Take a ride in a jeep along dirt tracks into the jungle and experience the joy of waterfall rapelling and canopy riding. Many companies run these tours and will pick you up from your hotel in the morning. You then walk around the majestic jungle and climb the canopy stations before sailing through the air along the wires... quite an experience! Later you get soaked clambering down the roaring waterfall aided by just a rope and your sense of balance. Prices vary but look to pay around $35/190 pesos.
Of the 275 separate falls that make up Iguazu Falls, Devil's Throat is the highest (82m) and the widest. It can be reached by board walk from both the Argentina and Brazil side. The view from the Argentina side is said to be better due to the huge cloud of spray generated by the falls. I can't say for sure because due to not having a Brazil visa at this stage of my trip (my passport got stolen in Buenos Aires) I was not allowed to cross the border.
Regardless - you will get wet so take care of cameras and phones.
The arial pic is courtesy of Peter Jones - one of my travel buddies.
Iguazu Falls, Cataratas del Iguazú (Spanish) and Cataratas do Iguaçu (Portuguese) straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil. They are on the Iguazú River and come from the local language for 'big water'.
The falls are comprised of 275 drops with the deepest of 82 metres at Devil's Throat making them second in height to the Victoria Falls. Niagra Falls have a drop of 50m but are first with regard to the amount of water passing over the falls. Iguazu Falls are again in 2nd place.
Most of the falls are in Argentina with the border dividing Devil's Throat. They can be reached from Puerto Iguazú in Argentina, Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, as well as from Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.
Iguazú National Park made the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1984 (Argentina) and 1987 (Brazil)
The last station on the rail line is Devil's Throat. Walk for about one mile along the boardwalk over the river to the viewing platform at the edge of this amazing waterfall.
The first thing you become aware of is the noise and then you see the huge cloud of spray from the falls rising above the trees.
Along the way you wakl through lush vegetation and can get a glimpse of native fauna. At one point there is a flat rock just beneath the surface of the water which seems to be used as a 'wishing well' with many coins lying on the rock.
One of the first things you will notice is the profusion of butterflies in the national park. It is quite common for them to alight on you - I have been told that this is due to your body salt. One of the most frequently seen of the butterflies has the nickname '88' because of the markings on its wings.
Throughout the park there are notices warning against feeding the Coati's. These large Racoon-like rodents have been encouraged in the past by tourists feeding them and now can be quite agressive in their quest for food.
Iguanas are shy and are usually found hiding in amongst the leaves. You may be lucky to spot one as it moves to another hiding place.
From The Falls Station (A Cataratacas) there is a board walk across the various parts of the Iguazú River that make up the falls. Fom here you have a spectacular view of the many difernet falls that make up the whole as well as a view over into Brazil.
At the start of this walk there is already an audible roar of the falls which only gets louder as you take the walk. It is a photographers nightmare/dream - thank goodness for digital. On sunny days there are so many rainbows and even double rainbows in the spray cast by the pounding waters.
Many people wear their swimsuits to Igazu Falls. Very wise if you take the Iguazu Jungle explorer boat ride.
The trip starts from the lower walk and takes you initially up the river towards Devil's Throat where you can experience the full force of the water thundering over the rock. You will get a bit wet here.
The next 'stop' is San Martin Falls and on the way you get to appreciate the sheer enormity of the falls. It is here that you get completely soaked when the boat takes you under the falls. The water is quite cool and refreshing but be prepared for the force of it and make sure your belongings are secure - I took my glasses off! - and wrapped my camera strap well around my wrist.
You are provided with a plastic bag for you gear especially your camera if it is not genuinely waterproof.
Iguazu Falls National Park offers views from a few vantage points. There is the upper walk and the lower walk - both have fantastic views of the falls. The best view I believe is from the river itself.
Iguazu Jungle Explorer operates from within the park complex and offers a selection of boat rides and a trip back throughthe park on a 4WD truck. The boat travels a short way up towards Devil's Throat and then takes you to to get a thorough wetting under the San Martin Falls.
You are provided with a plastic bag for your belongings and camera and you definitely need to use it - you are in for a drenching. Luckily I had a waterproof camera!
No matter - you will dry off very quickly!
The train takes you from the entrance of the park along the river as far as Devil's Throat Station, passing the Falls Station on the way. It leaves every thirty minutes starting 30min after opening with the last train for Devil's Throat leaving at 4pm.
The train runs on natural gas which has no environmental impact and travels at 20km per hour to avoid native animals. The carriages are open at the sides for ventialtion and to better experience the surroundings.
You can board at either station at any time and as many times as you want.
Iguazu Falls is a massive site to visit so bring comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to take a train to the various stopping points to view the falls. The train begins near the main entrance and roughly runs every half hour. They will provide a map at the entrance that show the different stops it makes and what viewpoints it offers. Since I was there three days I experienced going from the nearest stop first and moving my way up from there and also taking the train to the last stop first and working back from there. I can't really recommend which way to do it, though I preferred seeing the Lower Circuit first and working my way up to the Upper Circuit no pun intended. The lines to get on the train at each stop are generally long and there is refreshment stands with sandwichs and sodas available. All in all its an efficient way to get around the site!
