Think Niagara Falls is impressive? You haven’t seen anything yet! The Iguazú Falls are torrential cascades whose thundering path defines the borders of Paraguay, Brasil, and Argentina. Tourism for this natural wonder is split between Argentina and Brazil, and for those wanting to get the most out of your visit please read on!
The Argentinian Side
My venture started I stepped off of a bus in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina. It was the evening of the 2014 World Cup Argentina/Belgium game, so tensions were running high and liqueur flowing heavy. Argentinians watch football as if the fate of the world depended upon each play’s outcome, and the general demeanor of the town fluctuates with every goal scored or defended. The entire town was shut down for the evening, save for every sports bar being packed with spectators, eyes glued to the television screen. What else is there to do but sit down with a nice cerveza and cheer along with the throng? I let myself be swept away by the raw emotions of my fellow bar patrons and joined in with the cheers, groans and amateur voiceovers of the plays. Then, with the shrill of the end game whistle and raucous cheers of the crowd, Argentina had won! The rest of the evening was a festival with the entire town moving from the bars to the streets in celebration of Argentina’s triumph. Cars were honking horns with stereos blasting the team’s anthem, with adults and children both singing along and dancing as if set on fire.
The next morning everyone was moving a bit sluggish as my liver decided to take its revenge. I got a late start leaving my hostel, and had to rush over to the Brazilian Embassy to submit my visa paperwork before they closed up for the day. With my expedited visa application underway, I set off to the Argentinian side of Iguazú Falls. Puerto Iguazú is a tiny town, and at its center is the bus terminal with built in travel agencies. Most hostels are close to the terminal, so getting there doesn’t present much of a hassle. Within the terminal are a series of tellers, each selling tickets and exclusion packages to suit every travelers’ itinerary. Here they also sell the bus tickets that will take one to and from the park entrance, costing about AR$80 and running every 20min. The tellers will also be selling discounted speedboat trips beneath the Devils Throat falls, but I advise against it unless you happen to be flush with cash. The speedboat adventure lasts about 15minutesmand you get extremely wet. If that is your cup of tea, fantastic! But don’t expect it to be cheap! I would instead save the funds for an adventure on the Brazilian side which is a bit more affordable with more options.
The park is split between two trailheads leading to both the upper and lower falls. I recommend heading down the lower path to begin with, as it is the longer, more scenic walk. The path will take you approximately 2hrs to complete, depending entirely how much you stop to stare and take pictures. Make sure to bring a raincoat (umbrella is useless) because you may get a little spray standing under the cascades. If you have purchased a speedboat adventure, the path to your embarkation can be found along this trail. Both trails make a loop, with a cafe located at the intersection, which is a great place to grab a coffee and snack. WARNING, there is an indigenous animal called a Coati that lives in the park. They look like a cross between a raccoon and a badger and make an adorable little squeaky sound. DO NOT BE FOOLED BY THE CUTENESS! These things are gremlins in disguise, and turn into vicious furry creatures once they see food! They will try to steal from you and are not afraid to use their sharp claws and teeth to do so. Now, the upper trail is an excellent way to end your stay at the park, as it gives you an encompassing view of the entirety of the falls, and looks particularly spectacular around sunset, so try to plan it accordingly. The last bus to leave the park departs around 8:00 pm, so check the schedule and don’t get left overnight!.
The next day I awoke early so I could pick up my fast tracked visa and explore Puerto Iguazu a bit before departing for the Brazilian side. Like I said, the town is tiny, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to see! A short hike from the center of the town you will find a river walk that meanders along the Argentina/Brazil border. Keep on walking and you will reach the perfect lookout point where you can see the intersection of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay’s borders. There is even a small statue with the three countries flagstaffs. Small vendors selling their handmade goods congregate around this area, so if you want a token to commemorate your visit, this is the place to do it! Walking back into town you will also be able to see some magnificent hand-carved facades in the stone walls, most depicting a biblical text. After some perusing, I picked up my passport with a shiny new visa and hopped on a bus to Foz do Iguaçu, Brasil! For those only wanting to see the Brazilian side of the falls and are not planning on staying in Brazil, I believe you can charter a bus straight to the park, and straight back to Argentina without going through border control. As for the rest of you armed with your shiny new visas, head to the bus terminal and get the next bus to Foz! At border control, the driver will ask those who are not residents of Argentina and Brasil to get off and go through customs, and he will give you a re-embarkation ticket that you can use for the next bus coming through (one every 15-20min). Make sure you get off and get your stamp, or face harsh penalties! It’s also a good idea to keep in mind where you need to get off the bus for your hostel in Foz, or ask the driver to tell you where your stop is.
Personally, I consider Foz do Iguaçu to be a bit of a dull city, but there are three attractions that I recommend to you during your stay. The first, of course, is to visit the Brazilian side of the falls! The bus fare from the city to the park entrance costs about R$3.50 (bus #120), so substantially cheaper fare than the Argentinian side. You pay on the bus, and the ride takes about 45 minutes. If you are unsure of where to get the bus, talk to your hostel manager and they will point you in the right direction! The entrance fee to the park is R$49.50, but be sure to take a bit of extra money if you were planning to do some of the additional activities, including guided bike trails, jungle safaris, and rafting. Your entrance ticket doubles as your bus fare from the park entrance to the falls, so after purchasing try to get at the front of the line so you get on the top of the open double-decker bus! The bus will make three stops, each one a different entrance to one of the attractions if you have purchased them. Otherwise stay on until the very end, which takes you to the waterfalls’ trailhead! Remember, you might have gotten away without a raincoat in Argentina, but on the Brazilian side you will be absolutely drenched without one! Beware!
Once you have had your fill of the parks majestic scenery, instead of getting straight back on the bus to your hostel, I suggest you walk across the street from the park entrance. There you will find a fantastic animal refuge and my second recommendation for touring in the city. Its name is Parque de Los Aves, and it is a special sanctuary where they rescue and breed tropical birds that are injured or endangered. It costs about R$20 to enter, but it is worth it if you haven’t yet seen any toucans or parrots on your trip so far! Once you return to town if you would look at your map you will find a zoo written on it. The zoo is more of an open park with part of it being dedicated to a zoological preserve for endangered species. Entrance is free, and you will get to meet up close various types of monkeys and a Jaguar!
Keep on swimming!