People very often ask me: “What is the favourite place you have visited?” and I always struggle to answer as there are so many places I have loved, however there is no doubt that Iguazu Falls are certainly one of the strongest contenders.
Even now, more than 2 years on, I can still hear the thundering cascade of the water and I can still feel the cool spray on my face when I close my eyes and imagine myself standing by the edge of Devils Throat. Iguazu has left a lasting memory in me, and it is not surprising! A visit to Iguazu is a jaw dropping experience. The power and the noise of the falls will remain with me forever.
Some facts about Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls are the largest waterfall system in the world. They extend over nearly 3 km and are made up of 275 different falls (the number varies depending on the season as during heavy flow many of the smaller falls become one). The tallest of the waterfalls, called the Devils Throat, drops by more than 80 metres which is nearly double the height of Niagara and is rivalled only by the Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The sheer volume of water flowing through is also staggering. During the rainy season water flow can be as much as 13,000 cubic metres per second! Seems that the native Guarani Indians chose a very apt name for the falls and river: Iguazu literally means “big water”!
The Iguazu Falls straddle the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and are surrounded by lush, green, subtropical national parks which are teeming with wildlife and flora. The surrounding rainforest is a haven for more than 2,000 plant species, about 400 bird species and more than 80 types of mammals, including Jaguars and Pumas!
Iguazu in Argentina vs Iguaçu in Brazil
In my mind there is no question, you need to visit both sides! And if you can afford it, then visit them from above as well (and underneath!). They are so majestic that they deserve to be viewed from every angle!
Parque Nacional de Iguazu, Argentina – how to get there from Brazil
The hotel we were staying at (and I’m sure every other hotel in Foz) will offer a package to take you over to Argentina and bring you back. If you want peace of mind and don’t mind paying an exorbitant fee, then go for it. However, we opted instead to take a taxi and negotiate a return fee with him which saved us £40. He even offered to lend us money when our cards wouldn’t work in the ATM and waited for an hour longer than agreed when we missed our train back (but more about that later).
Crossing the border was straight forward. The taxi parked up and we walked into the official building where they stamped our passports before letting us through (both ways). In fact, it was less hassle than going through security at an airport and we got 4 new stamps!
When we visited in 2017 you could only pay the entry fee in cash and although they have cash machines on site (with long queues) please be advised that getting money out in Argentina can be challenging as not all ATMs work with all cards.
Every day I fall more in love with you Argentina
It is no secret that it is a country I already love, however, our day spent visiting Iguazu falls only served to reinforce it even more.
As I mentioned above, the name Iguazu means “big water” and although we were there during the dry season (I was silly enough to worry they’d be no water!) it still looked impressive to me!! In fact, because the flow was less, there were more waterfalls which in a way might make it even prettier. There certainly was no lack of power!
The park is divided into three sections which you navigate on walkways that take you right up to the waterfalls and give you the best vantage points. The water is so powerful that the longevity of these walkways is questionable as evidenced by the remnants of cast iron and bricks dotted around. I reckon during high season it could get pretty hairy!
Upper Walkway (1.7 km)
The first walkway we tackled was the shorter Upper Walkway which provided us with great panoramic views of the 3 km wide waterfalls. On the walk we also had a David Attenborough moment! We spotted that there were hundreds of birds flying through the mist of the falls and nesting on the surrounding walls. At the time we didn’t know these were Great Dusky Swifts however we recently spotted them on the BBC’s “7 Worlds, One Planet” South American episode.
As well as the birds we also came across Capuchin Monkeys who were hiding high up in the trees, too shy for us to photograph. Apparently though they aren’t always that shy and can be a real pest, specially as they rather enjoy stealing tourists pack lunches!
Lower Walkway (2.5 km)
This is where the fun really started! First off, we bumped into a family of Coatis which we spent far too long observing, however, they were very entertaining! The youngsters were play flighting whilst the parents searched for food. Some were enjoying a snooze, lying on their backs with their legs straight up in the air, cartoon style! Some munched on their breakfast high in the trees, something we discovered when we realised they were dropping the empty shells on our heads!
