Visiting the Iguazú Falls is one of the most powerful encounters with nature that you will ever have. You may have seen photos of this waterfall before, but coming face to face with it is like facing a dragon! It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
“My poor Niagara!“were Eleanor Roosevelt’s words when she first saw the waterfall. And that was exactly my thought when I first saw the Iguazu Falls.
Located on the border of the Argentina and Brazil, Iguazú Falls stretch over 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) along the length of the Iguazu River. About 80% of the falls are on the Argentinean side, and only 20% on the Brazilian side.
Table of Contents
- The Legend of the Falls
- The Ultimate Guide for Visiting the Iguazú Falls Independently
- Best Time to Visit the Falls
- How To Get to Iguazú Falls
- Where to Stay When Visiting Iguazú Falls
- Things to Do on the Brazilian Side of Iguazu Falls
The Legend of the Falls
Like many other beautiful places on Earth, Iguazu Falls has its own legend. The story says that a monstrous serpent named Boi used to live in the waters of Iguazu 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.
The Ultimate Guide for Visiting the Iguazú Falls Independently
Later in this article, I’ll share with you my top tips for making the most of your visit to the falls, including when to go, how to avoid the crowds, and which extra attractions are worth your money. All the practical information in this guide was updated in 2020 to reflect current prices, exchange rates, visa requirements, etc.
What’s the Best Way to Visit the Falls?
The best way to visit the Iguazú Falls is to approach them from the Argentinean side. By doing that, you’ll steadily get closer and closer so that you can appreciate first their size.
I recommend that you start on the short (but panoramic) upper circuit before heading down the lower circuit. The upper circuit has several viewing points from where you can admire the falls.
Visiting the Iguazú Falls involves a fair amount of walking through the jungle, so you should come prepared for that. The walking is done mainly wooden decks, but in certain areas you’ll be on birth paths as well.
Mosquitoes at Iguazu are the most active in the spring and summer, but we visited the falls in spring and didn’t have problems. However, if you are prone to mosquito bites, take the usual precautions like wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts, or using insect repellent.
You should allow at least a couple of days for visiting the the Iguazú Falls.
The Flora and Fauna at Iguazú
The biggest surprise we had when visiting Iguazu Falls was the abundance of flora and fauna around. There are hundreds of species of butterfly, birds and plants which flourish in the nearby tropical forest, with orchids, palms, lianas and colorful begonias.
We came across packs of Coati roaming all around the park. Coatis 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. They were especially present around the food stands, bagging for scraps. Although there are signs throughout the park warning visitors that Coatis can attack for food, my experience was different. They seemed very friendly and rather reminded me of little puppies.
There are also Agouti, which look a lot like guinea pigs, and Capybara, which can be spotted in the more dense forest areas, or around the water. Capibara is the largest rodent in the world and can get as big as 140 pounds and can be over 4 feet tall. They also resemble a guinea pig.
Argentina vs. Brazil: Which Side of the Falls Is Better?
Iguazu Falls are shared by three countries: Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. Both Brazil and Argentina have National Parks devoted to them, and they are sufficiently different in character to each merit a visit.
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.
Visiting the Argentinian Side of Iguazú Falls
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.
You can climb down to Salto Bossetti falls and catch a ferry to San Martin Island that has a beautiful beach. The upper circuit is slightly shorter and takes you over the canyon. From there you can look down at the waterfalls. On this circuit you can enjoy a lot of birds and a luscious vegetation. You’ll see giant trees, ferns, orchids and many other tropical plants.
The Jungle Train will also take you to the Devil’s Throat (La Garganta del Diablo). The U-shaped cliff marking the border between Argentina and Brazil is arguably the most impressive thing at Iguazu Falls. At over 80m (260ft) high, La Garganta del Diablo is the tallest of the waterfalls at Iguazú. We were blown away by the power and greatness of these falls.
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 of Iguazú Falls
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. Using the local guide at the Sheraton was apparently good enough because could cross the border 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.
Best Time to Visit the Falls
When planning your visit to Iguazu Falls it’s important to know a little about the weather in this area. 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.
How To Get to Iguazú Falls
Iguazu 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. We arrived in Iguazú from Buenos Aires, as there are no direct flights from the USA to Iguazú.
The spread-out entrance complex ends at a train station, with departures every half-hour to the Cataratas train station, where the waterfall walks begin, and to the Garganta del Diablo.
Where to Stay When Visiting Iguazú Falls
There are many lodging options for all budgets in Puerto Iguazú, about 11 miles away from the waterfalls. Yet, if you can afford to spend more money, staying at the Sheraton Iguazu Falls right in the Park 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.
Things to Do on the Brazilian Side of Iguazu Falls
After visiting Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side, our guide took us to Parque das Aves. This aviary has huge cages 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.
Iguazu 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.
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