If you happen to venture to the Brazilian side of the falls be sure to visit the Parque Das Aves across from the entrance to the Brazilian National Park. What looks like nothing more than a huge tourist trap and complete waste of money turned out to be a very interesting (and huge) living museum of local and foreign birds. You literally walk through cages in which the birds walk and fly right by you. The highlight of my visit was probably the toucans which hop right on over to visitors :)
The Macuco Nature Trail sees much fewer visitors than the other trails in the national park, but it's well worth doing it if you have the time, as there are great wildlife spotting opportunities along the way, and the trail ends at a lovely pool, just below a waterfall, one of the few areas in the park where swimming is permitted.
You can get a map and information about the trail at the visitor centre near the entrance. The map warns about the possibility of seeing snakes or pumas on the path, but the chances of this are small, and we certainly saw nothing bigger than a lizard. You will certainly encounter butterflies, insects including some very large ants, and hundreds of lizards.
The trail is 7km round trip, and there are interpretative stations along the way with information about the flora and fauna. After 3km you reach a mirador with nice views over the Iguazu River. Just below this lies the swimming area, which is a lovely place to relax after hiking in the hot and humid jungle. The Arrechea waterfall is small in comparison to other falls in the park but if you sit directly under the flow of water, it feels very powerful.
When we reached the pool we bumped into a couple we knew from our hostel, but the four of had it to ourselves. It was very quiet for about 20 minutes until a huge group of Argentinian schoolkids came along.
All in all, the Macuco Trail was a great hike. Most people who visit the park in one day miss out on this, but with two days it's definitely worth including on your itinerary.
After our Zodiac boat dropped us off 9-km downstream from the Falls at Puerto Macuco landing, we returned our life-jackets and took our valuables out of their protective plastic bags. The group then boarded the two rugged 4WD Mercedes 'Unimog' trucks that were waiting for us, as part of the 'Grand Adventure' tour.
A handy set of steps leading up to a loading platform made it easy to climb into the back of the trucks that were lined with long benches. It was not long before we were off for our drive through the rain-forest as we headed back to the area near the Sheraton Hotel inside the Parque.
If you decide to do the lower walk, as you reach the end, you will come across a stall where you can pay to ride the river boats that take you to the base of some of the falls. Be aware that that the walk down to the boats is a long way from the pay point and looked to be down a fairly rough and steep trail. If you do this, judging by the photos that I took, you could also get extremely wet from the spray, which may be welcome after the hike to get to the boat!
Apart from the river trip to the falls, the boats also offer a way across to St Martin island, which gives extra views of the falls. The isand is can be seen in photo no 2 on the left. The boats come across from the right.
The large variety of species is one of the reasons that the flora and the fauna are, almost as much as the waterfalls, some of the main attractions of the Park. Along the journey you will be amazed watching the many, brightly-coloured birds, mammals, flowers and lush forest vegetation.
On the coast of the Iguazu river and in the islands of the delta that rise out of the water before it crashes over the falls, can be found various tree species which require much humidity for survival. Some examples include: the curupay, cupay, laurel blanco, aguay and the inga. You can find the ceibos as well, whose flower has been declared the national flower of Argentina.
Due to the extreme humidity of the region, many rarities can be found. Among the most outstanding ones we can name two special species, as this is the only place in Argentina where it grows, the cupay trees are definitely worth mentioning. This tree is one of the few in the are which loses its leaves, which turn a beautiful copper colour. The other makes up the pastures of Paspalum lilloi, a grass plant that grows between the river stones.
With out a doubt, one of the most characteristic birds from the Iguazu falls are the cascade vencejos (official symbol of Iguazu National Park) that, making a show of precision, criss-cross the giant columns of water, flying at break-neck speed ending perching on the precarious, rocky wall where they rest and sometimes even nest.
On the catwalks, you can frequently see groups of coatis who have become very accustomed to humans. Please do not feed them however as it is very unhealthy both mentally and physically for them. The great tucan is always popular, it’s one of five different species inside the park. On the trails you can see a huge variety of butterflies, a common species has exquisite yellow colouring mixed with red and black. You can see them almost anywhere you can find a puddle, as they absorb the dissolved salt in the water.
Having seen the waterfalls from top to bottom on the Argentinian-side, we decided to up the ante by taking the 'Grand Adventure' thrill boat ride. Large Zodiac boats equipped with twin 200-HP Yamaha engines leave the shore from just below the waterfalls, with all passengers equipped with life-jackets and plastic bags for anything that you would like to still be working at the end of the trip!
After a few high-speed turns in the gorge, the boat roars at full speed toward the foaming bottom of the Devil's Throat, pulling up just short at the last minute as the spray boils around you, making it hard to even keep your eyes open. This is followed by a spin around to the other side of San Martin Island to the almost equally impressive Salto (Waterfall) San Martin. Edging to the side of that channel, you are treated to another soaking as a smaller cataract almost plunges directly into the craft. If you look closely at the photo, you can see a man covered in green plastic standing in the bow of the boat. Holding a large covered video-camera on his shoulder, his job is to video the reactions of the passengers during the ride! When the ride is finished, the boat operators accept orders for CDs of the experience (US$60) and will deliver them to your hotel the next day.
