When entering from the Visitor's Center, a short mini-train ride will drop you off in the rain-forest at the Cataracts Station. From there, you can take either nearby walking trails to really start exploring the 275 individual cataracts that make up Iguazu Falls or you can continue by train to the far end of the park.
The first section you will encounter near the Cataracts Station are the Upper and Lower Circuits, which provide two different viewpoints of the same series of waterfalls (accessible by catwalks). The next major section, not nearly as well explored by tourists, is the area around San Martin Island, which can only be reached by boat. The final section, which we actually did first, requires a train-ride to the far end of the park where you can take the catwalk out to the Devil's Throat.
By the time we had finished with the Throat and had our rest, we decided to skip the Upper Circuit for this day and concentrate on the Lower Circuit. As we started along the trail, the first waterfall we passed was Dos Hermanas (Two Sisters) which drops from the level of the Upper Circuit down to the Lower Circuit level before making another similar drop into the Rio Iguazu.
Having used up the last of our time on the boat excursion, we returned to the park the next day on our own, via a taxi from our hotel. This time, we intended to tour the Upper Circuit that we had missed the day before.
As we started out on the walk, we had this panoramic view of some of the many cataracts along the 3-km long arc of waterfalls here. The small part of this arc that is equipped with catwalks and viewing platforms allowed us some great views as we walked along or hung out on the very lip of the waterfalls. The trail stops short of Salto San Martin, the most distant large waterfall in the photo.
A data-base on all of the major waterfalls in the world rates them on a number of factors. Being an engineer, I did a little summary of their statistics for the Big Three: Niagara (North America), Iguazu and Victoria (Africa). If you rate them by height it is Victoria (107-m) in first place, Iguazu (82-m) and Niagara (51-m). Width places the rankings as Iguazu (2.7-km), Victoria (1.7-km) and Niagara (1.2-km). Going for Average Waterflow sees Niagara in first (212 cubic-ft./sec), Iguazu (62 cfs) and Victoria (38 cfs). The final factor of Maximum Waterflow gives the nod to Iguazu (452 cfs), followed by Niagara (292 cfs) and then Victoria (250 cfs). If you then tally the points up on a 1, 2, 3 ranking basis, Iguazu comes out as the "Most Impressive Waterfalls in the World" with a combined total of 6 points (lowest number wins). Victoria and Niagara tied at 9 points each, but I would give the nod to Victoria because of it's better natural landscape due to far less obvious human intrusions (well, I may have been influenced by our Honeymoon there!).
This view shows the platform at the end of the catwalk, located at the very lip of the Devil's Throat. On the other side of the gorge is Brazil, with it's own cataracts and, in the distance, a restaurant and gift-shop complex in their equivalent Parque Nacional do Iguacu.
Naturally, all the tourists who have made the 1.1-km hike from the shore to this point want to linger a bit while they savour the sights and sounds of the water. This tends to make things a bit crowded here as everyone is looking for a place at the railing where they can take a good picture. However, even with the lower water flow-rates during our visit, care had to be taken to keep the spray off your camera equipment!
The first concrete and steel catwalk to the 'Devil's Throat' met an untimely end in 1992 when the Rio Iguazu decided to flex it's muscles more than normal. There is no 'dry' season here, leading to a relatively steady flow of water. However, some parts of the season are wetter than others and some years have more rain than normal.
The flow of water in the river varies between 300-6500 cubic meters per second and has an average flow of 1500 cubic meters/second. If you have ever tried to stand up to a big wave in the ocean, you know that water is heavy and powerful stuff when it starts to push hard. The big flood of 1992 was so strong that it pulverized the catwalk, forcing the Parque officials to ferry visitors out to the Devil's Thoat for many years until the new 'pasarela' was recently completed.
By the time the waters of the Rio Iguazu have reached the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat), they have covered 1300-km (800-miles) from their origin near the Atlantic Ocean, starting at 1300-m elevation in the Sera do Mar mountains of eastern Brazil and are now only 25-km from the end of their journey, where the Iguazu merges with the even larger Rio Parana.
This section of the river flows over a large plateau of hard volcanic basalt rocks formed about 150 million years ago when lava bubbled to the surface through cracks in the earth's surface, then hardened. The constant flow of the water is gradually eroding these rocks as it plunges over the edge, falling 82-m (269-feet) into the lower river gorge.
Here, the spectators on the viewing platform are watching as the waters take one small step down onto a ledge before making the final leap to the bottom of the gorge.
We were now getting close enough that the Devil's Throat was clearly visible, along with the spectators perched on the viewing platform at the end of the walkway (on the little clump of green at the left side of the photo).
Here, the Rio Iguazu makes a sweeping arc around the point of land sticking out from Brazil (the distant big clump of green at the left side). We noticed that the flow of water during our visit was not nearly as great as it was in some photographs that I have seen. The spray rising from the gorge was not spectacular and the water itself had a clear look to it, instead of the brown torrents that roar over the edge when the river is in full flow.
As we returned along the catwalk from the Devil's Throat, Rosendo pointed out some very colourful birds that were flitting about in the underbrush of some of the small islands we passed over.
He said they were Plush-Crested Jays (also known as Band-Tailed or Urraca Jays) and they reminded me a lot of the Blue Jays we get in eastern Canada. These 14-in (36-cm) birds are native to central South America and survive on a diet of insects, small animals (including eggs and nestling birds), fruits and seeds.
