Tigre on the Parana Delta ©Solange Hando
Walking along the waterfront promenade in Buenos Aires, you may well wonder what the fuss is all about: is Rio de la Plata a real river or is it a gulf on the Atlantic coast?
In fact it is a very long estuary made up of two rivers, the Uruguay and the mighty Parana which comes all the way down from Brazil. Head for Tigre north of the city and you reach its delta, one of the largest in the world and the only one, they say, which does not empty its water directly into the sea.
The Tigre Museum on the Parana Delta ©Solange Hando
For the city folks of Buenos Aires, the delta is the perfect escape for a quiet week-end and plenty of fresh air in rural surroundings. You can pick up a water taxi or cruiser in Tigre and relax for an hour or two, sailing past the Belle Epoque museum, the yacht club, the market, school, chapel, children waving on the banks.
Heading Upstream ©Solange Hando
But soon, nothing disturbs the peace except the lapping of waves and the breeze rustling through the trees. The city vanishes and you enter another world, lush and green, where houses on stilts mirror themselves in the water and boats bob at anchor along brightly-painted pontoons.
Here, in this mysterious maze of islands and channels, there are no roads, no cars. Everything is delivered by boat from ice cream to the daily post. It's bucolic, romantic, and buzzing at the weekend.
Sarmiento's House ©Solange Hando
It all began in the 19th century when President Sarmiento invited his friends to enjoy the beauty of the delta. The wealthy families of Buenos Aires followed suit,claiming plots of land to build weekend retreats on the islands.
But Sarmiento was a wise man, encouraging wooden buildings, in keeping with the landscape, and boosting the rural economy by introducing wicker plants and nutmeg seeds for which the delta remains well known. He too had a house built of wood, now turned into a museum and preserved inside a glass cube. Pretty unique, I guess.
Peace and Quiet in the Delta ©Solange Hando
In these peaceful tree-clad surroundings, it's difficult to imagine that the delta stretches for 320 km, up to 60 km wide in places, starting between Santa Fe and Rosario before splitting into myriad islands and wetlands. The upper reaches are partly protected by a National Park and there is a Biosphere Reserve north of Buenos Aires.
However, you are unlikely to see much wild life close to the city, where the delta is at its most populated, but out in the wild are marsh deer, river otters, pampas cats and jaguars.
Autumn Colours in the Parana Delta ©Solange Hando
Whatever the developments may have brought close to Buenos Aires, the delta remains a special place, at its most beautiful perhaps in autumn when trees turn russet and gold and the water shimmers just like a painting.
Did you know that Buenos Aires means 'good air'?
Best place to enjoy it is in the Parana delta.