The Argentine Chaco

Little visited by travellers, the Argentine Chaco is just part of an immense sprawling lowland some 900 km wide, covering half of Paraguay and huge areas of Bolivia and Brazil. Rising gently from east to west, it's crossed by meandering rivers, and filled in central parts with cattle and cotton fields, soya and sunflowers. Though much of the Chaco is inaccessible, with little public transport, and rough roads which become almost impassable after heavy rains, two national parks can easily be reached all year round, both hosting a rich diversity of wildlife largely uninterrupted by human activity: Parque Nacional Chaco reached from Resistencia, and Parque Nacional Río Pilcomayo reached from Formosa. These are the region's two main cities, both close to Río Paraguay, and the only other settlement is uninspiring Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña, 170 km northwest of Resistencia, though its thermal waters are among the country's finest.

The most fascinating aspect of the Chaco is its pure and extensive indigenous population. Two of the largest groups are the Toba, mainly settled in towns next to the Paraná river, and the semi-nomadic Wichí in the west, who maintain their traditions of fine weaving, woodwork and ancient fishing techniques. For more information, see www.chaco.gov.ar/turismo/.

Background

The Chaco falls into two distinct zones along a line south of the boundary between Chaco and Formosa provinces: the Wet Chaco and the Dry Chaco. The Wet Chacospreads south from the Río Pilcomayo (the border with Paraguay) and west of the Río Paraguay, fertile wetlands supporting rich farming and abundant vegetation, marshlands with savanna and groves of Carandaypalms, hosting many species of birds. Further west, as rainfall diminishes, the Dry Chacois arid and wild, with little plant life, or indeed human life. The scrub vegetation, dotted with the algarrobo trees, white quebracho, the spiny bloated trunks of palo borracho and various types of cacti. This is one of the hottest places in South America, the western part of the Chaco has been known as 'El Impenetrable'.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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