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. Here are four ways of experiencing it for yourself...
What makes Tigre special?
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 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.
Tigre has been described as the Venice of South America, but I’d be even more specific and call it 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. 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. Closer to town, people live on the delta. 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!
1. Take our mesmerizing half-day catamaran tour
Head to the Buenos Aires port to board a modern catamaran which will take you all the way to the Tigre Delta, offering a unique perspective on the Argentine capital. During the one-and-a-half hour trip, your guide will point out the landmarks of Buenos Aires, its historic northern suburbs and the channels of the Delta. After the boat trip, a car will pick you up at the pier in Tigre and take you to visit Paseo Victoria (the most important neighborhood in Tigre) and the Puerto de Frutos, a popular waterfront market. Then you'll complete the return journey by car, visiting many of the spots you spied from the boat, including wealthy San Isidro where you'll enjoy a walking tour of the historical center and cathedral on foot and Olivos to check out the presidential residence.
2. Take our exhilarating full-day bike and kayak tour
If you're moderately fit and can spare a full day in your itinerary, this tour comes highly recommended. (Most of the SA Expeditions team did the tour on a recent summit, and we're still raving about it!) After taking the train to the outskirts of the city you'll cycle through the northern suburbs (arguably the nicest part of Buenos Aires), stopping to admire the historic buildings, elegant gardens and expansive river views en route. Once in Tigre, take a gentle one-and-a-half hour kayak trip through the delta, exploring both the populated 'suburbs' and the pristine backwaters, islands, and byways. (Includes bike, helmet, lunch, and refreshments).
3. Take a DIY tour on the Tren de la Costa
After making your way to Maipu Station (by regular train or taxi) board the charming Tren de la Costa for the 10-mile journey to Tigre. The train is geared towards tourists: not only are the carriages quaint and atmospheric but the stations themselves house shops, restaurants and museums - be sure to get the ticket which allows you to hop on and off as many times as you like. Once in Tigre, I'd recommend checking out the excellent Museo de Arte Tigre which is housed in a spectacular colonial era mansion and boasts an excellent collection of 19th and 20th-century Argentine art. No trip to Tigre is complete without cruising the delta. Large forty-seater boats offer cheap and cheerful tours, 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 will also allow you to cover a lot more distance than the bigger craft.
4. Take our full-day scenic detour to the Isla del Descanso
This exclusive tour whisks you away to a private weekend home set in stunning grounds in the heart of the Tigre Delta. The owners of Isla del Descanso (the Island of Unwinding) have created a beautiful and fascinating blend of wild, native plants and cleverly managed gardens, not to mention an impressive collection of outdoor art. After the 30-minute car transfer to Tigre, you'll be taken to the island in a private motorboat. After touring the property, enjoy a four-course lunch and an afternoon relaxing by the pool or exploring the area by foot or kayak (advance booking essential). After a truly memorable day, you will return to Buenos Aires by catamaran. (This tour is only available on weekdays as the home is used by the family on weekends).