We were frantically trying to get close to them to get a photo, at this stage unbeknown that shyness wasn’t one of their attributes! In fact, just like the monkeys they are also a massive pest, as we witnessed the next day on the Brazilian side. We were lucky they didn’t steal our phones and camera!
The views on the lower trail are even more breath-taking than the upper trail as you get really close and personal with the falls. In fact, we took it a step further and got on a motorised boat that took us right under the falls (literally!). Lucky enough we had brought ponchos with us however despite having some protection we still go soaked! It may have only been a 12-minute ride, but it was a huge amount of fun (and very refreshing!).
Following the adrenalin packed boat ride we opted for the more sedate ride over to Isla Martin which allowed us to get close to one of the biggest falls. Nestled in between the Argentinian and Brazillian side it gives you a different perspective again. Standing on Isla Martin looking across at the Iguazu Falls took my breath away. I can’t put into words the sheer beauty of it, or the immense power that surrounds you when you stand there.
To get to Devils Throat you have to take a small train that weaves its way up the rain forest before dropping you off 1.1km away from the chasm. The chasm lies 1.1km away from the shore, so to get there you have navigate the wooden walkways over the tranquil Rio Iguazu. It is hard to believe as you walk over the quiet waters that such a large waterfall awaits you just a few minutes away! At least half of Rio Iguazu’s water passes through the J shaped chasm known as Devils Throat.
The walkway perches right over the edge giving you an incredible view of the deafening cascade of water plunging into a cloud of mist and topped by a beautiful rainbow. No words or pictures or videos can do justice to that moment. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it. It was truly awe inspiring. I could have stood there listening to the thundering water all day long. However, we were now well and truly late for our taxi driver!
On our way to the Devils Throat we had spotted a little bird nesting under the walkway getting ready to attempt its first ever flight. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to wait and by the time we walked back it had made the leap! I hope it was a leap to safety!
As we were waiting for the train we spotted that there were hundreds of yellow butterflies sitting in clusters on the ground which when disturbed flutters around you like confetti. Iguazu is apparently one of the best places in the planet to see butterflies! They even like to get free train rides! One landed on one of the other train passengers and it refused to move until we got to our destination! I have since learnt this is because it was likely wet.
We finally made it back to our taxi over an hour late. Luckily, he was still there and although he looked annoyed (I don’t blame him, we hadn’t paid yet!) he soon forgave us and started telling us about the Jaguar he had seen crossing the road on his way to pick us up. That’s just one of the other many animals in the park! Apparently one of the older Jaguars had to be put down as it had got too old to hunt animals so had started hunting tourists! In addition to Jaguars there are also Pumas and giant ant eaters. Unfortunately, we didn’t see these either.
Parque Nacional do Iguaçu, Brazil
Whereas the Argentinian side is geared towards nature and conservation, the Brazilian side has a much bigger focus on tourism with a set up resembling much more that of a theme park or resort. I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing as we still thoroughly enjoyed our day and there are other options aside from falls.
Paque Das Aves
We started off the day in Parque das Aves, a tropical sanctuary located within Iguaçu National Park. The wildlife aviary is set within 16 acres of tropical rainforest, of which we only saw a tiny piece. The primary aim of Parque das Aves is that of conservation and rehabilitation however those birds who are no longer able to live in the wild are housed in the section open to the public which helps provide much needed income for the bigger picture conservation project.
50% of the birds have been rescued by the Environmental Police or the Federal Police. They are generally rescued from environments of mistreatment, trafficking and illegal possession whilst others come from rehabilitation centres or are brought following an accident such a traffic collision or chicks that have fallen out of their nest.
The aim is always to rehabilitate before sending them back to the wild but in some cases this is simply not possible. These are the birds that end up living their life in the sanctuary. Some can roam freely, coming and going as they wish, whilst others are housed in very large cages (essentially, a rainforest with a roof!). Some of these cages are open for visitors to walk through, giving you the chance to interact with the birds. Unlike in Florida where you fed the birds, therefore guaranteeing they’d come up to you, here you simply walk through and observe.