Puerto Iguazu is wonderful place to serve as a starting point for your visit to the falls. If your taking a overnight bus it will arrive at the bus station that is directly in the middle of the town. From that same station you can catch shuttle buses to falls and also to the airport. The shuttle to the falls is cheap and leaves on a regular basis throughout the day and you can even get transportation to the Brazilian side of the falls. Although it takes quite awhile to get there and you have to have a visa ready to go. The town is a quiet, peaceful place to spend the evening, there are many nice places to eat and plenty of places to stay. Prices on hotels will fit any budget, I spent about $25 US for my own room and it was more than worth it. There is also a plethora of places to shop for souveniers so avoid buying overpriced trinkets at the falls. There are many more options in town and the prices are cheaper and you can actually bargain. I spent three days and two nights and found it the perfect amount of time to see and enjoy the falls without feeling rushed. The fact the town was a nice place to visit was just icing on the cake!
Most people are well aware of the views from the Lower and Upper circuit but some of the best and uncrowded views of the falls are from across the river. You can access these viewpoints by taking the stairs down from the Lower Circuit and catching the free and brief boat ride across the river to a small beach. The beach is also a nice place to take a break from walking and to eat lunch and relax in the sun. From there you take the stairs up and to several additional magnificent view points of the falls. You will have the option to go right or left, the view are best from the walkway on the right but take the time to see both sides. Do not miss out on these views!
The Upper Circuit provide another unqiue view of the falls from, obviously above, but its the transistion from calm water to utter madness that make the Upper Circuit my favorite place to view the falls. A long walkway will take you to the event....the Devils Throat...and while the walk is not as scenic as the Lower Circuit believe me when I say its leading up to something great! The calm waters provide companionship as you make your way down the walkway, it gives the feeling of walking through wetlands and up ahead you can make out a white watery mist. The main event of course is getting to what I refer to as the worlds end...the place where water meets space and lots of it. Imagine if you will a lake emptying into the Grand Canyon...sudden calmness giving way to utter chaos and you still will not be prepared for what you will see. The walkways take you right up to the edge of the falls and allow you to see straight down. Its gives the accurate feeling of what it feels like to be on the edge of the world....its loud, wet, and thoroughly invigorating!
Some like to start high others like to start low and work their way up...a metaphor for life perhaps but it also works for your visit to Iguazu Falls. I chose to start with the Lower Circuit and was glad I did for the simple reason that it was easier to navigate and I always start low. The Lower Circuit in my opinion provides a better scope of just how enormous the falls really are and have some of the best panoramic views. The walkway will take you around a portion of the falls and eventually lead right up to the one of the falls getting you so close that you will get drenced by the spray of the falls! There is also more room to breathe on the lower circuit as the longer walk ways have great views and so the crowds are spread out thinner. A word of warning about the walkways near the falls, they are very damp and slippery so be sure to wear good shoes and walk carefully. Its also from the Lower Circuit that you can access the stairs that will take you down to the river below where you can get a boat that will take you up against the falls or another boat that take you across the river to additional viewing points of the falls.
Iguazú Falls Review: Part 1 - Getting There
This is a long review covering a lot of points, so I have broken it up into five parts.
After landing at the airport (I understand the same thing happens at the bus station), you hear a loud sucking sound, and you are not sure what it is. About 10 minutes after landing you realize, it is the sound of the Iguazú Falls cash vacuum being turned on to relieve you of all of your dollars, euros, pesos, and pounds! You first realize it as you try to get from the airport to the Iguazú Falls Park on the Argentinian side. While the distance is only 12 kms, the cost is exorbitant, but there are no bus alternatives unless you take one of the mini buses into town, then the regular bus back out, a major waste of time. Note that the bus to and from Puerto Iguazú and the park is very reasonable, runs every 20 minutes, and will stop anywhere along the way.
Once arriving at the park, it is time to pay. I guess at one time Iguazú Falls Park was reasonably priced, not anymore. (Can’t provide prices in the review, but read on and you will find that it is equivalent to about 5.5 bottles of waters purchased in the park, see Part 4 below.) Once in the park, there is a train (included in the admission) that takes you to La Garganta del Diablo - the Devil’s Throat. Avoid boarding at the first train station as that train only takes you about 600meters where you have to get off and board a second train. It is faster and more enjoyable to walk to the second train platform, and board there. This train takes about 20 minutes to get to the final platform and from there you walk about 1.1 kms across metal catwalks to the edge of the Falls themselves.
Iguazú Falls Review: Part 2 - The Iguazú Falls Park
I have read numerous descriptions of the falls and the view from the Devil’s Throat, but it is something that you really have to see it yourself. Pictures give you the idea, videos are better, but it is well worth the effort to visit. In the remainder of the park there are four additional hikes. The best are the Upper and Lower Circuits. Do the Upper first. On these you come to understand why these falls are so special and spectacular. Unlike Niagara or Victoria, where there are only a few separate falls, here there are literally hundreds of falls. I have read anywhere from 275 to 400 separate drops.
