall in the world. Since 1984, this park is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. Located in the Argentine Misiones province, and shared with Brazil, Iguazu Falls receives more than 2 million visitors 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 where the water cascades down, there are several islands that form separate falls. The most impressive is known as the “Devils throat”, at over 150 mt wide and 700 mt long.
In terms of average annual water flow, Iguazu River is ranked below 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 local legend, the falls were created when a furious god divided the river into two levels to stop a beautiful woman who he was going to marry from escaping, and running away with another man.
The Iguazu National Park is home to exotic flora and fauna. Some animals are easily spotted, but others you have to be more lucky. Native species include the jaguar, ocelot, tapirs, giant ant eaters, monkeys, eagles, toucans, caimans and more than 2,000 species of plants.
Since Iguazu is truly one of our favorite Argentina destinations, we have a ton of options to offer. Check them out here, and get excited for the trip of a lifetime!
Laguna Blanca National Park
Laguna Blanca National Park has an area of 112 km, and is located 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 diversity, and in particular the population of black necked swans. Other species we can find here 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 also been found in the park.
By: Patricia Wissar