One of the highlights of our trip to Argentina was Iguazú Falls (or Iguaçu, in Portuguese). There are not many things you’ll ever see that will make your jaw drop and your heart skip a beat. For us that happened when we saw the 275 waterfalls that make up the stunning Iguasú Falls. It is indeed beautiful, amazing and immense. “My poor Niagara!” said Eleanor Roosevelt when she first saw the waterfall. And that’s exactly the thought that comes to your mind when you see the mighty falls of Iguazú.
The Legend of the Falls
The first European to discover the falls was the Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, in 1541. He was drawn to it by the noise of the water which can be heard from several kilometers. The name “Iguazu” means “big water” in Guarani – an indigenous language spoken South America.
The legend says that a monstrous serpent named Boi used to live in the waters of the Iguazú river. In order to tame the serpent, a beautiful woman had to be sacrificed every year by throwing her into the river. One year, a young girl named Naipí was chosen for the sacrifice. Her lover,Tarobá, found out and kidnapped her in a canoe the night before the ceremony. In rage, the serpent split the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall.
How To Get There
Iguazú Falls stretches over a 3 km long rim that is shared by Argentina and Brazil. The quickest and most convient way to get to the falls is by air. There are two airports within five miles of the falls — Foz do Iguaçu Airport (IGU) on the Brazilian side and Cataratas del Iguazú (IGR) on the Argentinian side. As we arrived in Iguazú from Buenos Aires, I don’t have much information about the Brazilian route. What you have to keep in mind is that coming from the United States there are no direct flights to Iguazú.
Where to Stay on the Argentinian Side
Iguazú National Park (Parque Nacional) is so beautiful and has so much to offer, that you should allow yourself a couple of days to visit the area. There are many lodging options for all budgets in Puerto Iguazú, which is about 11 miles away from the waterfalls. Yet, if you can afford to spend more money, staying at the Sheraton, which is located in the Parque Nacional, will put you to a big advantage.
This luxury hotel sits right in the heart of the forest, offering spectacular views the waterfalls. The rooms are clean, spacious and comfortable, but nothing extravagant. There is a beautiful swimming pool area, a couple of bars and a restaurant. But the greatest benefit of staying in this hotel is that, when the park opens, you can wander out to the falls before the big crowds arrive from the city.
The region has a humid, subtropical climate, with cooler temperatures in winter and hot in summer. Rain can come at any time during the year, but there is a dryer season from April to July. The best time of the year to visit Iguazú Falls is in spring or in fall. We went there in May, when in the Southern Hemisphere is fall time. The weather was pleasantly cool for walking in the morning (6-7°C) and it warmed up a little during the day. We were lucky to have the best possible weather and see the waterfalls at their peek.
The biggest surprise we had at Iguazú were the packs of Coatis that roam around the park. They can be seen almost everywhere, especially around the places where food was sold and they are adorable. Although there are signs throughout the park warning visitors that they can attack for food, my experience was different. They seem very friendly and if you give them a little bite the’ll behave like little puppies. They are members of the raccoon family and have long upward-turned noses, long tails and very long non-retractable claws. Some are brown, some dark gray all are very, very cute.
Argentina vs. Brazil: Which Side Is Better?
If you visit Iguazú National Park you should try to see both sides of the waterfall. They are completely different experiences. The Argentinian side has a long circuit of trails that is some parts will take you very close to the water, while the Brazilian side offers great panoramic views of the falls.
If you can spend two days in Iguazú, you should visit each side on a different day. On the Argentinian side you can take the Jungle Train to the Fall Station, where there are two walking trails: the lower circuit and the upper circuit. On the lower circuit (about a mile long) you can enjoy the best views of the waterfalls.
The Jungle Train will also take you to the Devil’s Throat (La Garganta del Diablo), which is the tallest of the waterfalls at Iguazú. We were blown away by the power and greatness of these falls. The huge semicircle 80m high drop is breathtaking.
The river waters that run calmly until a few feet away from the drop, turn suddenly into a huge mass of raging waters that roar fiercely just a few feet away from. A newly build platform allows you to get pretty close to this site, making the experience overwhelming. The best time of the day to photograph the Devil’s Throat is late afternoon, when the sun shines behind you.
Visiting the Brazilian Side
The law says that citizens from the United States, Canada, and Australia must get a visa to enter Brazil, whether it is for just one day or more. Yet, you hear about many American citizens crossing the border to Brazil without any obstacle. Some hotel concierges and tourist agencies ignore the rule to make a few extra bucks.
The Brazilian border patrol lets day visitors cross without a visa, if they are accompanied by a reputable local guide. Staying at the Sheraton and using their “guide” seemed to have been reputable enough for the border patrol because they let us in and out without any problem. So should you pay $140 for the Brazilian visa for just one day? If you want to be on the legal side you probably should. We learned about the rule only after we arrived in Iguazú, but there is not guarantees that this will work for every time.
The Aviary in Brazil
After visiting the Brazilian side of the waterfalls, our guide took us to Parque das Aves, a huge aviary where birds are actually able to fly. The visitors can get into some of the cages and mingle with the birds. Some even come very close. It was a fantastic experience. Not only have we never seen a toucan in real life before, but playing with one and photographing it from a few inches away was more than we expected. They have quite a variety of birds. We’ve seen some species that we didn’t even know existed.
Iguazú Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2011 it became part of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. The two days we’ve spent there are the most memorable ones from our trip to Argentina.