Finally, it is off down the river at high-speed where you will land to catch a 4WD truck for a narrated ride through a rain forest trail leading to the Sheraton Hotel. This little experience cost us US$25 each, above and beyond the booked tour - but it was worth it!
Take the Lower Circuit walk to reach the boats.
On our 8-km drive along the Sendero (Trail) Macuco through the rain-forest leading up out of the Rio Iguazu gorge, each truck had a Guide in the back describing things as we drove along.
We were going slow enough that the dirt road was not kicking up much dust as we wound our way along through the tall trees on both sides of the trail. The guides were very knowledgable about the types of trees we were seeing, such as araucarias, figs and various types of palms. There were also beautiful flowers and even the odd exotic butterfly disturbed by our passing.
Once we arrived at the hotel 20-minutes later at 6 PM, our two guides who had shown us around the park were waiting to drive us back to our hotel in Puerto Iguazu. A great end to a fantastic day of touring!
Once you have completed your walking tours of the various magnificent waterfalls at Iguazu, you can also treat yourself to a zodiac boat-ride in the lower Rio Iguazu at the foot of the falls.
These tours are run by Iguazu Jungle Explorer and can be purchased in the park separately from your entrance fee. Their Zodiac boats can even take you to the small island, San Martin, located between the two main waterfalls of Devil's Throat and San Martin. Here, there is a small beach which is sometimes available for swimming, as long as you don't venture too far from shore and into the strong currents! The island also has a set of stairs and a footpath that provides access to a 2-hour walk for fantastic views in this part of the park that is not accessible to most park visitors.
The tours were not going to San Martin Island when we were there, so we instead embarked on their 'Grand Adventure' - see next Tip!
Get a map when you enter the Iguazu National Park (ARG)
The first day we went straight to the monkey trail. Follow this trail to the end and you will be in for a treat. A really cool waterfall that flows into a natural rock pool at the bottom.
We went swimming in the pool at the bottom and it was magical. Many people i met did not even know about this trail. On the way back to the main falls we saw many monkeys feeding in the trees above us.
Most of the "tour bus" tourists only go to the main falls. So if you want to get away from them all, head down this trail !
Only 237 kms. from Iguazu you can t miss the red sandstone blocks that make the columns -exquisitely carved by hand- and the huge church walls of the many Jesuitical Ruins: La Candelaria, Santa Ana, Loreto and undoubtedly the most astonishing one: San Ignacio Mini, the best presrved of the missions.
There are historical spires, angels figures, wide porches and rough belfries surrounded by nature. some of the walls that still stand are 10 metres high.
These ruins were declared World Heritage by UNESCO, and are worth looking at if you re interested in history and aboriginals.
The ruins are located in the state of Misiones in Argentina,
which is the state that is the most northeast, surrounded by Paraguay and Brazil. (Misiones is most famous for the Iguazu Falls in the northern most tip of the state.)
Well, maybe it's technically a rain forest . . . but only barely. Technically, a rain forest should have between 200 - 1000 centimeters of annual rainfall. The park gets right around 200, so it barely qualifies. While the thick forest closely resembles those of the Amazon, the forest canopies in the Amazon tend to block out more light and therefore yield even more interesting and rare natural wonders.
There are some vantage points here where you will look out and be amazed at the way the forest seems to never end. The dense green just spreads and spreads and spreads over the forest floor for as far as your eye can see and you really realize that you're far away from the worries of work and your life at home.
From a photography perspective, I liked the views from Brazil more than those from Argentina. They are just more sweeping and grandiose. I also saw multiple rainbows from the Brazilian side which are really amazing (by the way, there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow . . . I looked).
However, you really can't experience the forest and feel the power of the water from Brazil the way you can from Argentina, so I'd suggest visiting both sides. Obviously, this is if you have the time. Also keep in mind, you may need a Visa to visit Brazil. You can't cross the border from within the parks, so you'll have to make a separate trip to visit the Brazilian park (the cost from non-Brazilian residents was 18.90 reais or about $6.50 US as of October 2003).
Unfortunately, I didn't see too many animals, but I did see this little guy. VTer andal13 (Andrea) tells me that it is a "lagarto overo" (black & white lizard) and she should know as a brilliant biology teacher!!
It would have been really cool to see a spotted leopard, but no such luck.
Throughout the park, you'll see some signs indicating the type of flora along the trails. Personally, this isn't my thing, so I didn't pay much attention to the types of plants and trees around me. I came for the falling water . . .
... not only because they will tell you every warnings you have already listened to, but because they can show you the marvels of this Park, if you're nice enough with them... They will show you the birds you didn't even notices and they will tell you a lot about fauna and flora... And this is also working when you did not pay for a guided visit ! Give them a tip, they're so helpful.
... pas seulement parce qu'ils vont vous repeter les avertissements que vous connaissez deja, mais parce qu'ils peuvent vous montrer les merveilles de faune et de flore que recelle le Parc et a cote desquelles vous seriez passees, sans cela... Et pas besoin de faire une visite guidee pour beneficier de leurs precieux services ! Ils meritent un pourboire...