It’s the largest waterfall system in the world and it’s awesome! Here’s part one of a three-part guide on how to walk the planks at the “cataratas do Iguaçu” (the Brazlian side) and “del Iguazú” in Argentina.
There are taller and wider waterfalls in the world but probably none more splendid than the Iguaçu or Iguazú Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina (Iguaçu is the name in Portuguese, Iguazú the Spanish, and just to confuse matters the name Iguassu is sometimes used too). When the water level is at its highest there are some 300 waterfalls spread over almost 2.9 kilometres (that’s a kilometre wider than the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe), with an average height of 65 metres. You will need at least two full days to explore them and even then you will be hard-pressed to take them all in.
In both countries the falls are in a national park near the triple frontier with Paraguay and as a result most tourists can only visit the falls in the park opening hours. However, if you can afford it, there are two superb hotels located in the national parks, the Meliá Iguazú (formerly a Sheraton) in Argentina, and the wonderfully colonial Belmond Hotel das Cataratas in Brazil. Stay here and you can do some early morning sightseeing before all the tourist hordes arrive. Lucky you!
Most of the falls are on the Argentinian side of the border. This doesn’t mean that you should skip the Brazilian side – it has the best views. Simply put, in Brazil you are mostly looking up at the falls, either from boardwalks, as in the picture at the top of this post, or from thrilling close proximity by boat to the base of the falls, as in the picture below. Do do the boat rides, it’s the most thrilling part of the whole experience.
In Argentina most of the boardwalks are at the top of the cliffs (can you see them in the picture above strung out across the top waterfalls?) so you are peering down at the falls tumbling beneath your feet. It’s a more sedate experience but you feel like you’re on top of the world. Down in the Brazilian basin, though, you definitely sense that Mother Nature is in charge.
But the Argentinian side does have one prime, thrilling attraction, the Devil’s Throat! Read about it in part two (link below). Part three looking at the Brazilian experience will be posted within a week.
Most international visitors will arrive by plane at the airports serving the nearby cities of Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil and Puerto Iguazú in Argentina, where there are plenty of hotels and tour companies with daily visits to the local attractions. If you are going to go across the border from one to the other – which you should do, both sides of the falls are a must – the important thing is to know what border control documentation is required and if you have to pay a visa fee (this depends on what passport you have). Buy your park visit tickets online and do anything you can to avoid queuing because on these visits time is precious. In the Brazilian national park, once you are in you can basically do your own thing on the allocated pathways; there is a lot more ground to cover on the Argentinian side, where mini-trains take visitors from the park entrance to the top of the falls and other places. At peak times the queues for these trains can be long and the wait times frustrating. If you are in a group of six, say, and the train is filling up fast, don’t dilly-dally looking for six empty seats together, because you will end up with none. Just get a seat somewhere on the train! TTW