Iguazú Falls, Argentina’s True Natural Wonder
Picture a wide, slow moving river flowing through tropical jungles around hundreds of islands thick with trees. The water at the nearer bank flattens and spreads out into jungle while the far side narrows and seems to funnel into a U shaped trough. Clouds of mist billow skyward as the trough drops away into a horseshoe shaped rift. The near bank of the river breaks into dozens of channels that seem to fan out farther into the jungle. Down through the jungle a series of rifts fracture the landscape and the land falls away in a jagged line a mile wide. Fingers of the river race to the edge of these rifts and pour over the edge in a swirl of mist as the water roars through narrow gorges. This is Iguazú Falls, the largest falls complex on Earth.
Last week I was speaking to someone who has spent the past twenty-five years making his living traveling the world. We were in Argentina and had just come back from Iguazú Falls. Like us, he felt the falls was one of the worlds great natural wonders and how remarkable it was that so few people know about it. He said that his first trip to the falls was about twenty years ago and at that time there was no national park, no visitors center and the dirt trails were connected with ramshackle wooden bridges. To reach the upper falls was almost a days hike along unmarked trails.
Today Iguazú Falls is an Argentine national park with paved trails and metal bridges and includes a train to take people to the upper falls. The park includes a number of food concessions and even boasts a Melia Resort Hotel. There is a boat ride up to the bottom of the major falls and outside the park down river a town has grown up with a number of restaurants and four and five star hotels. There is frequent jet service to Buenos Aries where it is possible to fly up early in the morning and fly back late at night.
We first learned about the falls last year when we were planning our Antarctic trip that was to start from Buenos Aries. In researching we found an article that said that if anyone had the time while visiting Argentina a couple of days at Iguazú Falls was not to be missed.
Iguazú Falls are waterfalls on the Iguazu River at the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná in the South American rain forest. Remarkably together, they make up the largest waterfall system in the entire world. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu near the boarder where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet (Tres Frontieras).
You may have already seen these falls if you have seen movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, The Mission or Moonraker, all shot here on location.
In making our plan we thought we had figured it all out – but we got it backward. Early on we found a number of tour operators that offered one day trips from Buenos Aries and that became our starting point. While planning on our own saved us a lot of money and gave us plenty of time at the falls we missed a few important points. We decided to fly up one afternoon, get a hotel for a night, get to the park early in the morning and fly back to Buenos Aries late that night. We booked our flights and shopped for a hotel. There are a number of hotels to pick from with good reviews – we selected the Saint George which was very nice (review later). Many people suggest renting a car but our plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel and take a local bus to the park and back. While inexpensive the bus service would have taken up a lot of time so we ended up striking a deal with a taxi for the two days.
While it should have been obvious, we missed it. Our day at the falls included ten miles of hiking in 100° weather with humidity in the 90’s. While most of the trails were in shade, at the end of the day we were exhausted and sweaty and in no condition for a plane ride. Fortunately we had time to get back to the hotel to freshen up before our light but if we had this trip to do over we would have changed up a lot.
First we would have caught an early morning flight from Buenos Aries and gone straight to the park which is actually nearer the airport than town. A rental car would probably have been cheaper and also much more convenient. The town is some 14 miles away from the park. After our day at the falls we would have gone to the hotel, freshened up, taken a swim, drinks, dinner and been ready for a leisurely return to Buenos Aries the next day. Live and learn…
A few parting observations. While Brazil has an Iguazú Falls park most of the good stuff is on the Argentine side which is also much more developed. You will also need to arrange a visa to visit Brazil. Arranging a tour is also probably a waste of money. The park has excellent trails and facilities, the train rides are included with park admission and even taking a taxi to reach the park over a tour is a big saving. Also don’t book a package that includes air and hotel and perhaps a tour (and that includes Expedia etc.). We looked at booking a number of ways and the least expensive by far was booking the air and hotel separately. Yes it is summer in January here and it is much cooler in winter. But that is also the dry season and the flow over the falls is said to be greatly reduced. January is the high tourist season at Iguazú Falls. We read a number of times that you will need cash at the park which is also wrong. Visa and MC are readily accepted for admission and at the concessions in the park along with the hotels and restaurants in town.
A final thought – if you ever find yourself anywhere near Buenos Aries do NOT miss the opportunity to visit Iguazú Falls – it is a true wonder of the world.