It was about 8 pm, and a cacophany of chirping birds and cicadas filled the inky darkness. If a large animal—a tapir, perhaps, or a jaguar—snapped branches or scampered through the bush, it would have been hard to hear it. My ears strained, my pulse quickened, as I surveyed the dense jungle ahead with a flashlight, waiting to spy a flash of green eyes…
Not many visitors make it to this part of northeastern Argentina, despite its Urugua-í Provincial Park being just a 2.5-hour drive from Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s largest waterfalls and certainly one of the most breathtaking. It even had a recent cameo in Black Panther. The Brazilian side of the falls is more popular and claims several things the Argentinian side lacks: notably, good roads, luxury hotels, and helicopter tours. But Misiones, one of Argentina’s 23 provinces, is full of untapped adventures beyond the Unesco World Heritage site.
Subscribing to a safari model, the four-month old Awasi Iguazú now offers a viable way in for high-class explorers. It pairs luxurious rooms—which feel like mashups of log cabins and Tribeca lofts, complete with private plunge pools—with guided access to under-visited terrain. Each two-person villa is assigned a personal naturalist guide and a four-wheel-drive pickup truck that facilitates hikes to old Jesuit ruins and visits with Guaraní tribes.
Awasi is justly famed for its other South American properties—standard setters when it comes to eco-sensitive, six-star adventure lodges that pair off-the-beaten-path adventures with engaging design and culinary might. Its first property opened in Chile’s Atacama Desert in 2007; six years later, it added an outpost in Patagonia. Each has won enough awards to fill entire bookshelves, including nods from Condé Nast Traveler and luxury-travel outfitter Andrew Harper.
Eco-friendly lodging such as Awasi’s is hard to find at Iguazu, and the resort’s opening couldn’t have come at a better time. The falls are seeing record visitation—an all-time-high of 1.4 million in 2017 on the Argentine side alone—putting pressure on the already strained town of Puerto Iguazu to meet increased plane and road traffic. Couple that with deforestation, a real concern across the Atlantic rainforest that stretches from northeastern Brazil into Argentina and Paraguay. With increasingly tropical weather, the area needs trees to help prevent erosion; the clear waters feeding Iguazu are already turning a muddy, brick-red from soil run-off.
Demand for sustainably built and run lodging exists, and its supply will be critical to maintaining this pristine ecosystem. At the Iguazu resort, the 14 villas are built on stilts to limit their environmental impact, and meals are indulgent multi-course affairs with regional ingredients. During my visit, dishes included surubi, a local freshwater fish prepared with heart of palm and brocolli puree, and farofa, a cousin to the piranha that gets matched with mushrooms, parsley foam, and an Argentine chardonnay. And they kept the fresh watermelon juice free flowing, even though it was an off-menu request.
Arrival to Awasi comes via Puerto Iguazu airport, currently in expansion mode, where I landed four days after a cruise to Antarctica. (Most people fly via Buenos Aires, less than two hours away.) Guests are picked up not by a hotel driver but by their own guide, decked out in a safari uniform of ripstop and dryfit khaki. From there, it’s about a 30-minute drive through Iguazu National Park to the private reserve in which the resort is set.