Adventure Guide: Iguazú Falls

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Iguazú Falls is one of the natural wonders of the world and rightfully so, the massive wall of water stretches for kilometers, spans the border of two countries, and at its highest point stands more than 82 meters in elevation (270 ft).   The falls separate the upper and lower river Iguazú, and in 2014 broke records for water flow, as more than 46,000 cubic meters of water per second poured over the massive precipice. It is impossible to witness this spectacle of the power of nature without feeling deferential, as visitors to the falls throughout history have felt awestruck.
The Garanta del Diablo, the mystic Devil's Throat Falls

The Garanta del Diablo- the mystic Devil’s Throat Falls

Iguazú is Guaraní for “big water” and indigenous legend suggests that the falls were formed when Caroba, a Guaraní warrior and his young lover Naipur travelled down river in canoe.  A jealous forest god was obsessed with the young girl and caused the river to divide into the massive falls separating the two lovers as Naipur fell to the bottom and turned into a rock and Caroba was converted into a tree resting above the falls.
88butterfly

The beautiful “88 Butterfly”

Because more than two thirds of the falls belong to Argentina, the best way of exploring the falls is to dedicate one full day to the Argentine side (preferably the day with the clearest weather possible) and a half a day in the Brazilian side. The Argentine side is an up close, interactive look which takes you wandering through the falls on catwalks, feeling the spray of the pounding water, observing rainbows and butterflies, as well as the opportunity for thrills along the way. The Brazilian side offers a more panoramic, big picture view of the cataratas (waterfalls).  Both sides offer splendid views and encounters with wildlife as butterflies flutter by, toucans soar above and coatis frolic in the local flora.
The 'senderelas' or catwalks are suitable for everyone and even wheelchair and stroller accessible.

The ‘pasarelas’ or catwalks are suitable for everyone and even wheelchair and stroller accessible.

On both sides be prepared for hot, humid temperatures year round. Even in winter temperatures of 30° C (86°F) are quite common, and in Summer 35-40° C (95-105° F) temperatures are the norm. Often times the thermal sensation may be much warmer than the actual temperature.  Be prepared- carry lots of water, sun screen, and a sun hat.

San Martín Falls

San Martín Falls

Iguazú ArgentinaIt is best to spend at least one full day on the Argentine side of the falls, you won’t regret it! Try to reach the park as early as possible (park opens at 8 am) in order to beat the large tour groups.   If you don’t see enough on your first day in the falls, you can return for the second day at a 50% discount, just remember to have your ticket stamped as you leave. The Argentine side is home to the Macuco trail, the Circuito Superior (upper circuit), Circuito Inferior (lower circuit), Isla San Martín, and the Garganta del Diablo falls.
How to plan your day:

There are generally two ways to decide which trail to take first:

  1. On a hot day, start on the Macuco trail,then head directly to the Garganta del Diablo followed by the upper circuit.  This will allow you to spend the afternoon hours when the sun is strongest on the lower circuit, which has better opportunities to cool yourself down by being sprayed by the mist of the falls and even taking the boat ride below the San Martín falls- a guaranteed refresher.
  2.  To beat the crowds start on the Macuco trail, then head to the lower circuit (yes, take the boat ride!), followed by the upper circuit, and save the Garganta del Diablo for the highlight at the end of the day, when the larger tour groups should be long gone.

Trip Tips:

  • Be sure to bring your passport, a swimming suit, comfortable walking shoes, bug repellent, sunscreen, something to protect your camera from water (plastic bag will work, but if you have a GoPro this would be the day to bring it), and of course your sense of adventure.
  • It is also a good idea to buy food in town and carry a picnic into the park, food in the park can be expensive.  A good place to buy sandwiches in Puerto Iguazú is the panadería (bakery) El Arból Real.
  • The thunderous sounds of the rushing waters are sure to inspire, and also probably also make you need to pee 😉 It is a good idea to visit the bathrooms after seeing the Garganta del Diablo before getting back on the train.
  • Start the day on the shady, lesser trodden Macuco Trail, which due to less foot traffic, offers a better chance to view wildlife such as monkeys and toucans.  Although the views on this trail are more of the surrounding jungle than the falls themselves, the end of the trail offers a smaller waterfall and swimming hole in which you can refresh yourself by letting the waters pour over you.
  • Skip the train from the entrance at the central station, it is only a 15-20 minute walk down the Sendero Verde to the main train station (estación Cataratas) from which you can then catch the train to the Garganta del Diablo.  All passengers from the central station have to get off at this station and wait in line again.  This makes for considerable more waiting time and less exploration.
  • You can either take the train to the massive Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) falls or you can walk the trail beside the tracks for 30 minutes or so.  The train leaves the Cataratas station every 30 minutes and the last train is at 4 pm.
  • On the lower circuit there is the opportunity for the Aventura Náutica an exhilarating powerboat ride that takes you below the brisk waters of San Martín falls.  Although the boat ride is more expensive (350 ARS) than the park entrance fee, it is worth every centavo. Check out this video if you aren’t convinced.
  • From the lower circuit there is also the opportunity to take a boat to Isla San Martín (often closed due to flooding), which has additional trails and a small beach where you can swim.
  • If you are extremely limited on time, or fly in early, you can head straight to the park form the Puerto Iguazú airport.  The airport is only a few kilometers from the park entrance and the taxi is cheaper to the park than to Puerto Iguazú.  The park also offers service of guards-volumes (luggage storage).
Getting to the Argentine falls:
  • Bus: from Puerto Iguazú bus station there are busses through Rio Uruguay every 20 minutes starting at 7am and return service from the falls with the same frequency with the last bus back at 8:50pm (100 pesos round trip).
  • Taxi: a slightly more comfortable way to travel with air conditioning, but also a heftier price. Taxis can be contracted in many taxi stands in Puerto Iguazú for about 250 pesos one-way, or 430 round trip.  Be sure to negotiate the price before getting in the taxi.

