Martín García Island

Photo: Silvinarossello (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Silvinarossello (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
You have an A in American history. North American history, at least. You know about the motivations, the battles, and the processes that went into forming the United States more than 200 years ago. But the history of the rest of the world is a little fuzzy. So this year, you’re determined to learn more about the places to which you’re traveling. It’s no longer enough to show up, take a few photographs, and leave.

While traveling in Argentina—a country with its own fascinating history since it was colonized by the Spanish—you decide to take a day trip up the Río de la Plata. After a three-hour boat ride from Tigre, just north of Buenos Aires, Martín García Island starts to come into view. The less-than-one-square-mile island is now a nature reserve. It’s famous for having more than 250 species of birds, red deer, and some of the last traces of the Misiones Rainforest. But there’s so much more to learn about the island.

Martín García Island is technically part of Uruguay. Or at least it was. In 1973, the Uruguayan government agreed to give the territory to Argentina with the promise that it would become a nature reserve. Even though the island is much closer to the mainland of Uruguay (two miles) than Argentina (22 miles), the Argentines had claimed it for almost 200 years. They built fortifications here in the early 1800s to both deny Brazil’s navy access up the Uruguay River and as a battle spot during the Argentine War of Independence. Politicians, including former presidents, were later housed in the island’s prison. The remains of the fort and the prison now are frequently visited sites on the island.

So those are the first two places you explore when you arrive. Then you follow well-worn paths through the forest and down to the beach. Keep an eye out for hummingbirds—at least eight different types call the island home—along the way. There’s a small museum, an odd theater, and an old lighthouse, as well. Most of the houses on the island are long abandoned; people moved to the mainland when the prison closed. But about 150 people, who are known for making the best pan dulce in Argentina, still live here. They’ll be happy to answer the rest of your questions about their little island—over pan dulce, of course.

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