Buenos Aires vacation wouldn’t be complete without tour of Delta Tigre - the land of islands at the estuary of Parana and Uruguay Rivers emptying to Rio de la Plata. So let's start this exciting journey....
Delta Tigre - Geography
Tigre is a little town situated some 30km (18 miles) north of Buenos Aires. Since long Tigre was a favorite weekend destination for wealthy porteños escaping from the hectic life of Buenos Aires.
In recent years the area became also a major touristic attraction and honestly a place not to miss for everybody coming to Buenos Aires for vacations..
But it is not that the town itself is such a magnet for city dwellers.
The Tigre status as a tourist attraction and weekend destination is due to its location at the confluence of numerous rivers and streams dominated by two largest ones - Paraná and Uruguay Rivers.
The estuary of these rivers creates an enormous delta of countless islands connected by the web of canals, streams, waterways called Tigre Delta or simply “Delta”.
Covering about 14,000 square kilometers (5400 square miles) the Tigre Delta is one of the largest in the world and quite unique in a sense that it does not empty to the ocean but to the river Rio de la Plata (2nd exception is a vast Okavango Delta emptying into Botswana’s Kalahari Desert where it mostly ends its “life” by evaporating).
Like most deltas, the Tigre Delta is continuously expanding forming
new islands fed by millions of tons of sediments carried by rivers.
Typical landscape of the Delta del Tigre at the head of Rio de la Plata.
To put it into the right perspective – just the Paraná and its tributary Paraguay River together with the Uruguay River drain about one-fourth of the South-American continent including large portions of Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
Tigre Delta - Etymology
After this “lesson of geography” it may be also interesting to learn the etymology of the names mentioned above. Some have the “dreadful” roots, but some may surprise you with the colorful folkloric origins.
Apparently the name Tigre given to this area by Spanish settlers was reflecting their frequent encounters with jaguars roaming the delta. Indeed the islands originally covered by sub-tropical forest and grasslands were a paradise for jaguars – not only excellent swimmers but also the only big cats truly enjoying the water. Well, since long, jaguars lost their kingdom in the estuary of Parana and Uruguay Rivers and today only the Spanish name Tigre reminds us the remote (and deadly) past of the delta.
Nevertheless, the name reveals the fact that Spanish colonizers were familiar with tigers and so they quickly “baptized” South-American cat as “El Tigre Americano” (or simply tigre). Today these elusive cats are commonly known as jaguars.
BTW - the name “jaguar” is a “westernized” version of the Tupian word “Yaguara” (mening “Beast”) and a Guarani name “Yaguareté” itself derived from “yaguá-eté”- meaning “Real beast”. Regardless of how we look at it, this name expresses the power and strength of these mysterious animals spreading fear and admiration among pre-Columbian populations of the South America. From my Zoo-experience I think that jaguars combine both – “The Beauty and the Beast” and no efforts should be spared to save them from the extinction…..
It is the second largest drainage basin in South America after the Amazon River covering more than 4 millions of square kilometers (1,6 millions square miles).
The con-shaped Rio de la Plata carries the fresh water from the delta to the Atlantic Ocean some 290 km (180 miles) away.
Delta Tigre: Navigation signs on the "rivers' intersections" (confluences) greatly help to find the way home....
Along this distance the La Plata River is widening from few kilometers at its head to about 220 km (140 miles) at its mouth.
Till these days some geographers are still arguing about the correctness of regarding the Rio de la Plata as a river instead of a gulf (if it is a river, then it is the widest one opening in some places to up 240 km (150 miles)). To help scientists to end this dispute I will quote one Buenos Aires taxi driver who most likely expressed the popular voice of many Argentineans – he called it simply “El Mar Dulce” (Freshwater Sea)! Let it be this way….
By contrast, the name “Uruguay” has very colorful roots. In Guarani language it means a “River of painted birds”. Certainly it is a clear reference to vibrant exotic birds once abundant along the river, be it rainbow-colored toucans, macaws or parrots…..What a poetic name! Chapeau – (not the first one) for the wisdom and “sublime” imagination of the native people!
The world Paraná (River) comes from the abbreviation of “Para Rehe Onáva", which in Tupian language means “As Big as the Sea”. For me, more meaningful is a Guarani description that can be translated as “Father of the Waters”. Certainly both sources of the name Paraná express the strong perception of the native South-American people – the immenseness of the river. Indeed with its length of 4,880 km (3.030 miles) it is the 2nd largest river in South America.