I guess they are used to people passing by because it stayed still long enough for me to get a photo!
Above the Falls, the 2.8-km (1.7-mile) wide Rio Iguazu is relatively shallow with slower moving currents flowing gently over the ledges of hard volcanic basalt rock. This also means that the main attraction of Garganta del Diablo is about 1.1-km from the Argentinian shoreline. In order to provide visitors with a close-up look, the Parque incorporates a modern steel 'pasarela' or catwalk, elevated a few feet above the river on concrete supports.
Here, we are starting our way out to the waterfall with our two personal guides leading the way toward the first small island connected by the catwalk. The photo also gives a good view of just how shallow this upper portion of the river was when we were there.
This view from the Devil's Throat shows the gorge where the Rio Iguazu continues it's journey toward the city of Puerto Iguazu, where it merges with the Rio Parana. Over the past 20,000 years, the river has gradually eroded it's way upstream and is now about 25-km from the Parana River.
The series of cataracts on the right-side of the photo are in Brazil, while I am taking this shot from the lip of the Argentine-side at the Throat, where water flows into the gorge from three sides! As you can see, the volume of water results in enough spray to make it difficult to actually see the river far below.
This narrow gorge is like the one at Victoria Falls (with it's 'Boiling Pot') on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border in Africa, were my wife and I had our honeymoon a few decades ago! These world's major waterfalls seem to have these characteristics plus their mind-boggling power in common with each other!
Similar to the Garganta del Diablo catwalk, the catwalks that allow you to experience the Upper and Lower Circuits are solidly built. However, these ones mostly run through the jungle beside the many smaller waterfalls in this part of the park, with much shorter spans across the numerous streams that make up this 'delta' part of the Rio Iguazu.
These Circuits actually provide a great opportunity to view the numerous colourful butterflies and birds in the rain forest, and maybe even a raccoon-like coatimundi or two! The trails are well sign-posted but it definitely helps to pick up a map when you enter the Visitor's Centre.
Having gone as far as we could on the Lower Circuit, we were treated to a fantastic view of Salto San Martin, which flows into the separate gorge that created San Martin Island (seen to the left on this photo).
After the Garganta del Diablo itself, this waterfall is the second most impressive of all those in Parque Nacional del Iguazu. It was putting on quite a display of power and, what made it interesting, was that you are able to get a better view of it than the mist clouded Garganta. It must really be a good show when the water levels are flowing higher and faster!
The Upper Circuit takes you quite a bit closer to the San Martin Waterfalls than does the Lower Circuit. However, the viewing platform here is a hot-bed of activity just like the one at the Devil's Throat. As you can tell from the photo, it is difficult to maintain a clear spot along the railing so you can get a good shot of the waterfalls.
Still, it was nice to linger there for a while, looking out over San Martin Island, the one interesting place in the park that eluded us on this trip!
That was it for us, the taxi was soon due back at the Visitor's Centre so we slogged our way back up the hot trails in the noon-hour heat. The hotel swimming pool sure felt good when we got back (see my 'Puerto Iguazu' page for the details!).
If I were to choose one of the two Circuits, the Upper one would get my vote. With the walkway system bridging the various streams very close to the edge, and small viewing platforms on each side, there were some amazing views both out along the cliff-face and down to the Lower Circuit.
Here, we are in one of the viewing platforms looking directly across to the viewing platform on the other side of the waterfall. If you look down, you can see what the people are doing on the Lower Circuit (bottom right corner of the photo). It was just nice to stand there and watch the infinite variations as the water smoothly flowed over the edge and dropped away!
It was not long before the Anhinga slipped into the gently flowing Rio Iguazu to begin a hunt for a fish snack. These 3-ft. long birds, also known as Darters or Snakebirds, are very similar to Cormorants except for their narrower neck and pointed beak, instead of the hook at the end of a Cormorant's beak.
When swimming partially submerged, like this one, their long thin neck and beak give them their snake-like appearance. The catwalk provided an unusual chance to be so close to one of these birds as it occasionally completely submerged to glide just under the surface, like a fish, while searching for prey.
Our first day of explorations in the Iguazu Falls area started out with a mix-up that found us on the Brazilian-side touring Itaipu Dam and it's nearby city of Foz do Iguacu instead of our intended Argentine-side tour (see my 'Foz do Iguacu' page for the details on that)!
As a result, our local tour operator, Cuenca del Plata, had to do some scurrying around to get us back to where we were supposed to be. It was 2 PM by the time we finally reached the Visitor Centre of Parque Nacional del Iguazu but Cuenca was in 'overdrive' by then! Waiting for us were two English-speaking personal escorts for the rest of the day, which lasted until 6 PM.
Rosendo is a trained Zoologist and Andrea is an official Park Guide. They were great to be with, both very knowledgeable and friendly. They also arranged for our little 'extra', a boat trip below the falls and were once again waiting to take us 'home' once that had ended (see my Off the Beaten Path tips).
This photo shows Rosendo and Andrea as we return to shore following our walking excursion out to the Devil's Throat. It was about 3:30 PM by the time we caught the next mini-train (see my Transportation tips for details) back to the mid-point of the park. We enjoyed a cool drink and air-conditioned comfort in the Dos Hermanas fast food restaurant while we recovered from the 35 degC (95 F) heat before walking onward to the next attraction.