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At 200 kilometres from the city of Salta, in the centre of the province, nailed on a horseshoe shaped valley and framed by the high crests of the Sierra del Piquete Mountainrange and the Cresta del Gallo, which conform its natural boundaries, travellers will encounter the Parque Nacional El Rey.

Created on June 24th, 1948 with the goal of preserving a very interesting area of the "Yungas", High Cloud Forest, and the transitional steps between this place and the Chaco Sierra High Mountain. Its name comes from a renowned cattle-breeding ranch, which also practices forestry.

In the 17th century, it was still dependent of the Peruvian Vice-royalty, and in 1767 it was given by Royal Grant to a Don Juan Fernández Cornejo on account of his services to the Spanish Crown.

Its total surface amounts to 44162 hectares and it has a very rough terrain. Thus, the difficult access and circulation within its boundaries have decisively contributed to maintain its species richness unaltered.

This is a mountainous area; the highlands that constitute the park's northern, eastern and western boundaries belong to the Sub-Andean Sierra Mountainrange System. Altitude varies between 700 and 2300 metres above sea level. It comprises the Andean Eastern slopes, from Venezuela to the Province of Catamarca in Argentina, in its southern most extremity.

The park is enclosed by mountain chains, which gradually descend upon the central valley, thus forming a huge amphitheatre of unique beauty. Streams of uncounted streams come down from the mountains coming finally together in a one big river, the Popayán. The park's particular topographic characteristics, open to southern cold winds, results in a less mild climate than that of the neighbouring areas.

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* Northeast Circuit
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Sub-tropical Highlands with very differenced seasons. In fact, 80% of annual rainfall takes place during the summer (November to March), showing a rate of 1500 mm on the mountain (montana) zone, diminishing on the lower foothill (pedemontana) zone. Standard temperatures registered are 12º C during the dry or winter season (May through October) and 27º C in the rainy or summer season (November - April). On occasions, winter temperatures have come well below 0º C.

In summer time, torrential rains turn the earthen road accessing the park into muddy tracks, and provoke sudden outflows of the Rio la Sala River and others, which leads to the need to ford them at several known places. The visitor may know when he is entering the park, but can never know when he is getting out of it.

Among the many plants that grow in the Parque Nacional El Rey, we can mention the quebracho, the guaiacum (Lignus vitae), the carob tree, the so called Chañar, the hackberry tree, the so called vivaró, the cebil, the lapacho, the so called palo lanza, white tipa, laurel, lianas, climbing plants, epiphytes, pepper trees or Horco Molle (Blepharocalyx gigantea), criollo walnut tree, myrtaceous, mountain pine, alder and queñoas.

All the boundaries of the Parque Nacional El Rey, excepting a small sector, are natural barriers composed mostly of mountain chains like Maíz Gordo, Centinela, Santa Bárbara, Cresta del Gallo and Piquete.

On this mild continental sub-tropical climate immense territory you will find diverse tree species, located according to the kind of forest they are found in.

In accordance, on the "pedemontana" or transitional jungle, we find tipa trees, the so called Pacarás, palos amarillos and palos blancos, ranging above 30 metres high and showing hanging lianas, bringing to memory the legendary Tarzan.

A different kind of forest can be found on the "Chaqueño Serrano" zone. Species like Cebils (Anandenanthera sp.), algarrobos blancos or White Carob Tree (Prosopis alba) and algarrobo negro or Black Carob Tree (Prosopis nigra), none of them above ten metres high.

The "montana" jungle has the dampest climate and grows very large trees, like Tipa tree (Tipuana tipu), the Walnut (Juglans australis), the Cedar (Cedrela sp.), the Laurel (Phoebe sp.), and the Horco Molle (Blepharocalyx gigantea), all covered by lianas and other creepers and climbing plants.

Finally, the "montana" forest is the zone located in the highest altitude among the mountain jungles. It is a colder place and hosts lower kind of trees. The three main species of this zone are the Mountain Pine (Podocarpus parlatorei), the Matos Tree (Myrcianthes mato) and Alder Tree (Alnus acumitata).

The lowlands of the Park are part of a vast transitional zone, which along with the "Chaco" zone, bristle with hills and gorges. The "Chaqueño Serrano" forest presents other species, like the Horco Quebracho, the Cochucho, the Atamisque and the Giant Cactus or Cardon. The Cloud Forest vegetation, with its different habitats and height floors, is magnificently represented in this Park. As you go up, transition forests appear with their Tipa and Pacarás Trees, followed by the "montana" forest with its gigantic specimen (Cedar, Tarco, Tipa, Walnut and many other). From 800 metres above sea level, the Myrtle jungle shows up, where we can mention the palo barroso (muddy stick), the alpamato or Myrtus thea, and the so called mato, the chal- chal, and the güili. From 1500 meters above sea level upwards, Mountain Pine woods develop in first place, followed by the Alder trees and at last by the Queñoa tree, all species capable of forming pure one specie communities. Beautiful coloured birds from this forest are the so-called Rey de los Bosques (King of the Woods) and the Monterita Ceja Rojiza among others. The highest part of the mountains is grasslands.

