Parque Nacional Chaco
West of Resistencia, but not quite to the mid-Chaco’s “Impenetrable,” Parque Nacional Chaco is a little-visited mosaic of dense forest and bird-rich wetlands. Most of the park avoided deforestation during the heyday of the tannin trade; some parts are recuperating.
Though not the equal of the magnificent Esteros del Iberá in Corrientes Province, the park’s verdant woodland footpaths can justify a detour for trans-Chaco travelers. Because mosquitoes are abundant, the dry and relatively cool winter is the best time for a visit.
In the humid eastern Chaco, 15,000-hectare Parque Nacional Chaco is 115 kilometers northwest of Resistencia via RN 16 and paved RP 9 to the village of Capitán Solari; to the park entrance, it’s another five kilometers on a dusty (in dry weather) or muddy (in wet weather) road. After heavy rain, low-clearance vehicles may not be able to reach the park, but it’s possible to hike in or rent horses in Capitán Solari.
Flora and Fauna
At first glance, the Chaco’s limited relief—it rises almost imperceptibly from east to west—seems to offer little environmental diversity. Minor variations, though, mean dramatically different habitats.
As part of the Gran Chaco, extending north into Paraguay and Bolivia, the park comprises part of the “estuarine and gallery forest” subregion, but its biologically rich marshes and gallery forests are but a fraction of the total area. Where the winding Río Negro has shifted course, aquatic plants cover shallow oxbow lakes that are becoming meadows and will eventually be forest.
Away from the watercourses, relatively large trees like the thorny algarrobo, lapacho, and quebracho (“ax-breaker”) form the forest canopy of the monte fuerte. In their shade grow smaller specimens of the same species that, when an older tree dies and topples, exploit the ensuing light gap to claim their place in the canopy.
Sparser scrub forests alternate with fan palm savannas of caranday and pindó. Human-induced fires and grazing have helped create savannas, but fire suppression and livestock restrictions are permitting more forest species to expand their habitat.
In the dense forests, mammals are likelier heard than seen—especially the howler monkey. The 340 or so bird species include the ñandú (rhea, endangered in this area), jabirú stork, roseate spoonbill, various cormorants, the common caracara, kingfishers, and the like. The Chaco is an entomologist’s wonderland—research scientists from the Smithsonian have ongoing projects here—but the common mosquito unavoidably attracts the most attention. Bring repellent, especially in summer and shortly thereafter.
Sights and Recreation
Hiking and bird-watching are the main activities, preferably in early morning or around sunset. There’s a 1.5-kilometer nature trail near the campground, but the narrow grassy road that leads northwest gets so little automobile traffic that it might as well be a footpath.
A short distance before the road ends, the signed Sendero Laguna Carpincho is a three-kilometer forest loop that also leads to Laguna Yacaré (both these marshy lakes are prime wildlife areas, with raised and shaded platforms that permit better viewing) before returning to the road.
In Capitán Solari, Ñato Mendoza rents horses for about US$1.50 per hour. This is the best alternative for visiting soggier areas, where slogging through the muck on foot is less appealing.
Camping, free of charge, is the only option. There are clean toilets, hot showers, fire pits, and firewood; a tent is necessary to keep out of the rain and insects, particularly the mosquitoes. There are simple accommodations only, plus limited supplies, at Capitán Solari; it’s better to bring everything from Resistencia. Bicycles may be available.
The APN (in Capitán Solari, tel. 03725/49-9161, chaco [at] apn [dot] gov [dot] ar) no longer collects an admission charge, but rangers are happy to provide information.
From Resistencia, La Estrella has five buses daily (6:30 a.m. and 12:30, 3:30, 5:30, and 8 p.m.) to Capitán Solari (2.5 hours, US$4); return buses leave at 5:25, 5:30, and 11:30 a.m. and 4:50 and 6:45 p.m.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition