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Iguazú! Mighty, watery beast of the jungle!
Iguazú comes from the Guarani words y (meaning water) and ûazú (meaning big). We visited the falls over two days in May, and it was a mind-blowing amount of Big Water.
The falls straddle the border between Brazil and Argentina, with the Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat Falls marking the boundary. Two thirds of the falls, er, fall on the Argentina side, but there is much to recommend on both sides.
The Brazil Side
We were staying in Puerto Iguazú in Argentina, but getting to Brazil is fairly straightforward these days as there is now a direct bus. Although the actual entrance is very close to the town, it still takes a good hour or so because of the border checkpoints in both countries.
The Brazil side is all about the overview. Walking along the cliffside, you get a sense of the size of the place and the sheer number of different and interesting ways that water can tumble over rock.
That’s not to say that you don’t get up close and personal – there are plenty of chances for a soaking available. These are well worth taking advantage of if only for that full sensory experience, but you really do need something seriously waterproof. It may only look like a fine mist but there’s a lot of it.
The Brazil side features a nice section where you can stand right by the side of one of the wider, but relatively shorter drops (i.e. less than 64 metres). It was the first moment where we felt the indiscriminate fury of nature. So often she appears benign, but at times like these you can’t help imagining how easily she could rip even the strongest of us apart and not even notice.
Looking up at the site of a mighty great river becoming a victim of gravity with all the power of a rampaging horde of charging elephants you can’t help but appreciate the moment – you peer over the edge into the infinite abyss that will one day consume us all.
Thankfully, if it all gets too much you can nip into the gift shop a couple of metres behind you and buy yourself a coffee and a souvenir picture frame.
The Argentine Side
We made a special(ish) effort to get up early as we’d heard that it can get a lot more crowded on the blue side. We’re glad we did – we hit the upper and lower walks first and we rarely encountered anyone else. The meandering paths that snake through the jungle are a lot more intimate than the cliff-edged walks of the green side.
Every turn reveals a new fall, or a new perspective on an old one. There are some really tranquil spots where the shorter falls land in some beautiful, green-fringed pools that make you want to defy the no swimming signs and get your feet wet.
But we would recommend the Brazilian side first for another reason: The glimpse into the void offered by Brazil’s viewing platforms becomes a full face-off with the darkness when you stare into the Garganta del Diablo on the Argentine side.
The walk to this incredible chasm begins simply enough. Wandering across the long metal expanses that span these vast rivers of seemingly tranquil waters, albeit with a current, you’re only dimly aware of a slight murmur in the distance.
As you get closer, this murmur increases into an agitated guttural growl and you begin to question the construction of the now seemingly flimsy steel gangplanks that stand between you and pretty much certain death.
The volume reaches a ferocious roar just at the moment you turn a corner to see an abandoned walkway, a collapsed and eroding victim in a watery grave. Surely they wouldn’t let tourists go near something so dangerous without being absolutely certain of its safety, right? Right?
But any anxieties dissipate upon seeing the mighty cascade. It is a moment of pure wonder as the viewing platform takes you right to the edge. Over the precipice, the eerie whiteout of doom confronts you accompanied by the thrashing bawl of millions of tons of water meeting rock at high speed. It’s thrilling, seeing something so dramatic and exciting so close – feeling the moisture rise up from the deep hole – and all without the safety net of a convenient coffee shop!
You ask yourself: ‘What would it be like, really?’ Riding the force of these falls for a few seconds could very much be the ultimate thrill with the ultimate price.
These silly thoughts are abandoned but the watery draw remains and it’s hard to stop staring, soaking up the full power of the planet you’ve been lucky enough to be placed upon.
The Night Walks
If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting around full moon time, then we would also recommend signing up to the lunar walk. Returning to the park at around 9pm, you’re taken on the train direct to The Throat, then guided along those rickety paths with nothing more than the light of the moon to guide you.
Seeing them bathed in that particular brand of light that only the moon is capable of gives the danger a less wild-eyed, adrenaline-fuelled look and a more ponderous, melancholic air.
You know, as much as is possible when it’s roaring like a airline engine at takeoff.
