Around Puerto Iguazú and Misiones

Print

Wanda amethyst mines

Iguazu Falls Misiones ArgentinaJust 45 km from the city of Iguazú lie the mining towns of Wanda and Puerto Libertad, home to open-cast semi-precious stone mines, discovered only in 1976. Rich veins of topaz, amethyst, rock crystal, agate and quartz run through the soil, a real delight for all stone-lovers.

One hundred and fifty million years ago, lava currents roiled up from the center of the earth to cool off, trapping bubbles of gas in the hardening rock which formed basalt, the “mother” rock of the precious stones in that part of the world. The speed at which the lava cooled off in its various emanations produced pure silica quartz, agates and chalcedony green jasper if it happened quickly, or if the process was slower, amethysts, topaz and rock crystal. The main stone is the violet-hued amethyst, apparently the favourite of the Polish princess Wanda, after whom the mines were named.

This is a half-day trip, as it’s only 40 km south of Puerto Iguazú and the guided tour around the mines themselves lasts just over an hour. You can buy (more expensively than in town) unset and (cheaply) set amethysts, topaces, rock crystals and agates of all sizes at the various stalls around the mines. Get a taxi there from Puerto Iguazú.

The Jesuit ruins

Iguazu Falls Misiones Argentina

A significant period of the history of the Jesuit Church took place here, set against the struggle between the Spanish and Portuguese crowns over their rights to territory in South America and immortalized in Roland Joffé’s 1986 epic film The Mission, starring Jeremy Irons as a Jesuit priest intent on protecting the guaraní native Indians. He is backed up by Robert De Niro, who plays a converted slave trader. Both grapple with Ray McAnally’s powerful church functionary sent by the King of Portugal to decide the future of the Jesuit missions and the native communities to which they ministered.

The Society of Jesus, founded by the subsequently-canonized Ignatius Loyola in the mid-16th century, was set up to be a religious order of energetic well-educated young men as roving missionaries to preach and administer the sacraments wherever there was the hope of accomplishing the greater good. It was not long before they established themselves in Brazil, Peru and Paraguay, which included Argentina, Uruguay, parts of Bolivia, Chile and the south of Brazil.

They rapidly organized the small tribes of native Indians into ‘Reductions’ or communities to be evangelized, setting up schools and carefully shaping their social and cultural development, all the while respecting their innate rights. The system worked largely because the relationship between the Jesuits and the Indians was pacific and mutually respectful in nature and the communities were far from Spanish and Portuguese settlements which tended to clash with a civilization so different from their own.

In their heyday, over 140,000 native Indians lived in some 30 Jesuit communities, of which 11 were in the area now known as the province of Misiones. However, the Reductions soon came under the threat of Portuguese slave traders in the 1620s who carried out violent raids on the communities in search of men and women to be sold as slaves to the Fazendas and estates on the Atlantic coast.

Finally, the Jesuit fathers decided to move southwards to the Yabebirí river where they re-founded San Ignacio Miní and Loreto, followed by Santa María La Mayor on the coast of the river Uruguay and Santa Ana deep in the thickets of the rainforest, all of which have been restored to a greater or lesser degree and may be visited today. The most impressive of the missions to visit today is San Ignacio Miní.

The town of San Ignacio, named after the Jesuit Reduction, lies some 250 km south of Puerto Iguazú, on a road which runs through conifer, mate and tea plantations.

San Ignacio Minï, first built in 1632 by the Jesuit priests Cataldino and Simón Mosseta has largely been restored to its former glory by the National Commission of Historical Monuments and can be visited every day from 7am to 7 pm. Tel (03752) 470186.

Explore the rainforest

Iguazu Falls Misiones Argentina

Thanks for this picture to R.Martins

The rainforest of Misiones is part of the Paraná rainforest, a natural formation that until 1910 covered the whole of the north of the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil and reached down to the north of Argentina. Of that original lush forestation, only 6% is left standing today. Whereas in Brazil and Paraguay, the rainforest is under serious threat of extinction, excepting some key natural reserves, the situation in Argentina is different as the Misiones rainforest was not initially raided to the same extent.

But there is major cause for concern as in just over half a century, the Misiones rainforest has been depleted by 70%. This rainforest first came under threat at the end of the 19th century when Misiones officially became part of Argentine territory, fruit of the victory of the Triple Alliance (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) over Paraguay. Large timber companies soon set themselves up with a quasi-slavery employment regime which survived until the first labor laws of the mid-1940s.

Iguazu Falls Misiones Argentina

Thanks for this picture to (maty)

However, the task of depleting the rainforest soon fell into the hands of the new industrial companies that bulldozed swathes of destruction through the trees in the 1970s. Together with the growth of small-scale subsistence farming among the indigenous Indians, this is resulting in the gradual erosion of the rain forest.

The care of the Argentine rain forest and its inhabitants in the Iguazú National Park is now, however, in the hands of experts keen to share their knowledge and preservation concerns with ecologically interested visitors and there are several tours available to suit all interests. The floor of the rain forest, which gets the least sunlight, is home to plants with large leaves, giant ferns and lianas, and a wide range of insects as well as large mammals like the tapir, the wildcat and deer, while colossal trees such as the Amazonian rosewood reach up through the canopies of hanging gardens to poke through the green roof and provide a perch for the eagles.

Itaipú Hydroelectric Plant

Itaipu Dam ArgentinaThe inhabitants of the Brazilian and Argentine Iguazú are particularly proud of the Itaipú dam, the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world which has given the Brazilian and Paraguayan manufacturing industry a huge boost. You can visit it on a tour, usually on the way to Ciudad del Este for some duty free shopping, for a brief series of lectures on turbines and wattage.

The Festival Provincial de la Ecología in Balneario El Bonito, held in March (Municipalidad de Campo Ramón), is an intriguing oddity. Three days of a folk-festival on canoes and rafts on the banks of the river Bonito, where musicians and singers work together to raise awareness about the environment. An interesting opportunity to meet the locals.

Tel: 03755 483 049.

The National Tea Festival in Campo Viera, in the third week of May. You can’t go to Misiones and not know that it is the tea capital of Argentina, exporting black tea across the world as well as meeting virtually all of Argentina’s mate tea requirements. The Tea festival is a homage to the efforts of all those involved, and involves dancing and music, exhibitions, and craftwork stands.

Tel: 03755 497 007.

As befits a sub-tropical location, Misiones is also home to a wide variety of stunning flowers, particularly orchids. The pavilions at the National Festival of the Orchid and the Flower at Parque Vortisch in Montecarlo, held in September, exhibit the many hundreds of species to be found in the rainforest, including particularly rare finds.

Tel: 03751 480 404

Tour operators

  • Sol Iguazú Turismo, www.soliguazu.com.ar
  • Rainforest Turismo, Perito Moreno 217, Pto. Iguazú, Tel. 03757 421 632 / 15 431 220. www.rainforestevt.com.ar
  • Caracol Internacional Turismo, Avenida Victoria Aguirre 563 , Pto. Iguazú, Tel 03757 423 497, www.caracolturismo.com.ar
  • Cataratas Turismo, Avenida Tres Fronteras 301, Pto. Iguazú, Tel. 03757 420 970, www.cataratasturismoevt.com.ar
  • IGR Viajes y Turismo de Soleil Tour, Avenida Victoria Aguirre 564, Pto. Iguazú, Tel. 03757 420 076 / 174 / 767. www.grupocaribe.com.br
  • Argecam Turismo, Tel / fax : 03757 423085 www.argecamturismo.com
  • We think you might also like: