Iguazu Falls was the first place to visit on my long list of natural wonders in South America. Since I’ve came to Buenos Aires from Europe, it was the closest spot to start with in northern Argentina and then move in south Patagonia and Perito Moreno Glacier direction.
After a week in loud and hot (and, sadly, dirty) Buenos Aires, I was literally wriggling my toes in desire to escape to a cooler part of the country. I missed green, birds singing and fresh air.
A flight from Buenos Aires to Iguazu takes only an hour so it’s barely noticeable. You start off at 30 degree hot city noise and land in a different world. I stayed in Las Caracas de Iguazu, a small village near National Park de Iguazu. My hotel was exceptionally atmospheric, located in the middle of selva (a local jungle) and practically made of wood, amazingly incorporated in surrounding nature. Such space and silence were a nice change after crowded Buenos. Even lying in a hammock and reading books was a pleasure. Especially because I got the impression I was the only guest.
The village itself isn’t much interesting, it’s more a starting point to sightsee the national park. Next to my hotel, there was an Indian tribe I ran into often during running in the jungle.
I was so different from the surroundings that I felt like a movie character. However, it was only my impression, Indians didn’t pay much attention to me, preoccupied with their own life :)
Iguazu Falls is located on Argentina-Brazil border. 80% of its area is Argentinian, 20% is Brazilian. Waterfall, considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is 2km wide and includes 275 separate knickpoints. Average water flow is 1756 m³/s and the sound of water is heard within 20 km.
Despite its magnitude, Iguazu Falls isn’t the largest in the world (it’s 82 m high). It’s the massiveness and composition that create the impression of dominance. This dominance is overwhelming and stunning at the same time. It is said that years ago, when Eleanor Roosevelt visited it, she called it ‘Poor Niagara’. There’s something in it.
The Iguacu river, where this natural wonder has been created, starts near Sao Paolo, one of the biggest Brazilian cities.
Lots of tourists decide to visit only one side (depending on where they’re traveling from). Despite it’s still the same area, each country’s perspective is slightly different and presents a unique view. I had to see it from both sides.
IGUAZU FROM ARGENTINIAN PERSPECTIVE
I started with Argentinian side. From my hotel to the park entrance there was only a 15 minutes taxi drive, so it was very close. I left at 8 a.m. to have a head start before crowds of tourists arrive (it didn’t work anyway) and to see as much as I could before a roaster starts. In front of ticket offices there’ve already been long lines, mainly organized trips. To my surprise, buying an individual ticket was just a moment, so I was in the park in a blink. Next to the entrance there were employees handing in maps (there are several routes and waterfalls worth visiting). I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t draw one of them to one side and ask how to explore the park in a different way, so I wouldn’t come across dozens of tourists and trips slowly moving ahead, one step at a time. The Argentinian must have understood my pain of existence stemming from unwillingness to wait in lines and advised me to go the reverse route, in the opposite direction to tourists, leaving the waterfall you can swim in, the main attraction, for the late afternoon.
As you may guess, it was a brilliant solution. To some extent of course, but I didn’t wait in long lines to every observation deck. Anyway, I was moving way faster than the groups, so I was always one step ahead of them ;) Look, what Machiavellian strategies one can think of during a journey so as not to get lost in a crowd.
There’s one main route through the park, leading you close to the waterfalls. There is an abundance of observation decks, bridges and paths, in many locations it allows you to literally smell the cascades of falling water.
This is characteristic feature of Argentinian side of Iguazu – truly close encounter with an enormous force. Gigantic water masses of 275 separate waterfalls falling down the 80-meters abyss with a thunder made my heart beat in the rhythm of their lashes. It’s hard to pass it indifferently. The nature doesn’t allow you to forget about its power, not for a moment. When I was approaching waterfalls through a jungle, at first I heard only a soft sound of water, then it was rising until I reached the edge of the waterfall and its thunder almost deafened me.
The waterfall is in subtropical climatic zone, it means that there are two seasons during a year – dry and rainy. Both include high temperatures but it’s better to visit during the end of rainy season (March/April). At that time water level in Iguacu is higher so the waterfall looks magnificent.
Climate influences unusual fauna and flora. Waterfall neighborhood is rich in animals and birds (singing along to the sound of falling water). My favorites include coati, they’re running everywhere.
