Iguaca Falls, Brazil & Argentina

Iguaca Falls is probably the most
impressive national border in the world. This world beating
waterfall is shared by Brazil and Argentina and is one of the
must see sights of South America.  Both the Brazilian and Argentine parks
have become victims of rampant commercialization, but the falls remain a truly
amazing destination.

How to see the falls and park

Allow at least two full days to visit both the Argentine
and Brazilian parks and arrive early to beat the crowds.  Both parks have
excellent museums and visitor centers but leave these until your way out.

The finest overall view is from the Brazilian side, best
in the morning when the light is better for photography.  You’ll need half
a day here – more if you visit the Parque das Aves, the best opportunity to bird
watch, located just outside the park.  The real attraction however, is the
path that zigzags down the riverbank, leading to a catwalk that takes you almost
beneath the Garganta do Diablo (Devil’s Throat), a 150m wide and 700m long
horseshoe of cascading water, guaranteed to drench.

For more detailed views of the falls, the Argentine park
has the best vantage points.  The falls here are more numerous and the
viewing areas and trails more extensive.  With a reasonable eye toucans can
be spotted; monkeys swing from tree to tree and butterflies abound.  There
are two main trails – one that follows the waters edge and the other offering
views of individual falls from afar.

No visit is complete without venturing onto the catwalk
that leads 1,200m across roaring waters to platforms just above the Devil’s
Throat.

With more time follow the 5km long Sendero Macuco, a
forest path that attracts relatively few hikers, thus offering the best chance
to observe the shy wildlife.  Press on along the muddy trail to an isolated
waterfall, the Salto Arrecha – the only place in the park where swimming is
allowed. 

Helicopter rides are available but, while breathtaking,
bear in mind the Argentine claims that the noise disturbs the wildlife. 
More exhilarating is a boat trip.  Leaving both parks, powerful inflatables
ferry you to the edge of the crashing waters, the pilots skimming their boats
within touching distance.

Tips

  • Don’t visit during Semana Santa (Easter) – the parks
    are packed with Argentine and Brazilian tourists.
  • You’ll be soaked by spray and rain – bring a
    waterproof and Ziploc bags for your camera and passport.
  • Coati, racoon-like mammals, will scrounge for food
    along the parks’ trails and can be aggressive.  Feeding them is strictly
    forbidden.
  • The only really good places to eat are the
    restaurants of the imposing Hotel Tropical das Cataratas.  Its buffet and
    gaucho-themed outdoor grill serve typical Brazilian dishes.
  • You can drive a hire car across the border from
    Brazil to Argentina. No documentation is required if simply traveling to
    Puerto Iguazu or the Argentine park, but if you plan to explore further ask
    you car hire company for the necessary paperwork, to which an additional
    charge is payable.
  • Full moon walks take place five evenings a month (on
    full moon and two days either side) in the Argentine park. The light
    reflecting on the waterfalls is magical.

When to go

Iguaca varies by season,.  During the summer
(December to February) the waters are at their strongest, but rains can be
intense and temperatures soar, making a visit tough.  In the cool, drier
winter (June to August) the volume of water is less intense but the sunshine
interacts with the spray to create enchanting rainbows.

Getting there

The falls are located in the ‘triple frontier’ region of
Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, roughly 20km south-east of the towns of Foz do
Iguacu (Brazil) and Puerto Iguazu (Argentina).

There are daily flights to Foz from Curitiba, Sao Paulo
and Rio (around US$400 return), and daily flights from Buenos Aires to Puerto
Iguazu (around US$300 return).  From early morning to late evening public
buses connect Foz with Puerto Iguazu, taking 45 minutes.  You must carry
your passport but, if crossing the border for the day immigration formalities
are minimal.  Buses ply the road between Foz and the entrance to the
Brazilian park and the road linking Puerto Iguazu with Argentina’s park. 
Taxis are also available between the two countries – a good option if time is
limited.

Where to stay

Ugly, sprawling and none-too-safe-after-dark Foz do
Iguacu has a greater choice of hotels, but smaller Puerto Iguazu makes a more
pleasant base.  Extremely simple, but with masses of character, is the
Hosteria La Cabana, the oldest guesthouse in Puerto Iguazu, built by German
pioneer settlers.  There is no shortage of comfortable mid-range options
here,either. 

Entry to the park

Brazil’s Parque National do Iguacu (www.cataratasdoiguacu.com.br) is open from 8am to 5pm (6pm
Oct-Mar).  Entry costs R$20.15 (US$11).  Argentina’s Parque Nacional
Iguazu (www.iguazuargentina.com) is open from 7.30am to 6.30pm (8am to
6pm Apr-Sep).  Entry costs A$40 (US$13).

Facts

  • Much of the forest around the falls is secondary
    growth.  Timber was logged in the early 20th century but, with the
    creation of the two parks, the landscape has shown a remarkable capacity to
    recover, offering hope to other rainforests environments even if protection is
    delayed.

Issues

  • In July 2006, the Iguaca River virtually dried up –
    the consequence of southern Brazil’s worst drought in 20 years.  At the
    end of July the volume of water plummeted to just 300,000 litres per second,
    down from the month’s usual 1.5 million per second.  While droughts do
    occur naturally, last year’s event was just the most obvious sign of climate
    change – increasingly noticeable here.  Seasons are less predictable,
    nights are hotter, rainstorms are more intense and droughts last
    longer.

The history of Iguaca Falls

Legend tells that when a god planned to marry a
beautiful girl named Naipi she escaped in a canoe with her mortal lover,
Taroba.  In anger, the god sliced the river, creating Iguaca Falls and
condemned the lovers to an eternal tumble.

Iguaca Falls is formed by the Iguaca River, which
originates near Curitiba in the Brazilian state of Prana.  The river snakes
westward, increasing in size and power before, 1,200km later, it broadens out
across a basalt cap and plunges over an 82m high cliff – Iguaca Falls.

This isn’t the whole story though; it’s just the most
prominent of the falls, one of the 275 interlinking, awe-inspiring cataracts
that extend 2.7km across the river separating Brazil from Argentina.  The
waters collect in a giant canyon carved out beneath the falls before draining
into the Parana River, which eventually flows into the Atlantic.

While the falls are impressive in themselves, it’s their
location that makes them so special, resulting in the creation of national parks
by Argentina in 1934 and by Brazil in 1939.  Iguaca is set deep within one
of the largest remaining stretches of Mata Atlantica, the once – vast forest
ecosystem that used to extend along Brazil’s entire coastline and into the
interior – one of the most ecologically rich and biologically diverse biospheres
in the world.

Near to the falls

  • Yacutinga Wildlife Refuge, Argentina
    – Located on the banks of the Iguaca River 60km east of the Argentine
    park.  Yacuntinga Lodge offers a good chance to explore the rainforest
    away from the masses. Capuchin Monkeys, deer, otters, caiman and myriad birds
    abound.
  • Puerto Bertoni, Paraguay – For a
    taster of Paraguay hop over the border to Puerto Bertoni, on the west bank of
    the Parana River.  This isolated spot was the home of Swiss Naturalist
    and ethnologist Moises Bertoni, who settled in the area in 1890..
  • Mocona Falls, Argentina – Although
    no great rival to Iguaca in terms of overall grandeur, the 3km wide Mocona
    Falls (200km to the south east) are still impressive.  Not least because
    they receive very few visitors.

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