El Palmar National Park is a secret wildlife paradise, famous for its palm but it also has an amazing amount of wildlife very easy to spot. The park is well known at least by name among Argentinians but not even heard by most foreigners who should include it as a stop if they are looking to see wildlife.
In this post we cover how to plan the visit, the trails, how much time you need, the gateway towns and some pictures of what you will see in this park.
What to expect
Even you are in a national park with a lot of nature you are not so isolated as in others.
The park has vehicular trails that are used mostly by private cars driving around the park making stops at any point when they spot some animal on the road and short-easy hiking trails.
There are ruins with history, forest, streams, the Uruguay river and a beach to enjoy in summer. Also can find restaurant, toilets, convenience store, serviced camping site.
Among the activities there is horseback riding, canoeing, bicycle and guides.
One full day at the park its enough to see all the important areas. Two days will let you add some of the activities they offer without rushing too much.
The park is near Buenos Aires and Rosario, which makes it an excellent option for weekend getaway no need for long weekend. For travelers going from any of those cities to Esteros del Iberá or more commonly the Iguazú Falls can make a stop in this park.
Trails and Itineraries
The best is coming with your own car or get a private “remis” (kinda cheap taxi).
If you don’t plan to spend the night at the park the best is to stop and enjoy a day in Colon then visit El Palmar the next day.
Inside the park there are vehicular trails, which are the main attraction and mean of transportation. Cars drive slowly trying to spot wildlife along the road. These trails leads to viewpoints and hiking trails where there are parking space.
The best time to spot wildlife is the evening. For birds you can go in the morning or the evening. But it’s posible to see all kinds of animals all day long.
Choosing the itinerary for the park is almost imposible if you haven’t done it before. This list was done to the best of my knowledge and experience after visiting the park twice. It considers the timing, the daylight, wildlife and stops for eating. It was made with the idea of a one full day in the park which is enough. With tips for delays and recommendations for longer stays too.
Have a good breakfast before coming and bring some snacks -salame, cheese and sandwiches are good options- so you don’t rush to get lunch and dinner.
Get to the park as early as possible with enough daylight which will depend on the season. The gate opens at 07:00hs.
Prices: students 2 USD, Argentinians 4 USD, foreigners 8 USD.
The main road is a 12km dirt road going from the park entrance (ticket office) to the service area used mainly by cars. This is a good place to encounter wildlife. From this road you get secondary ones for vehicles too that leads to viewpoints and hiking trails. It’s not a problem to run it more than once if needed. Drive slowly (max 40km/h) to spot animals as well as not run them over.
La Glorieta Circuit
It’s the first secondary road after entering the park. Best to visit it when entering the park. The trail is for cars and has two hiking trails. The Yatay parking lot (viewpoint) is the first stop of the loop -opcional and recommended-. You can take some of the best pictures of the palms from close. From this point you access the Sendero Yatay -Yatay trail- 460 mts that takes 5 minutes without counting stops. The trail goes inside the forest but it’s nothing special. Only for those looking to do everything or having enough time.
At the furthest point of the loop we have the Mirador la Glorieta -La Glorieta viewpoint-. A panoramic view of the palm forest. This is also the start of the Sendero la Glorieta -La Glorieta trail- a hiking trail, 950mts long, 15 mins. not counting the stops. This trail takes you inside the forest that follows the water streams. You will see couple streams, a small beach and a nice river covered by trees.
Sendero del Pastizal
The second trail from the main road. Here we can stop at the Observatorio del Pastizal -observatory of the grassland-, basically a viewpoint to a swamp with some palms on the back to make it look like a postcard. Pretty view but the place was made for “observe” the wildlife of this trail. You can stop here when you start this section or at the end of it.
At the end of the vehicular trail we have the Mirador del Palmar -El Palmar viewpoint-. Same as others you see palms. This one is not so special, it’s basically the parking lot to start the Sendero Arroyo Palmar -El Palmar Stream Trail- (1km) 15 mins. not counting times for the stops. This trail takes you to the stream. This place is worth relaxing some time even make a picnic. It’s far away from the cars unlike the other parking lot-viewpoints. Half way on this hiking trail there is a good green open field to spot those giant lovely brown rats called carpinchos -capybara-.
Those who arrive early and have enough free time can do horseback riding -1.30 hours- and canoeing -2 hours-. The guides are for enthusiastic, people looking to spot wildlife like maniac and those looking to learn about it.
The bicycle excursions -1 hour- are guided, which make me think they use special trails that I’m not aware of.
In this area you find the Sendero el Mollar, a hiking trail that looks like it was made for vehicles, short and not popular.
