Iguazu Falls may suffer from an identity crisis. While the name means “Big Water”, the falls are referred to as Iguazu Falls (English), Iguazú Falls (Argentina), Iguassu Falls (Brazil) or Iguaçu Falls (Brazil). Whatever the name, they are the largest waterfall system in the world.
How large? Nearly twice as high and three times the width of Niagara Falls. At their highest point of 82 metres, they are shorter than Victoria Falls (108 metres), but considerably wider at 2.7 kilometres. This monster is made up of 275 waterfalls and cascades over which 1,500 cubic metres fall every second. During rainy season, the amount of water falling every second (13,000 cubic metres) could fill five Olympic swimming pools every second! No wonder that Eleanor Roosevelt, upon seeing Iguazu Falls, exclaimed “poor Niagara”!
It’s always about a woman. In this case, legend has it that a beautiful woman named Naipí fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe to escape the deity who wanted to marry her. Not taking the news very well, the deity decided to condemn the fleeing lovers to an eternal fall by slicing the river and creating the waterfalls. Deep in the jungle, it wasn’t until 1541 that the falls were discovered by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish conquistador.
In 2011, Iguazu Falls were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, in 2012, they were voted as one of the “Modern Seven Wonders of the World”.
To truly experience the majesty of Iguazu Falls, you should see it from both sides, the Argentinian and the Brazilian. We had a short period of time, just a quick weekend, and we wanted to try to maximize our experience in our two short days.
Through our hotel, The Melia Iguazu, we arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport. This was a great time-saver. Ricardo was waiting for us at the airport, sign in hand, and took us immediately to his car and into the Argentinian park. Even though we were staying at the hotel in the park, we had to purchase the park admission (AR500, cash only – NOTE: no bank machine or credit cards). From there, it was a short trip to the hotel.
The Melia Iguazu is the only hotel in the park on the Argentine side. It commands a spectacular view of the falls. The Melia chain recently purchased the property from Sheraton and will extensively renovate the hotel this year (February to August, 2018). Melia plans to redo all the rooms and move and renovate the restaurant. I have no doubt that when this renovation is finished, the inside of the hotel (which was already comfortable, clean and very nice) will match the million-dollar view the property boasts.
The staff at the front desk were great! Right behind the front desk is situated a full floor-to-ceiling window with a view of the falls. It is a staggering first impression!
Cristhian, at check-in, was not only friendly, he gave us great advice on how to maximize our viewing time on the Argentine side. His suggestion was that we hike the lower circuit first. This route of 1.4 km is the least-traveled as it is not mobility-impaired accessible (like the other two routes). There are stairs on many sections. The train to the top of the falls, he told us, was busy midday, but the crowds thinned out a little later, so it should be done second (also because the last train leaves the station at 4:10 pm). The park itself closes at 6 pm, so the Upper Circuit could be done last. The Upper Circuit is also the most exposed route – doing it later in the day gives you a little less sun, and as Cristhian pointed out, the opportunity to see lots of rainbows.
A map in hand, we walked the 100 metres (or so) from the Melia hotel to the start of the lower circuit. We had been warned not to feed the Coati, the local racoon-like animals, or the monkeys. Nothing prepared us for the Coati and their scavenging nature. These animals look like raccoons that have been stretched at both ends. They are slimmer, have longer noses and tails, but as any Torontonian knows, they are absolute beasts when it comes to food.
The first spot we came to was the break area, which housed fast food places and washrooms. And Coati. A lot of them. And lots of babies. Now, your first thought is “ooohhhh, aren’t they cute”, and then you see them in action. Crawling over the tables, opening people’s bags, walking straight up and demanding food, at one point terrorizing a small child, and yet, despite all the signs that say “don’t feed the Coati” you still see people tossing them food (these were the same people (of course) that were getting upset when the Coati decided to crawl up onto their table).
The hike through the lower circuit is beautiful. You feel a bit like you are an adventurer, walking through the jungle and then stumbling upon these magnificent falls.
View after view after view astound you. Waterfalls as far as you can see. The lower circuit takes you to the bottom or middle of a lot of the falls. You get close to the Bossetti Falls, where yes, there are selfies galore being taken. Beside Bosetti flow the Adam and Eve Falls.
A stroll below the Chico Falls looks like it could be out of a movie, and the sign nearby reminds you “no swimming”, because yes, it does look idyllic and tranquil.
The Two Sisters Falls (Dos Hermanas) cascade and for a moment you feel like you are alone in this magnificent park.