One of the showiest aspects of the plant wildlife of this jungles is the huge variety of epiphytes that hang and cover almost completely the trunks and branches of the trees. Some examples are the Tank Bromeliads, the Claveles del Aire or Air Carnations, and several Orchid species. Water stored inside the bigger bromeliad epiphytes works as perfect habitats to different kinds of small insects and crustaceans.

The Park hosts more than 700 species of plants; Some 17 gender and 12 species of plants with high nutritional characteristics have been catalogued. Among them, several forage grasses, wood trees and cultivated wild species like the poroto silvestre or wild bean (Phaseolus vulgaris var. indigenu) and the aji (Capsicum sp.). The conservation of these wild species is considered essential, due to their potential economical value.

The highlands provide for the existence of different kinds of forest structures, whose characteristics rely not only on altitude but also on other factors like the exposure to sunlight, gradient degree and type of soil. In the Park, one can roughly describe seven floors of vegetation, depending on structural and physiognomic features:
  1. Fields and Lower Forests. Developed in the pedemontana (Central-South) zone of the Park. Topographically constituted by lesser slopes and heights (ranging between 700 and 900 m.a.s.l.). The fields are areas that have supported a major intensity of human activities. The Lower Forests are composed by arboreal communities that usually do not exceed 20 metres high and with a varying floral structure and composition. These woods can be booked as Transitional Forests. They are mainly secondary woods, with predominance of acacias, and the so-called Espina de Corona (Gleditsia amorphoides), and several isolated individuals of White Carob Tree.
  2. Forests of Cebils. Developed on slopes of higher gradients and reaching 1200 m.a.s.l. approximately. Mostly crowded by Cebiles Colorados or Red Cebils and Horco Cebiles. On the slopes that are more exposed to the sunlight is usual to find other species from the Chaco. On the less exposed slopes, other species associated to the high deciduous forest are found.
  3. Forests of Tipa Trees. Lying on the lesser montana strip, located approximately between 900 and 1000 m.a.s.l. The superior emergent stratum is constituted by the Tipa Tree (Tipuana Tipu), a very large tree that reaches heights above 40 metres, and several other species. There is a great development achieved by the Epiphytes, notably of the big Tank Bromeliad.
  4. Laurel Forests. It stands at the feet of the mountain ranges between 500 and 900 m.a.s.l. The superior stratum of about 30 metres is outlined by trees whose dominant species are the Laurel de Cerro or Mountain Laurel. A second level strata is formed by trees below 20 metres high, as the Chal Chal tree. The third level stratum is the domain of the bushes, from 4 to 2 metres high. The fourth level belongs to the high grasses, below two metres high. The fifth level is occupied by species that grow at ground level. There are lots of liana and creepers, as of moss and epiphytes developing mainly over Laurel and Tipa Trees.
  5. Forests of Queñoa and Cebil Trees. Shows similar characteristics to the ones of the Laurel and Tipa trees forests but with drier climate conditions.
  6. Forests of Myrtles. Extending over damper slopes, starting at 950 m.a.s.l. and ending at 1500 m.a.s.l. Shows a higher development of epiphytes, with predominance of mosses and ferns.
  7. Forests of Pino del Cerro or Mountain Pine. Mainly developed over 1450 m.a.s.l., varying on the different mountains. The Arboreal Superior Strata Level does not surpass 25 metres high and is mainly constituted by Mountain Pines.
  8. Forests of Alder Trees. Found above 1600 m.a.s.l., and usually associated with gorges and forming small woods of one specie deciduous Mountain Alders.
  9. Forests of Queñoa. It develops only in certain mountains, depending mostly on exposition to sunlight conditions, usually appearing as isolated individuals or in small groups, composed of small trees or squat bushes, appearing specially on steep walls and gorges.
  10. Grasslands of the Sierra. Extending on the crests of the mountains, generally above 1600 m.a.s.l., composed by several groups of grasses that share the ground with thickets.
The special characteristics of the Park are adequate for the development of many animal species, showing a great diversity in vertebrates: 16 species of fish, 11 species of amphibians, 21 species of reptiles, 255 species of birds and 50 species of mammals have been found.

For people who love nature, or bird watchers may observe birds of amazing sizes and colours as well as all kind of animals, El Rey is a green paradise populated by tapirs, deer (Mazama gouazoubira) and the red legged chuña birds (Cariama cristata) that run to hide among the foliage of the hackberries, cedars and flowering tipa trees.

Here, the word "extinction" does not exist, because even the most endangered ones enjoy here a life of fullness, oblivious to the dangers and countdowns set by the pressure of humanity's modern life.

The soil of the Park accumulates huge amounts of energy in the form of rotten leafs and humus, which highly contributes to the conservation of great quantities of water. Due to the decomposition of organic substances, the soil of the forests have an acid ph, resulting in an enormous alimentary proposal, which gives impulse to the natural food chain that goes through fishes, amphibians and reptiles, and ends with the great predators like cats and birds of prey.