Time for lunch. There are three options:
- Restaurant of the park: the best option for the experience. You can eat a tasty argentinian “parrillada” -food from the picture- or a grilled river fish which is the specialty from this province. This place can get very crowded, consider 1 to 2 hours to have lunch here.
- Proveduría-sandwichería: it’s a convenience store and sandwich store. Used mainly to take away and for people camping.
- Bring your own food: this is the best option to save money and maximize the activities in the park, allowing you to eat at any point without wasting time going to the service area and back but this is not a big time saver.
Finish digesting the food then you can go check the attractions of the Calera del Palmar, leaving the car in the service area and walking the Sendero Ruinas Históricas in the opposite direction.
After the calera area you can try spotting some vizcachas in the camping area, easy to find at night, possible in the late evening still with sun light.
Calera del Palmar
Almost at the end of the main road the trail splits again heading to the Calera del Palmar or Calera de Barquín, knows as the ruins which is next to the beach on the Uruguay river… This road is used mostly to visit la playa -the beach-, a popular option for summer time, there is a lifeguard post here.
The other option to get here is from the service area through the Sendero Ruinas Históricas -historical ruins trail- (also called Sendero Calera del Palmar) in the opposite direction. This trail connects the Calera del Palmar with the intendencia -park office- crossing ruins and a forest. It’s 950mts long and takes 15 mins. one way without making stops.
Sendero de la Selva
Near the beach there is the Observatorio de la Selva -observatory of the jungle- to watch the wildlife. Nearby is the start of the hiking trail Sendero de la Selva -trail of the jungle- a long but easy loop not shown on the maps that penetrates the forest where you can hear the birds singing plus some viewpoints of the beach. Skip this one if you don’t have enough time.
Arroyo los Loros
When everything else is done and it’s time to leave the park try to spot some vizcachas in the camping area then head to the Mirador Arroyo los Loros -Parrots Stream Viewpoint-. This is a short vehicular trail to a panoramic point good for sunset. There is no hiking trail here but you can walk around a bit.
Chose a nice weather to come. The season doesn’t matter too much but if it’s sunny it’s better specially for the landscape. Cloudy days are not so packed with tourists. The vehicular trails are dirt roads and can get flooded. Weekends get more tourists, cars scare some of the wildlife. Even worse on long weekends.
Recommended to do La Glorieta Circuit first, not when leaving.
Mirador los Loros is good as last stop before leaving the park. Alternative option is the Sendero Yatay parking lot for sunset but the rest of the trail has to be done earlier.
The rest of the trails can be swap easily to fit your timing for lunch.
Do not skip Sendero del Pastizal.
If lack the time skip: Sendero el Mollar, Sendero Ruinas Históricas + the beach, lastly Sendero de la Selva + Observatorio de la Selva.
Horseback riding looks interesting, the best among the guided activities. Coordinate the times and the booking. Canoeing is another good option and lastly the bicycle excursion.
Where to sleep in El Palmar National Park
For those looking to spend more than one day in the park there are two options:
- Camping is the only option inside the park and a great one but it requires the gear and the willingness. The camping site has toilets, showers with hot water, light, outlets, grills, convenience store even WiFi and it costs only 7 USD per person.
- La Aurora del Palmar is a pretty hotel outside the park entrance with old train wagons turned into rooms. This is the best option for most of the people. They organize excursions, horseback rinding and more.
Fifty kilometers away from El Palmar is Colon: the getaway town to the national park. This small town is easily reachable by buses and a good place to spend one day.
Here you can get tours, “remises” -best option- and local buses that pass the park entrance on their way and drop off passengers.
The most common is to visit the park for the day.
The town has some attractions like the Sotano de Quesos -Underground Cheese Shop- the beach, the riverside walk, the hot spring and more. There are also some pretty local style eating places such as El Viejo Almacen and many hotels. For more information on what to do here check the Colon article.
Where to sleep in Colon
- Costarenas Hotel & Spa e Intersur Hotel Colon are the best in town.
- Cheaper hoteles: Hotel Colonial, Hotel Palmar and Hotel Plaza.
- Hostería y Restaurante del Puerto pretty traditional architecture and long history.
- Hacienda Don Justo Hotel Boutique Spa for those with car coming in summer.
- Hostels: La Casona de Susana offers hostel style accommodation but no online booking for this option.
Ubajay is the closest town to the park. It is posible to spend the night here and even hire “remises” but is not touristic and is not prepared for that. People coming here find complications using it as a gateway for the park and for those who don’t speak Spanish it will be a nightmare.