Displaying curtains of water indisputably wider than Zambia and Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls, and indeed much higher than Canada's Niagara Falls, the Iguazu Falls National Park is an incredible display of natural beauty that I was extremely pleased to finally visit! Over the course of a month-long trip to South America, I had the opportunity of visiting this UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, and its magical array of cascades blew my mind away.
An introduction to the National Park
Bordering Brazil and Argentina, the waterfalls give both countries yet another reason to cultivate rivalry, as if football wasn't enough. In all fairness, they are located in an area that is in fact a triple border, for Paraguay is also right there sharing the border line with its bigger neighbours, but it isn't often mentioned or considered when it comes to the falls for not having a National Park of its own.
Divided into two National Parks (each belonging to one of the two countries) and containing over 270 single waterfalls, it is certainly recommended to visit them from both the Brazilian and the Argentinean sides, as the experiences are both enriching but different from one another. Both are rather accessible and offer a vast array of activities such as trails, boat rides as well as lots of wildlife spotting opportunities – particularly appealing to avid bird watching enthusiasts.
The city of Foz do Iguassu, in the state of Parana in the south of Brazil, is the point to be reached for those venturing into the Falls from Brazil, while the city of Puerto Iguazu in the province of Misiones, Argentina, is the city home to the National Park on the Argentinean side of the border. Both have airports where many flights from all around the continent land daily, as well as big bus stations linking both cities to all the major metropolis in both countries with buses of all comfort levels and costs.
For travellers fortunate enough to have a few days to spare, visiting both sides is a great idea. The Argentinian side offers a larger variety of nature trails as well as boat rides that allow travellers to come much closer to the actual falls than the one on the Brazilian side.
However, those hoping to get a more panoramic, wider view of the falls as a whole will have a much better opportunity from the Brazilian side, and I must admit that this is truly not to be missed, for the width of the cascades is one of the factors that truly differentiate it from the other two big falls mentioned earlier in this article, located in Africa and North America.
Although it is rather easy to catch a local bus or an affordable private taxi to go from one side to the other, border formalities are in place, and travellers should keep that in mind and be well aware of visa entry requirements to avoid unexpected hassle and disappointments.
Another reason to devote time to both sides of the border is the very fact that two rather distinct cultures can be spotted right there. They might be just across from one another, but Parana and Puerto Iguazu seem like a world away in many aspects. The languages spoken are obviously different, and most importantly for visitors, so are the gastronomy and shopping opportunities.
For meat lovers, it is a great opportunity to judge yet another rivalry subject between Brazil and Argentina: barbecued meat. As both cities offer plenty of structure when it comes to tourism such as a vast array of hotel and restaurant choices, what generally determines one's choice for a base depends on their future travel plans. For me, it made sense to stay on the Brazilian side, and cross into Argentina later on, as I was headed to Buenos Aires afterwards.
Indeed "the third time is the charm", as they say. I had tried to visit Iguazu Falls twice before, and both times, having flights, hotels and tours arranged, I ended up having to cancel them out. The first attempt was back in 2004, while I was going to Rio de Janeiro for a visit. A trip was planned to spend four days in the region with my mother, but unfortunately, due to health reasons that arose just one day before travelling, we could not go. My second attempt was not too long ago, as part of a visit to the south of Brazil I was about to make. Again, due to some uncertainties regarding a family member's health, I had to cancel the trip.
I kept on trying, wondering if there was any silly curse associated with my attempts to visit one of the world's great natural wonders! Well, this time around nothing could stop me, and I finally made it! After a long bus journey from Sao Paulo, I finally reached Foz do Iguaçu city.
Not having visited such an important icon of my own country had always been a bit of an embarrassment for me, as most people visiting Brazil had made their way there and had the most amazing things to say about it. Besides, I had been to the other two big ones, so the time was long overdue!
After reaching the bus terminal I took a local bus and met my host who guided me to his house. He shared a place with two other students which was a great opportunity to better understand what being young and joyful is like in that city. Foz do Iguaçu has a fairly large student population, making it a really vibrant town, however small it might be.
Although the falls are really the city's big attraction, and the biggest reason why people visit the area, there are some other really interesting tourist attractions There is also the Itaipu Dam, the largest in the world, and some other attractions built later on in order to keep tourists there for longer, such as a bird park and shopping trips to Paraguay.
Nedless to say, I was elated that there were things there that can keep visitors there for a lot longer than a couple of days, The Itaipu Dam is one of them – the world's second largest hydroelectric facility still in operation, shared between Brazil and Paraguay. I wasn't quite aware of that prior to going, but there is in fact a rather large number of visitors that venture there daily, taking guided walks along the dam as well as visiting the operational rooms.
Another very interesting tourist attration is the Bird Park, and large area near the falls among hectares and hectares of really lush Atlantic Rainforest with impressive fauna and flora, home to over 150 different bird species. Very impressive indeed and not as crowded as the falls.
Now, it was time to behold the falls themselves, and I had waited long enough! After a 20-minute bus ride from my host's place, I reached the National Park area.
I was impressed to see that this big time tourist attraction in Brazil was actually being properly taken care of. It wasn't cheap but it also wasn't expensive, and it was well kept, providing very good information for its visitors. Such things might be taken for granted in many countries, but unfortunately in South America, it is not common to find things operating in such a neat manner.
I was quite anxious to see the Falls, and upon arriving decided to skip any other included activity and go directly there. I took the bus service offered to take people from the park entrance to main trail entrance, and there I was blown away!
It just kept on getting better. The first viewpoint seemed amazing, providing a really cool panoramic view of some of the falls, but as I kept on following the trail and trying to keep away from the many tourists (nothing, apparently, compared to high season) visiting the falls, I kept on getting more and more overwhelmed by their beauty. Different angles, many different falls of several sizes, heights and levels of water. It was truly spectacular, and I had to agree with its nomination to be one of the world's great natural wonders a few years back.
I spent nearly the entire day in awe, going around as many different trails as I could or at times, just sitting down and contemplating what my eyes were having the privilege to observe.
Then, as nightfall came, it was time to go home and get ready for the following few days of venturing into Argentina and eventually taking a 36-hour bus ride into Buenos Aires. The journey was worth every minute, and that admittedly turned me into a "Falls snob", that takes much pride in, after having seen them all, claiming Iguazu Falls to be the most incredible of the big three – a true natural wonder not to be missed.