After the Lower Circuit, we walk up and wait for the train to take us to the Garganta del Diablo. The “Devil’s Throat” is an absolute monster and is what we saw on our initial view from the hotel. (Train tickets are included in the AR500 park admission). From the station exit, we follow the well-marked walkway which crosses several large streams which feed the various waterfalls. After approximately 1km, we reach the Devil’s Throat. The roar is all you need to know that this is serious. The water pounds, churns and crashes. And that mist! At times, it is so white it is almost blinding.
The path is quite level and easy to walk. There are people pushing strollers and wheelchairs and pulling luggage as they walk across the water. This coupled with the train makes this trail one of the easiest to walk.
After taking the train back, we tackle the Upper Circuit. The Upper Circuit is the longest of the trails and, as the name implies, takes you to the top of many of the falls you saw from the bottom on the Lower Circuit. The trail is well marked and fairly easy to walk. Again, we saw many strollers and a few wheelchairs being pushed around.
After a day of hiking, we really appreciated being easily able to go to our room, change and then hit the pool (we also appreciated the thoughtful fruit basket that the hotel left in our room, and the numerous bottles of complimentary water for the guests – THANK YOU!). There was something super-relaxing about being able to lie out by the pool and just chill. It was the perfect end to a hot day!
The next morning, we got up bright and early, gave mental thanks that breakfast was available from 6:30 a.m., met Ricardo and began the adventure to Brazil at 7:15 a.m. (yes, it was supposed to be a 7 a.m. departure).
First and foremost: YOU NEED A VISA TO ENTER BRAZIL. Second in importance: YOU NEED TO ARRANGE IT IN ADVANCE. Failure to do this will result in you being turned away at the border.
We exited Argentina and then went across the “frontiere” to Brazil. Our documents were checked and stamped and we were on our way. The park in Brazil seemed a lot larger, at least from the entrance. You can pay for your ticket with a credit card (BR67.30), something you cannot do in Argentina at the park entrance.
Visitors are taken from the entrance by bus to various drop-off points. If you are mobility-impaired, they suggest going to the last stop where there is an elevator to take you down. We stopped just before the last stop at the “Cataract” stop (which is also the stop for the Belmond Hotel, a lovely pink building – you can’t miss it).
We followed the trail (note, there are a lot of stairs on this path) and the first view of the falls came quickly. The Brazilian side also has Coati, or as they call them Quati, and these are just as smart, if not smarter, than their Argentinian cousins. At the first stop, we noticed that there were a lot of Quati hanging around. They seemed to be working an elaborate con game: “Hey look at the cute baby Quati, not at your bags”. One Quati would walk along the fence rail and open up and head nose first into the bags of people having their photos taken. It was unbelievable. (We actually began to recognize great “photo op” spots by the number of Quati hanging around).
The path contains many vistas. In many cases, we were seeing a different aspect of falls we had seen saw yesterday. Often, there were secondary falls below which had not been evident from the Argentinan side.
The Brazil side also gives you a walkway that stretches out over and beside the falls. You will get wet with the mist that is flying around, but it is not that bad. You get a great facing view of the Devil’s Throat and are treated to a view of a series of falls beside it which are not obvious from the Argentinian side.
There are other things you can do on the Brazilian side for an additional fee: a safari, an ecological bike and boat ride and a helicopter ride.
On the whole, the Brazilian side was a great groomed walk with a fantastic payoff at the end. You can finish the path in less than two hours even stopping for multiple photo ops.
There is a restaurant as well as fast food spots at the Brazilian side, and the gift shops are much nicer and better stocked. [ELIN’s TIP: forego the fast food spots and stop by the Belmond Hotel for a civilized lunch.]
The Argentinian side, I think, gives you a really good over (and under) view of the falls, and gives you an adventurous feel on the walks. The Argentinian side took roughly 5+ hours for us to do both circuits and walk out and back to the Devil’s Throat.
If I had to pick one, I’d be torn. We felt that there was much more to explore on the Argentina side, but the Brazilian side gives you a better perspective of the magnitude of the falls. If you can, try to do both sides for the experience. If you don’t want to get a Brazilian visa (or need it for a carry-on trip to Brazil), I’d stick with Argentina.
After spending almost two days with Iguazu, it’s easy to see how it was voted one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in 2012. Get up early and put this beauty on your list of things to see.
Park information Argentia: http://www.iguazuargentina.com/ (note, site is in Spanish, you will have to use Google Translate)
Park information Brazil: http://www.cataratasdoiguacu.com.br/ (site has a pull down menu for English)
Melia Hotel Iguazu Falls: https://www.melia.com/en/hotels/argentina/iguazu-national-park/melia-iguazu/index.html