Parque Nacional Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco

Larger than Belgium and not much smaller than Switzerland, the enormous Parque Nacional Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco, in southeastern Santa Cruz department, is, at 3,441,115 ha, the largest in the country, continent, and the entire hemisphere. This is the ultimate destination for die-hard adventurers, and among the most difficult to access.

Ins and outs

Adding to the surreal quality of Kaa-Iya is the fact that its only feasible access route is by train or a very poor road from Santa Cruz to San José de Chiquitos , still a good 150 km north of the park itself! From there, it's on foot, or perhaps by 4WD in the dry season, across the Serranía San José range. A GPS and absolute self-sufficiency are essential. There has been talk of a road from El Tinto, just west of San José de Chiquitos, but at the close of this edition it was not clear whether or how much of this road actually exists. Another potential route might be rafting down the
Río Parapeti
from Camiri to the Bañados de Izozog . A British expedition attempted this in 2002 but failed to reach its goal, see www.coursingtheparapeti.com.

The park

Founded in 1995 by a consortium of local indigenous peoples in conjunction with several environmental non-profit organizations, this is about as far off the beaten track as one can get. It is also the only national park in the world whose administration is entrusted to the indigenous peoples who live within its borders. Although it is reasonably well funded and there is government support for infrastructure programmes, there still are no facilities of any kind, so carefully planning your expedition is absolutely essential. So remote is Kaa-Iya that anthropologists speculate that areas within it have never seen even native tribes, let alone latter-day explorers. The majority of the park is uncharted and unknown except by local peoples, although amazingly parts of it were a battleground during the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. Today, there exists growing tension between its inhabitants and the cash-strapped government, who eyes Kaa-Iya for its oil potential. So far, the natives hold the upper hand, but without continual international recognition of this unique indigenous region all that can change. However, if you're well-supplied and have swotted up on the Gran Chaco, you might find it one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

The mysterious
Bañados del Izozog
wetlands, where the sizeable Río Parapeti simply disappears, are within the park, and it plays host to over 1500 species of birds and animals, including jaguar, puma, and a large number of rare desert-habitat creatures. It also contains a unique desert forest eco-system that has drawn considerable scientific interest.

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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