Buenos Aires’ best kept secret: Tigre and the Parana Delta
Buenos Aires is a huge city, and although there’s more than enough to do in the fascinating central districts of San Telmo, Palermo, Recoleta, Puerto Madero and La Boca, I sometimes get the urge to escape the urban jungle. In Buenos Aires – unlike most megacities – this isn’t actually very difficult to achieve, as the port town of Tigre and the surrounding Parana Delta are only 17 miles from the obelisco and the madness that surrounds it.
You could take a taxi, a bus or a regular train to Tigre, but this would be foolish as the charming Tren de la Costa is an attraction in its own right. The train is geared towards tourists: not only are the carriages quaint and atmospheric but the stations themselves house shops, restaurants and museums. The line winds its way north, between the alluringly flat Parana River and the sophisticated, moneyed suburbs on the outskirts of the city.
It’s a great idea to buy a tourist ticket which allows you to hop on and off at as many stations as you like en route to Tigre. Some of my favorite stops are Anchorena (a nice spot for a walk next to the Rio de la Plata) and San Isidro, one of the city’s wealthiest suburbs, with its impressive historical cathedral, stone houses and manicured gardens.
Even if you take the slow train, Tigre is less than an hour from the center of Buenos Aires, but it feels as if it’s on a different planet. The port was founded to handle the fruit and timber which arrived from the delta and and although it is still an important timber processing plant, one does get the feeling that its industrial significance is on the wane.
This change in fortunes has paved the way for a number of middle-class Porteños (the name for inhabitants of Buenos Aires) to relocate to Tigre and open antique shops, restaurants and pubs. This gentrification has made Tigre and exceptionally popular weekend destination, so if you’re not into crowds I’d advise visiting during the week. All the eating and drinking aside, the town of Tigre does have one world class tourist attraction – not only is the excellent Museo de Arte Tigre housed in a spectacular colonial era mansion, but it also boasts an excellent collection of 19th and 20th century Argentine art.
Lovely though the town is, it’s the surrounding delta which gets me most excited. The Paraná River forms a tangled web of streams, inlets and forested islands before emptying itself into the Rio de la Plata. A day spent exploring this Medusan network will teleport you from the urban maelstrom in a heartbeat, and leave you revitalized and ready for yet more sightseeing.
Most people visit the delta on thirty or forty-seater boats, but I’d suggest paying a little extra to see it from a smaller motorized launch. Not only are these boats petite enough to get into the narrowest channels, but they also allow you to cover a lot more distance than the bigger craft.
Tigre has been described as the Venice of South America, but I’d be even more specific – it’s actually the Venice of the Jungle. The town itself was named after the jaguars or tigres which roamed the area and even though the swampy wilderness has long since been transformed into the canalized settlement we know today, some of the overgrown backwaters are still straight out of Indiana Jones. It’s the kind of place where you half expect an anaconda to lurch from the depths and is a stark contrast to the colonial rowing clubs and elegant mansions nearer the town of Tigre.
But people live on the delta too, and it is their way of life which I find most fascinating. Kids are taken to and from school on school ferries, the mail is delivered by boat, and a floating greengrocer chugs from door to door. The local gas station is a converted tugboat and there’s even a pizza delivery boat!
The Parana Delta is one of the biggest in the world and it extends inland as far as Rosario and north all the way to Uruguay. Adventurous fishermen can spend weeks exploring the waterways and never encountering so much as a soul, but even the parts of the delta close to the town of Tigre have a feeling of wild remoteness which isn’t dissimilar to the Amazon itself.
Tigre makes a fantastic day trip from Buenos Aires, but if you can’t get enough of the ‘jungle feeling’, a number of luxurious jungle lodges and spas have sprung up in the last few years. Ask your SA Luxury Expeditions agent to help with adding one of these to your itinerary.