Plants and animals in El Rey must interact to exist. Some birds, as the pava del monte or Spix's Guan (Penelope obscura) and the charata (Ortalis canicollis) feed on fruits from trees and bushes like the hackberry (Celtis tala), chal-chal (Allophilus edulis), chal-chal de gallina (Vassobia breviflora), tusca (Acacia aromo), walnut (Juglans australis), espina corona (Gleditsia amorphoides), amongst others.

An extremely interesting bird is the red-legged Chuña (Cariama cristata), easy to watch near the Mayor's house of the Park and the hotel, for it builds its nest of about one metre in diameter in the highest trees of the surroundings. It is a fast runner that feeds on small insects, amphibians, snails and small reptiles.

Of all the mammals dwelling in this enormous protected territory, one that stands out is the so-called corzuela parda (Mazama gouazoubira) the only deer with presence in this National Park. The likeable animal has a diet composed by herbs and tender blossoms and again, as the food chain laws demands, becomes prey to the mighty puma, wildcats and foxes that are part of the fauna of the Del Rey Park. The Brown deer can be seen while foraging on pastures near the hotel of the Park. They are animals that dwell in the woods and in open spaces.

Among the "illustrious" mammals figures the tapir (Tapirus terrestris), an animal that is in the list of endangered species, and shows aquatic habits, spending lots of time in the pools and rivers of the jungle. It also has nocturnal habits, seeking to feed on herbs and grasses, which makes him a great seed disseminator. The tapir, specially the youngsters, can be hunted by the puma. As to prevent that, nature has provided a protective white spotted camouflage, which allows the animal to mimic with the vegetation when light beams pass through the foliage.

This place gives shelter to other endangered species like the caí monkey (Cebus apella) and the White lipped peccary (Tayassu pecarí).

To mention some predators, the puma (puma concolor) is placed in the highest place on the food chain. This awesome animal hunts small mammals and birds to feed upon. To achieve this, the cat needs to move across ample territories, like the jungles and the forests of the Chaco.

On the Patitos Lake lives a great diversity of species of aquatic birds. Some regular species are the coot, the so-called pollona negra, the cutirí duck and the maca or macacito gris.

There are big scores and variety of vipers like the rattlesnake, the pit viper (Bothrops alternata) or yarará, coral and also lots of other snakes. As to fish, they are found in rivers and ponds forming incredibly dense shoals of shads, along with catfish and dorados.

The Park has eight walking paths showing different degrees of difficulty, distance and duration, which makes it very convenient for the observation of animals in general and bird watching in particular. This paths are also excellent to behold spectacular jungle and sierra landscapes as well as clear water rivers. Journeys can be made on foot, on horseback or even in vehicles.
There are two main areas for camping, one in the sector of Popayán River and the other nearby the Park authorities . Several paths and roads allow to explore different places on foot, on horseback or on a vehicle:

The Sendero de la Chuña Path: This is a shortcut, good for walks, that goes from the zone of the Park authorities to the first ford on the road to Pozo Verde, that is the starting point to the Los Ocultos Path.

The Sendero Los Ocultos Path: Pedestrian Interpretation path. 1.5 kilometres long, that goes through the transition forest. Starts three kilometres away from the Park authorities, on the road to Pozo Verde.

The Sendero Chorro de los Loros (Parrot) Path: Ten kilometre long pedestrian path across the transition jungle.

The Cerro Chañar Mountain: This slope is an addition to the road to Pozo Verde. This is a deeply inclined path, covering about a four-kilometre distance, through a forest of myrtle trees and mountain pines up to the sierra grasslands.

The Sendero vehicular a Laguna de los Patitos Vehicle Road: Located over the accessing road to the Park, 1,5 kilometres before reaching the Park authorities and is ideal for bird watching.

The Sendero vehicular al Río Popayán Vehicle Road: It starts a kilometre away from the park authorities and is accessed through a gravel road, where not all vehicles can travel (too many fords), touring around the Chaco forest.

The Sendero vehicular a Pozo Verde Vehicle Road: A 12 kilometre long road. The first three kilometres are over rough terrain apt for several trucks. The nine other kilometres are a vehicle road that can be travelled only in winter and in a restricted way. It includes the Interpretation Path of Los Ocultos (the Hidden).

The Campo Santa Elena Camp and the Cascada Los Lobitos Waterfall: It is located some four kilometres from the Park authorities, across a packed gravel road, surveying an area between the Sierra Chaco and the transition jungle (still recovering after eradicating the cattle from it.)

In car, from the City of Salta, taking Ruta Nacional No 9 National Route. There is a distance of 100 kilometres to Lumbreras; from the city of Metán to Lumbreras there are 35 kilometres; from the city of General Güemes to Lumbreras there are 75 kilometres. From there across the Ruta Provincial No 5 Provincial Route it is 45 kilometres to reach Paso de la Cruz, from where the gravel road Ruta Provincial No 20 is taken and from there 45 more kilometres to the entrance of the Parque Nacional el Rey National Park. In summer and early autumn the rains deteriorates the access roads making it mostly impossible to reach the Park.

It is open all year round. Nevertheless, the best seasons are winter and early spring, from May to October as we are on the southern hemisphere. Interesting features of the Park are the Pozo Verde, Popayán, and the Cascada Santa Elena Waterfall.


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