The gigantism of the river was especially visible at the Guaira Falls (Saltos del Guairá) - a place where the Paraná River was falling over a series of seven cascades. Sadly these astonishing waterfalls often compared in terms of beauty and power to the Iguazu Falls almost entirely disappeared in an artificial lake created by the downstream Itaipu Dam build in 1984 (2nd largest hydroelectric power station in the world after the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River).
Finally it is time to discuss the origins of the last geographical name from the description of the Tigre Delta – Rio de la Plata.
Delta Tigre's nature in its graceful beauty....
Contrary to the general belief, the name Rio de la Plata (literally “Silver River” but also known as “River Plate”) does not reflect the color of the water which as the matter of fact is muddy-brown due to the millions of tons of sediments.
Unlike the native names above, this one comes from the colonial greed rather than poetic feelings. For long Spaniards believed that somewhere upstream the river lays a magic “Sierra de la Plata” (Silver Mountains). Obviously the belief turned out to be a fiction from which originated not only the name of the Rio de la Plata, but also the name of the new country – Argentina (“argentum” is the Latin name for silver).
To finish the story of the positive
note - yes, there is always some “truth” in legends – indeed the
South-American continent has rich deposits of precious metals including
silver, but much farther west in the Andes, mainly in today’s Chile,
Peru and Bolivia. The Cerro Potosi (in Bolivia) for long was a major
source of silver for Spanish Kingdom and even today, almost totally
depleted from the shining metal and “half-leveled” by exploration it is
still called the “Silver Mountain”!
Delta Tigre - History
Since the beginning of the colonization time the Tigre Delta played an important role of the commercial hub linking the vast South American interior with the distant ocean. This strictly commercial interest changed at the end of 19th century when the area gained attention of wealthy porteños. Excusive clubs like famous Regatas La Marina (funded in 1876), Buenos Aires Rowing Club (funded in 1873), Canottieri Italiani (1910), Tigre Club (1913) etc… successively opened doors in Tigre for those “more fortunate”.
The rest is a history reflecting an enormous economic growth of Buenos Aires and its elites – politicians, businessmen and “bohemians“ at the turn of 19th century ….
President Domingo F. Sarmiento – one of the most respected
Argentinean Presidents was a tireless protagonist and promoter of Tigre
and the delta largely contributing its “glorious future”.
Presidente Sarmiento summer house in Delta de Tigre.
No wonder - his little wooden house dated from 1853 located at the “crossroad” of Rio Sarmiento and Arroyo los Reyes (Kings’ Stream) was declared a National Historical Monument and converted to the museum. As an important part of the National Patrimony and vital part of the Tigre Delta’s past the house is protected from the weather by the “cocoon of glass” making it very easy to spot from the passing boats.
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Waterways of the Tigre Delta open totally different world. It is hard to believe that this oasis of an unspoiled nature is just at 50 minutes trip by train from the capital of Argentina - Buenos Aires....
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Most of the houses in Delta Tigre are resting on stilts due to frequent flooding.
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Delta Tigre is a stunningly beautiful oasis of peace and serenity located next to well known for its hectic life capital of Argentina - Buenos Aires....
In 1891 Ferrocarriles de Buenos Aires inaugurated the local train linking Retiro Terminus station (Buenos Aires) with Tigre.
It greatly improved the access to the delta raising its popularity among the population of Buenos. As a result, not only magnificent mansions but also more modest houses started dotting the local landscape.
The next wave of interest in Tigre and the delta came at the end of 20th century, but this time mostly driven by tourism. Riverside resorts, B&Bs, spas, restaurants, campsites, upscale lodges and small family operated pensions mushroomed across the delta islands.
They provide a precious place for escape from the busy urban life and an occasion to meet the unspoiled nature at its best. No wonder that Delta Tigre became also the popular destination for tourist coming to Buenos Aires for vacations.....
Not sure yet where to go and what to see in Argentina? You may find help selecting: Tourist Destinations in Argentina
However if you are falling in love with Buenos Aires (I do not blame you, it happened to me) then please select: Buenos Aires Walking Tours
If you want to prepare yourself for vacation in Argentina then please select: Argentina Travel Tips
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