Where: Iguazu Falls, border of Argentina and Brazil
When: November 2012
The largest waterfall system in the world is nestled within a diverse, lush ecosystem straddling Brazil and Argentina. Where the Iguazu River spills over the edge of the Paraná Plateau, roughly 275 discrete falls create a magnificent spectacle nearly twice as tall as Niagara, and more than three times as wide. Add to that the jungle setting, and Iguazu beats Niagara hands-down. No casinos line the dramatic gorge, instead they feel fittingly secluded, surrounded by a landscape home to colorful toucans, butterflies, and curious monkeys.
No pictures can capture the majesty and splendour of these cascades. Visiting them is an immersive experience, where you’ll feel their cooling spray on your face whilst hearing the waters powerful roar. It’s an almighty display of nature. And utterly worthy of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to behold. Conversely, you can expect all subsequent cascades to be ‘ruined’ after the trip, as they pale in comparison!
The falls are shared between the two distinct National Parks, both of which were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the 1980s. You might recognise some of these images, as many films have leveraged the other-worldliness of the cataracts powerful mystique, including the 2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
We based ourselves on the Brazilian side, flying into Foz do Iguaçu, a 20-minute taxi ride to our hotel within the park. Most other hotels are located in the town of Foz do Iguaçu, just on the other side of the airport.
Brazilian Side – Parque Nacional do Iguaçu
Cost pp: 64 R$ (approx $20 US)
The Brazilian park is a small, simple set up, with one main access road to the visitor centre, where visitors board the internal eco-friendly bus service. The buses ferry people a few miles along the serene jungle road, to reach a handful of short trails and walk-ways, each providing views of the falls. The main walkway extends into the lower canyon floor, arguably providing the best view of the highest, deepest, and most iconic of the falls – the Devil’s Throat. This giant horseshoe-shaped curtain of gushing water is simply incredible.
A precarious walk down a long spiral staircase (hopefully now decommissioned), took us to the boat loading dock for Macuco water safaris. The small inflatable rafts seemed popular with the tourists. Yes they are a tad gimmicky, but great fun. Transporting you a short way along the river to experience the falls from another angle – underneath! Suffice to say we got soaked.
During our stay, we returned to these viewpoints numerous times to witness the changing environment at different parts of the day. We were able to do this on the recommendation of a friend who had honeymooned in Brazil. He convinced us that it was worth the expense to stay at the sole hotel INSIDE the park, which is now called Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas. It wasn’t really in-line with our budget travel plans, but I’m so glad we took the hit, as outside the limited park opening hours the falls felt like they belonged entirely to us. This made the trip all that more special.
Argentinian Side – Parque Nacional Iguazú
Cost pp: 500 ARS $ (approx $28 US)
An hour’s drive from our hotel – but a ‘stones-throw’ across the ravine – it felt a bit more like Disney. Having shown our passports at the border, we entered the Argentinian park which is much larger than it’s neighbour, with more facilities. From the commercial area at the entrance, complete with gift shops and over-priced food outlets, we joined the long queue for the ‘ecological’ train that travels through the forest to the top of Devil’s Throat. [I should note that it is possible to hike and avoid the train ride, but given the searing heat, and distance involved we made the decision to reluctantly queue instead!]
We headed straight for the Paseo Garganta del Diablo – a 0.6 mile-long trail that brings visitors directly over the falls of Devil’s Throat. We got soaked by the spray, but the feeling of being so close to the water as it surges over the edge was exhilarating!
We spent the rest of the day wandering along the array of established trail circuits, many of which follow elevated metal walkways to get different perspectives of the many falls. It really was incredible, and I can easily see how people can spend multiple days in this side of the park, but to be honest our enjoyment was hindered by the frustratingly humid, buggy climate! Maybe it was the time of the year, but the mosquitos were rampant – perhaps it was our accidentally matching yellow t-shirts – and the heat made all the walking very taxing.
The Argentinian park also offers boat services, and contains a hotel – I think it is a Sheraton.
- Although the Brazilian park only comprises less than a third of the entire falls, you’ll find the view from this side to be much more panoramic than the view from the Argentinean side. However, if you have come all that way to see Iguazu, you will ideally want to see both aspects. For that plan to spend at least 2 full days.
- Remember your passport when travelling between the two parks!
- Pack inspect repellent with high DEET, and drink lots of water because it is very humid.
- Both parks are generally less busy by the mid-to-late afternoon, once all the tour groups have passed through.