Toucans and Macaus
We were lucky enough that a Toucan landed on the rail we were walking along and then decided to pose for a good couple of minutes allowing us to take plenty of photos. It felt like it was treating it as a photo shoot, posing from all angles to make sure we had a chance to take the perfect photo!
The other highlight was the Macaw enclosure. They are so beautiful! We got there during feeding time, so they were very active giving us ample opportunities to get great photos, but more importantly allowing us to watch them interact with each other. They are truly stunning animals, each one brighter than the other. I had a couple of “close” encounters with them as they flew over my head treating it brushing their feet over my hair as if I were a tree (not sure what it says about the state of my hairdo!).
The park has something in the region of 1,300 birds across 143 different species. Amongst them was something I can only describe as a “bone head bird”. It literally has a bone crest growing on its head and looked like a cross between a turkey, an ostrich and a velociraptor. Its information card read “you are looking at pre-history”. So maybe it is a velociraptor! We now know they actually had feathers so maybe it’s not far off!
Also interesting were the hummingbirds. We tried over and over again to get a photo or video of them in flight (hovering) but we opted instead to simply admire them as getting the photo was just too hard and in doing so we were missing the action.
They also had a couple of Sagui monkeys in the park which were putting on a very funny show. One was intent on grooming itself whilst the other kept rubbing its bum up against him. I can only imagine it was farting and saying “here, smell this!”.
Iguazu Falls from the Air
Getting from Parque das Aves to the entrance of Iguaçu Falls is very straightforward. It is no more than a 5-minute walk. However, something that has never happened before happened: Doug was spontaneous! As we were walking past the company that offer helicopter rides over the falls Doug said: “shall we do it?”. Not words that often leave his mouth!
Furthermore, after finding out the price, he muttered another sentence I did not know he could say “You only live once, let’s do it!” Needless to say I’m always up for a new adventure so seized the opportunity before he could change his mind! 10 minutes later we were soaring into the air on our way to Iguazu falls!
The flight itself is only 9-10 minutes long but exhilarating all the same. We flew up the canyon created by the Iguazu River and up and over the Devils Throat chasm which we circled several times. The falls are just as magnificent from above as they are from below, underneath, the right and the left. Such a breath-taking view! Seeing it from above only helped reinforce the sheer scale of the falls which we had failed to comprehend despite spending the day in the park the day before.
Iguaçu Falls – the views
Following on from the helicopter ride we did the only thing that was left, seeing the falls from Brazil. Unlike the Argentinian side which is pretty basic and much more focused on nature and conservation, the Brazilian side is a lot more commercial. The entry to the park only gets you access to one walkway, anything else incurring extra cost. The area you have access to is also smaller, meaning it is much more crowded, and therefore there was a lot more tension amongst tourists to get “the photo” making everyone that bit ruder. Even the coatis were ruder! They were stealing anything they could get their hands on! They even tore a lady’s bag open and run off with all the contents!
Despite the experience not being as good as the day before the views made up for it. WOW! Argentina might have the falls, but Brazil really does have the views! From this side you can see the entirety of it all from a single spot (whereas in Argentina you only see sections of it). The walkway finishes off by protruding into the Devils Throat allowing to you look up into the chasm (as opposed to down like in Argentina). We were even granted with a double rainbow. Truly spectacular and equally as breath-taking. Just don’t hang about too long to get the perfect photo or you will be tutted at!
If you are making the trip to either Iguaçu or Iguazu then make sure you visit both sides. It truly is worthwhile. Brazil undisputedly has the best views, however Argentina allows you to get up close and personal where you will truly be able to feel the sheer force of nature. I would go back in a heart beat if I had the chance.
Where to next? Sierra Leone
I visited Iguazu Falls when I studied abroad in Argentina two decades ago. I can’t wait to go back and bring my kids!
They are incredible aren’t they. I bet studying in Argentina was a fantastic experience!