See also: City Guide: Puerto Iguazú

 

Iguazú Argentina Map

Full size map of both sides of the falls to download and print.

Cataratas do Iguaçu BrasilThe Brazilian side offers panoramic views of the falls which are great for photography buffs who will want a postcard image to complete the experience of the Argentine side. The park has a hop-on hop-off bus included in the entrance price and it’s flat walkways are easily navigable on foot.  Iguaçu Brasil also is home to the same wildlife seen in the Argentine side, including the adorable coati and a wide variety of colorful butterflies. The final walkway is the highlight of the Brazilian side with its catwalk which extends out beneath the spray of Salto Unión, the brazilian pair to the Garganta del Diablo.
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The Brazilian side also boasts more luxurious services.  The Hotel das Cataratas within the parks allows guests the opportunity to explore the park before and after park opening hours, allowing guest  the tranquility to view sunrise and sunset virtually without the crowds.  Other services offered on the Brazilian side include a bird watching center, kayaking, rafting, and even helicopter rides.
Coatis, the adorable raccoon like animals that roam amidst the falls

Coatis, the adorable raccoon like animals that roam amidst the falls

No visa? No problem. The Brazilian migrations agents unofficially tolerate visits to the Brazilian side of the park without a Brazilian tourist visa as long as you enter only the park and return to Argentina the same day.  Doing this you will not be able to continuing onto Foz de Iguaçu.  Now this can be a little touchy, but the best way to play this one is to go to the bus station in Puerto Iguazú and find a bus that is going to the Brazilian side of the falls.  Explain the situation to the driver of the bus (time to dust off those high school spanish skills).  The driver will usually know best if the immigration agents are allowing visitors to the park without visa.
Panaoramic view of the falls

Panaoramic view of the falls

Trip Tips:
  • Be sure to bring your passport, a swimming suit, comfortable walking shoes or sandals, bug repellent, sun screen, wide angle lenses, and something to protect your camera from water (a plastic bag will work).
  • Cost for non-Brazilian residents is 56 reales and can be paid by cash or credit/debit card, which is convenient if you are not continuing travel into Brazil, because you won’t need to exchange money.
  • If you are short on time or want to sleep in, you can experience the Brazilian side in about a half a day.
  • Open every day from 9 am – 5 pm

Getting to the Brazilian Falls

  • Bus: From Puerto Iguazú regular service from the bus terminal is available through the company Rio Uruguay.  From the bus terminal in Foz de Iguaçu (6 KM from the city center) take the 120  bus “Parque Nacional/Aeroporto” the fare is 3 Brazilian Reais. The trip from there takes 40 minutes and the National Park is the last stop.
  • Taxi: Taxi service is more comfortable with air conditioning, but more costly.  Be aware that in order to cross the border from the Argentine side in taxi you will need a Brazilian visa.  Be sure to negotiate the price before getting in the taxi.
 

Arrival and Departure:

Air:  Aerolineas Argentinas, Lan offer several flights per day to the regional airport in Puerto Iguazú.  The international airport in Foz de Iguaçu receives regional and international flights.  International flights to Foz, especially to Europe, are often is cheaper than other major airports in both Argentina or Brazil.
Bus: Expreso Singer (recommended), Rápido Argentino, Tigre Iguazú and other carriers offer at least daily service. In Buenos Aires tickets can be purchased at Retiro bus station.  See Plataforma 10 for schedule and pricing details.
*prices and schedules are current as of Feb. 2016.

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