You hear them before you see them. A low rumble which turns to a growing roar as you make your way along the metal walkway. Then all at once you are upon them. Great plumes of spray shooting high into the air, water-drops acting like prisms creating mini rainbows in the afternoon light. You are wet within minutes yet you don’t mind, you are spoilt for where to look next such is the majesty of Iguazu Falls.
Uguazu Falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the border of Brazil and Argentina and are one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature. The falls comprise of 275 separate waterfalls spreading across 2.7 kilometres and two countries. This is where for me it gets interesting, both countries have their own towns close to the falls and both their own national parks surrounding their side of the falls. The question on every tourists lips is which side is the best.
We are staying on the Argentinian side in a humble little B&B in Puerto Iguazu, a gritty little border town. My husband and I had intended to spend our first afternoon exploring the town but on closer inspection, there is little to recommend it other than its proximity to the falls. Our B&B host tells us in no uncertain terms not to waste the sunny afternoon, but to head straight for the falls. Our suggestion of getting a guide is shot down in flames, “it’s a waterfall, not rocket science!” he splutters in total disgust. Suitably chastised we agree to his suggestion to take his tame taxi driver to the Argentinian side of the falls and have him collect us 3 hours later at closing time.
Unbeknown to me, James a big waterfall virgin, is dubious about the falls. The little kiddies train – his description – which takes you from the entrance through the park does not instil him with confidence. Picking up this vibe I suggest we go straight to the last stop, the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo) the big one. The Argentinian Devil’s Throat vantage point is level with the top of the falls, so on our lengthy approach you can’t see what’s ahead.
From the train stop we trail across the metal walkways, over fast-flowing murky brown water, traversing three tiny islands, by-passing stragglers, I can tell he is still doubtful. Then we clear the last of the islands and he sees it. His doubt disperses with the water spray, it is magnificent, even better than I, the believer, could have hoped and my doubting Thomas is hooked. The 82-metre-high, 700-metre-long Devil’s Throat waterfall has worked its magic. The circular metal walkway allows you to get close to the fall’s edge, but due to the great plumes of mist created by a flow rate of 1.3 million litres a second you cannot see very far down from this vantage point.
Now we have the big one under our belts we are keen to see what else is on offer on this side of the falls. So it is back to the kiddies train and on to the next stop, Upper and Lower Falls. It is not a scenic walk back from Devil’s Throat and quite a distance to the next falls, so best to take the free train and save precious time.
From the station well marked pathways lead to each of the circuits.The pathways are edged by lush jungle, there are orchids and self-seeded bromeliads in the trees, even without the stars of the show, the waterfalls, it is a pretty walk. You cross over wide raging brown waterways, you look down onto waterfalls, you admire other falls from a safe distance and then on the Lower Circuit you can get up close, personal and wet at the base of a waterfall. There is no doubt about it, you really experience the falls on these circuits.
Along our walk we come across many of the sweet little raccoon-like Coatis, but don’t be fooled by their cuteness “Coati can and will bite” the signs tell us showing a person’s bloody bitten hand to emphasis the point. As I do not want to put my Rabies vaccination to the test, I stick to taking their photo.
We are back at the entrance in just under three hours (we are fast walkers) waiting for our taxi ride home, having made a quick pitstop at the handicraft market and purchased a Coati fridge magnet as a memento.
Next morning we leave for the Brazilian side, not with the tame taxi driver but in a local bus. We take our passports ready for the border crossing, which is an interesting experience. We all have to get off the bus and file through Passport Control to leave Argentina, whereas to enter Brazil we just hand our passports over to the bus driver’s colleague who does all the legwork for us.
There is little doubt about it, the Brazilian operation is slick, no kiddies train for them, hot and cold running buses are laid on to take us out to the falls from the entrance. Which considering the distance is a good thing, and there is commentary in Portuguese, Spanish and finally English.
Instead of going right to the “Devil’s Throat Balcony” today we jump off at the stop opposite the very beautiful Hotel das Cataratas and walk down to the “Cataratas Trail”. Actually it is more of a gentle concrete pathway down than a trail, and once you are through the tame jungle the view opens up to afford you the most staggering views of the Argentinian side of the falls.
It hadn’t really occurred to me yesterday but the majority of the waterfall action happens over in Argentina, bar of course the Devil’s Throat which they both share. The Brazilian side offers many adventure options rafting, motorboat and helicopter rides all at an additional cost for those seeking even more adventure. But today we are happy to wander along this nice easy path and admire the panoramic views of the Argentinian falls which we explored yesterday.
On this walk we come out below the Devil’s Throat Falls, as we start out on the “balcony” walkway we zip up our waterproof jackets confident, that like yesterday they will suffice, wrong! My smart showerproof jacket is no match for the furious spray assaulting us here. I am wet through in no time but like all the other drowned rats of tourists on the walkway I don’t care. Like a kid I open my mouth and drink the drenching spray, like a grown-up I offer I silent prayer of thanks my mascara is waterproof. As I walk back along the balcony I see the clever vender of clear plastic ponchos and wish I had put comfort before vanity and bought one.
I take the elevator up to the top of the falls, and enjoy what is surely the best vantage point of the falls. Beside me is the giant roaring Devil’s Throat waterfall drenching a whole new collection of tourists below with its spray, and looking out in front of me are the waterfalls on San Martin Island in the foreground and behind them, the waterfalls I climbed around yesterday. This, for me is the hero view of the falls.
Argentina is the action side, where you can get up close and personal with the falls but be prepared to walk and climb up steps. Brazil is the side for the panoramic views and a relatively easy walk. Both sides have luxury hotels, tourist shops, cafes and of course entrance fees. Both sides are incredible and a worthy item on anyone’s trip to South America.
Australian Passport holders will require a Visa for Brazil, and a Reciprocity Fee for Argentina. A Yellow Fever vaccination is required for reentry to Australia after visiting this region.
If you have the time do both sides of the falls.
Should you be a bird lover, opposite the entrance to the Brazilian side is the best bird park I have come across Paque das Aves.