These animals are bundles of joy, their interaction with people is amusing. However, they are not tamed as many tourists think (sweet doesn’t mean domesticated). Feeding or touching them is strictly forbidden. In the park, there are many boards reminding not to do it.
Alluring animals with food or attempting to take it away from them can end up with a fight, biting or painful scratches. As you may easily guess, people are ignorant and during one day I saw at least a few situations when group of coati stole a packet of crisps or a sandwich, sparking outrage (they boldly whipped my purse!) or hysteria (they’re aggressive and they attacked me!). Obviously, each of persons had tried to feed animals of allure them for a selfie. No comment needed.
Luckily, the tropical weather of waterfall area has been under a strict protection. Iguazu National Park in Argentina has been founded in 1934.
Brazil had also thought of protecting nearby territories and created Iguacu National Park. Thanks to it, an incredible rainforest fauna and flora can be admired today, despite the fact that a large part of it is endangered.
One of the biggest attractions is the Devil’s Throat (esp. Garganta del Diablo) – the largest Iguazu Falls cascade. The light deflects here in an extraordinary way, in sunny weather it creates myriad rainbows, making the view a fairytale.
You reach the waterfall by crossing a special bridge. Surely lots of tourist guides will tell you to have a raincoat on you but let’s be honest, who needs a raincoat in 30 degrees, when water drops are life-saving. Believe me, after 15 minutes you clothes will be dry again.
IGUAZU FROM BRAZILIAN PERSPECTIVE
Brazilian side was my plan for the next day. There wasn’t any particular reason for it, it was just more convenient. I went there with help of the taxi driver I’ve already met. It was about PLN 150. Going there, one side or another, take into account the time needed for customs at the border. It goes smoothly, though.
If you’re fascinated with animals, it’s a good idea to begin with birds sanctuary, including 800 species. They are beautiful. From rainbow parrots, through pink ibises to my beloved toucans!
When it comes to waterfalls, Brazilian side offers more panoramic view. From the distance, you can try to encompass all the waterfalls and understand their magnitude.
I have an impression, since Brazil has smaller area, that Brazilians try to make the waterfall more attractive and draw tourists at any cost. In ticket offices you can buy a variety of excursions, e.g. a walking tour mixed with canoeing under the waterfalls and rafting.
You can also fly a helicopter above the waterfalls. I haven’t tried any of these things so it’s hard for me to judge whether they’re worth it, however walking and looking at Iguazu panorama is an amazing attraction itself.
From Brazilian perspective the Devil’s Throat is more visible, it’s the place where 14 waterfalls lash the surface from 80 meters height and steam cloud shoots 30 m high. However, I must confess, Argentinian view impressed me more. Partially because it was my first encounter with this place, nonetheless, looking at it from the above gave me the shudders on my whole body. I don’t have the fear of altitude, you know, but such places make me feel like a fish out of water… I’m not sure if you know it, but in the history there have been several daredevils who attempted to jump down the waterfalls throat. One of them jumped in a barrel and, what’s even more spectacular, he survived!. I have no idea what kind of miracle was it since the water force literally crushes everything on its way.
The walk from the entrance to the Devil’s Throat takes 2 hours but if you also visit the birds sanctuary, you won’t finish before the midday.
There are a few tidbits worth mentioning. Iguazu Falls serves a practical purpose. In 1984 on Parana river, flowing into Iguazu river, a huge dam and water plant were built. The Itajpu Dam, constructed by Brazilian and Paraguayan governments, generated 94.68 TWh in 2008, which covered nearly 90% of electricity demand in Paraguay and 19% in Brazil. It’s a natural energy source given by the nature.
I was supposed to make a comparison for you but after I finished writing, I realized there’s no point in choosing sides. Each perspective gives something different, something unique.
Argentina means all-day wandering in a stunning rainforest and walking up to waterfall so close that you can touch the water. Brazil, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to look at the waterfalls from the distance, in full beauty. Moreover, there’s a fantastic birds sanctuary that impressed me much. I’m thinking now, if you travel half of the world to get there and see Iguazu, a natural world wonder, it’s worth spending one more day and putting your hand in your pocket to explore it from every perspective.
I guarantee that the thunder of water will be sounding in your ears for a long time…