Thankfully, before the toe-gazing got too much, we were taken back along the tracks to the main dining area where the park had laid on Mojitoes for all to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Argentina’s independence. Fabulous lunar experience AND lots of free booze! Awesome!
You shouldn’t have a problem getting from Brazil into Argentina – due to the visa issues any problems for US citizens are usually the other way around. Apart from this the border at Iguazu is usually recognised as one of the ‘easiest’ due to the large numbers of tourists who visit both sides of the falls.
Hi, I stumbled on your blog through lonelyplanet. I’m spending about five weeks in NW Brazil, then looking to get to Iguazu before heading home to the US. Do you know how difficult it is to enter Argentina from Brazil? I’ve heard vague stories of tourists getting stuck with unexpected fees or visa issues. If all else fails, I guess I’ll just see the falls from the Brazil side.
Hoping to get into Paraguay for about five days, as well – but as you’ve said in your other posts, finding info about Paraguay is near impossible! Is public transportation fairly reliable? (as comparison, for example, I spent six weeks all over Peru using public transportation with no problems).
We had no problems getting from Brazil to Argentina, but we are from the UK and I have a feeling that US citizens may need a visa, so you should look into that.
We found public transport in Paraguay fine, not as luxurious as some of the buses in Peru but the distances aren’t as great. It’s no more than an hour on frequent public buses from Iguazu to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay where you can pick up onward transport.
found your blog through a search for NE and NW argentina….debating between the 2. i live in buenos aires but a friend from the states is coming to visit and we would only have a week in either region. Which would you recommend? What else is there to see (sans car) near iguazu that’s worthwhile? jesuit missions? villages? striking landscapes? and with a car in the NW, is one week (from jujuy to tucuman and everything in btwn) just rushing it?
I personally would go for the NW as there’s a lot more to see. Iguazu is beautiful but I don’t think there’s as much to do in the area -the jesuit missions are a possibility but you’d need to look into the distances. The scenery is definitely more stunning in the NW and you have the Andean/Bolivian influence which is interesting.
A week’s road trip in the NW would be good. It’ll be rushed to try to see everything so maybe focus on where you are most interested in. We did a week from Salta and visited Cafayate (deserves a few days), Cachi, Purmamarca & Tilcara. You can read more here: http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/road-trip-northwest-argentina-part-1/
Was there a larger crowd at night?
No it was much smaller – that was one of the advantages.
Hi Guys :)
Am currently in Bueons Aires and planning a trip to the falls. Can I ask which bus company you used?
We’ve had good luck with buses in Peru and want to continue the streak in Argentina, especially for such a long haul!
Thanks for the inspiration and advice :)
We went with Via Bariloche and really recommend them. We treated ourselves to the full cama (the best class) and it was so worth it.
Is there any available adventure rides out there,where fits for extremist like me?:)
You can take a speed boat ride right under the falls. We didn’t do this but it’s supposed to be fun. I think you can also go abseiling in the area (from the Brazil side) with views of the falls.
I went to the falls years ago and didn’t have a visa for Brasil, so I snuck in through a taxi haha. Anyway, I had the best time seeing the falls. They totally blew me away! I also recommend taking a tour of one of the indigenous villages, as well as a boat ride under the falls. I saw so many cool wild animals too!
Thanks for the recommendations Andi (and the visa tip!).
Have not been there but it looks a ripper! On the “to do” list, there is nothing like that in Australia….
I’m not sure there is anywhere quite like it anywhere. Maybe Victoria Falls…
Yes your rite Frank i been there that why i agree.
Iguazu falls are stunning, there is seriously no other way to describe them! I wish we had been during a full moon though walking along that long boardwalk to get to the devils throat would have been something special!
They are amazing aren’t they? The moon walk was very special and added to the whole experience.
Great post… I’ve been in SA a year now and still haven’t visited… I’ll get there though!
It’s definitely worth a visit. It’s one tourist attraction that does live up to all the hype.
It’s when I see things like that I realize how powerful water is..! what an incredible sight!
I always try to get up early too when going to popular spots, it’s so much nicer having the place to yourself ;)
Getting up early is generally always worth the effort!
Hi Simon, you covered it so well that I feel like going back there!
I love the way you put it, “the blue side” and “the green side”. :)