Apparently, upon seeing Iguazu Falls for the first time, Eleanor Roosevelt exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!” This place has been on my bucket list for as long as I’ve had one, so when I planned my month in Buenos Aires, a side trip here to Iguazu was a mandatory component. Well, it didn’t disappoint.
Logistically, Iguazu is a fairly easy side trip from Buenos Aires. It’s about a 90 minute flight from either of BA’s airports (I went out of the smaller Jorge Newbery, otherwise known as Aeroparque) to the town of Puerto Iguazu, which sits at the junction of the Iguazu and Parana rivers. Brazil is across the Iguazu, and Paraguay across the Parana, though only Brazil is accessible via car from here. (A bridge from Foz do Iguacu in Brazil takes you to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.) The trip can probably be done with an early flight, spending the day at the falls before heading back in the evening, but I spent two nights in Puerto Iguazu so as to not have my plans ruined in the case of a flight delay.
Puerto Iguazu itself is a town of about 80,000, and is really just a place for tourists staying before and after seeing the falls. There is a nice pedestrian street with some restaurants and shops (I tried piranha for the first time), but otherwise, not much going on.
Iguazu Falls can be seen on one’s own, on a group tour, or with a private guide. Having a single day, I chose the private option. My guide picked me up at my hotel and we headed on the roughly 30 minute drive through thick subtropical rain forest into Iguazu National Park. Entrance is about $10 per person, and should be booked ahead of time to make it a bit easier. From the entrance, a train runs every half hour to two stops, one for each of Iguazu Falls’ two horseshoes.
The Iguazu River runs more than 800 miles though the Brazilian rainforest before emptying into the Parana, which then heads down to Tigre, just outside Buenos Aires. Here at the falls, the river widens considerably, before dropping off a plateau to a more narrow gorge below. The river here is so wide that a single channel cannot contain it, so different flows and forks form roughly 275 different cascades that make up Iguazu Falls, totaling an average of more than 62,000 cubic feet per second, though flood years can be more than ten times that. (In such a year the falls would not be accessible, and in fact have ended with walkways being totally washed out.)
Iguazu means big water in the native Guarani language, and from my first view at the Devil’s Throat portion of the falls, it is apt. Here, roughly 60% of Iguazu Falls’ water tumbles down about 250 feet in a 300 foot wide cascade. It is loud, and it is powerful. My view changes moment to moment as the mist and spray created by the falls change direction. At times I can see some of the smaller falls in this horseshoe; at other times, I can barely see the torrent of water directly in front of me.
The pathway here is an elevated metal grate walkway. While long, it is wheelchair accessible, though the last quarter mile or so before the viewpoint is pretty slick from the spray. The walkway cuts over branches of the river, tiny islands formed between said branches, and even over some of the initial rapids leading to the falls. It is well maintained, and a really cool experience looking down at the water, or up at the hundreds of butterfly species all around.
Of course, butterflies are not the only wildlife here at Iguazu. Over the course of my day, I see cool birds, lizards, a caiman (similar to an alligator), a capybara (the world’s largest rodent; the one I saw was only visible from its head as it swam in the river below the falls), and a ton of coatis. A coati is similar to a raccoon, but with color ranging from gray to bright orange. They are all over the place here, and the sight of an entire family of them walking – tails up – on the railing of one of the walkways makes me smile.
While Devil’s Throat is the most powerful of Iguazu Falls’ cascades, it is the other horseshoe that is perhaps more impressive. Headlined by San Martin Falls, this portion of Iguazu has a nearly two mile long stretch of falls of varying sizes and strengths circling around San Martin Island. While the falls are the border between Argentina and Brazil, nearly all of these fall on the Argentine side, making for this side of the border being a bit more interactive, as the elevated pathway goes over some of the falls directly. (From the Brazilian side, one swaps that feeling of being in the falls for the panoramic view from the opposite bank.)
It seems that in every direction is another cascade, each one beautiful and unique in its own right. White of the foaming water makes a beautiful counterpoint to the green of the lush jungle. Each turn of the walkway brings a new view, and my photos soon number in the hundreds.
After a quick lunch – the cafe here in the park has some decent empanadas – it is time for part three of my Iguazu Falls adventure. Now I get to be up close and personal with the San Marin Island horseshoe. After a ten or so minute open truck ride through the jungle, I head down a bunch of stairs to a waiting speedboat. The boat holds 25 or so people, and moves pretty quickly as we head four miles up the Iguazu River. Here, the falls can be seen from river level, and the enormity of the area really comes into perspective.
Then we are told to put all our belongings into waterproof bags, and our boat makes its way into a few of the cascades. For those who have done the Maid of the Mist at Niagara, that is downright dry compared to this, as we are showered by the falls themselves as opposed to just the spray. Our boat does a few loops through different falls, and we are all laughing and dripping. My only regret is the lack of ability to have my camera out for this amazing experience.
Iguazu Falls is truly one of the most spectacular places I have ever been, well-deserving of its spot in the new 7 Wonders. (I’m now up to two of these, though I’ve seen several of the finalists.) It is beautiful, powerful, a testament to the incredible planet we call home. And yes, it is a relatively easy side trip from Buenos Aires, well worth the three days and $1100 total for flights, hotel, and my private guide. My visit is something I will never forget.
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