We were at the falls for many hours, and there were falls that anywhere else would be the sole focus of hundreds of visitors. These were barely looked at, yet alone photographed; that is the scale of the fall activity. I have hiked 15 kms into areas that claim to have “great” falls, that would not even be considered falls in Iguazú Falls Park. If you like water falls, and many do, here is where you get your overdose - truly a world class sight.
Iguazú Falls Review: Part 3 - Which Side, Argentina or Brazil?
We flew into the Puerto Iguazú airport and stayed on the Argentinian side. Given the perceived hassle about crossing into Brazil, we were indecisive about going to the Brazilian side of the falls. But, since we already had our visa, we decided to just do it. We didn’t want to take the public bus, due to the two bus changes that are required and the border delays, so we checked on a taxi.
We had heard taxi transport was very expensive, but after two days in Puerto Iguazú, the quote we received seemed OK. As it turns out, a return taxi from Puerto Iguazu to the Brazilian side was quite reasonable (at least by the standards set for such things here - equivalent to 8 bottles of water at the Falls, see Part 4 below). This turned out to be a great decision, and we were very glad we did.
When you are on the Argentinian side of the falls looking over to Brazil you wonder, how much different can the view be? Well, as it turns out, the perspective is incredibly different. We have read in at least four guidebooks that it is good to do both sides of the falls, but the Argentinian side is a must. Well, I would say the opposite. After being to the falls three straight days, I would say it is great to see both sides, but if you only had a budget for one side, I would choose the Brazilian side of the falls simply due to the more encompassing views that are obtained from that side. Note that entrance fee to Brazilian side of the falls is more than the entrance than the Argentinian side (the Iguazú Falls cash vacuum casts a wide net).
Iguazú Falls Review: Part 4 - Two Suggestions
First, I have never read this in any travel book or online, but this is a trip that can be done in one day. I know that will be a sacrilegious statement to people who write the travel books, but it is very doable. Take the first flight into either the airport in Argentina or Brazil, visit that side, take a taxi to the other side, and then back to the airport. You can do the Argentinian side of the falls in 4.5 hours and the Brazilian side in 2.5, and that leaves plenty of time to get the last flight to Buenos Aires or Rio.
The airport in Puerto Iguazu is very small and you can get there 50 minutes before the flight, and still have no trouble checking in. If you are doing a return flight to Buenos Aires (or Rio), it is even easier as you will have no luggage to check. It would be an exhausting day, but it would mean you would not have to stay in either Puerto Iguazu or Foz do Iguaçu, a real bonus. Other than the falls, there is very little to see in either area, and the hotels in the area are very overpriced for the quality (the Iguazú Falls cash vacuum again).
Second, be ready for intense heat and crowds (at least if you visit in the January to March period). Puerto Iguazu is in a tropical rain forest and has a very hot and humid climate. The heat and humidity are so intense that it is literally like a steam bath. Picture yourself in a 40C steam bath with a thousand or so of your closest friends crowded around you, with the intense sun burning down while you walk 8 to10 kms. Those are the conditions you have to be prepared for. So, get there early, when the park opens, and bring lots of water as the Iguazú Falls cash vacuum works overtime in the park itself.
We spent more in water in 6 hours just in the Argentinian side of the park than we spent in the previous 4 weeks in Argentina. We couldn’t bring our own water in as we came directly from the airport. How much does water cost in the park?; for what it costs to buy 750 ml of water in the park, you can buy 7 liters in Puerto Iguazu!
In terms of crowds, yes there are lots of people there, but I have been in much more crowded museums. The real problem is the combination of the intense heat and the swarms of people in various sizes and state of undress, all congregated on very narrow catwalks (or crammed onto small trains).
Iguazú Falls Review: Part 5 - The Full Moon Hike
For five days around the full moon, the park offers full moon hikes. By chance we were visiting the park around the Feb 2012 new moon, so we decided to take the hike. It was sold to us as an opportunity for a more intimate chance to see the Devil’s Throat under the full moon. As it turned out, it was also sold that way to about 600 other people over three different time slots.
So the day after our first trip to the Devil’s Throat, we did exactly the same thing again at night (the train, walk, etc). After about an hour at the Devil’s Throat, we went back to the main restaurant and had a nice Argentinian barbeque. That was the trip, and even being in the first time slot we still didn’t get back to town until 1 am. This was a very expensive “experience,” and one more example of the Iguazú Falls cash vacuum at work. Not recommended; there was little value added to the experience you get during the day, and the price was outrageous. There were many disappointed people on the tour.
Iguazú Falls Review: Conclusion
Overall, if you are into waterfalls, as so many people seem to be, visiting the Iguazú Falls should be on your bucket list. It is arguably one of the great natural wonders of the world. But, it will take some effort, and not a small amount of cash to do it.