Yesterday, we shared our experience visiting Iguazu Falls, one of South America’s natural highlights.
We covered the experience of the visit to the Falls, like most travel publications tend to do. After all, that’s why we all go up to this corner of the jungle.
But no one talks about what the actual trip there is like. So today we are talking about the things that nobody tells you about your trip to Iguazu Falls:
It is not cheap or easy to visit Iguazu Falls.
Iguazu Falls are located on the border between Brazil and Argentina, out of the way of any other destination in either country. The only way the falls can be on the way anywhere is if you happen to be traveling overland through Paraguay (which most people aren’t). So likely you’re detouring to make a special trip here.
In total, we spent $1,000 for a four-day trip, traveling by buses and staying in the cheapest hostel we could find available. Here’s how:
Getting there is expensive. Buses are your cheapest option. On the Brazil side, Sao Paulo and Florianopolis, the closest biggest cities, are both just under 16 hours away by bus. From Buenos Aires it is a full 24-hour bus ride, and our trip from Rosario was 20 hours and cost ARS480, or $95 US dollars per ticket and our onward journey Puerto Iguazu to Salta was another ARS590, or $115 per person.
Hotels and hostels have inflated rates, and even places with mediocre reviews are overpriced and quickly booked. We paid ARS245 / $48, for a double room in giant, mediocre hostel with carpet that may have not been vacuumed in years. Unless you are on a shoestring budget, we would recommend to choose a place with better reviews, but that will bump you up to more per night.
Iguazu Falls admission rates are another extra cost on top. Per person we paid ARS60 / $12 for the bus to the Falls and back, plus ARS170 / $34 entrance and another ARS150 / US$30 for the boat ride – which we really recommend doing, too. So that is $76 total per person, plus Dani paid BRZ41.66 / $21 admission to visit the Brazilian side of the Falls, plus ARS8 / $1.60 for the bus to the border and ARS12 / US$2.40 (each way) from the border to the Falls.
Our tip: Don’t leave planning to the last minute. Booked in advance, a return flight from Buenos Aires could have cost under $400 – twice the price of a bus ticket, but saving you two entire days of your life on a not very comfortable bus. Another great option to save money is booking in advance a complete tour package with a local travel agency from Argentina.
Consider a visit to the nearby historic Jesuit Missions in Paraguay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, while you are in the area. It’s a 4-hour trip from Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, by car (a little longer by bus).
Puerto Iguazu is a dump
Considering that Puerto Iguazu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Argentina, the town leaves much to be desired.
Other popular tourist towns in Argentina – Bariloche, Cafayate, El Calafate, Ushuaia, are solid cities. They have great infrastructure for tourism and in general felt on par with similar places in Europe or the U.S. Puerto Iguazu feels much more like a developing country, only restaurants and souvenir shops line the streets, most hotels are in urgent need of renovation, and there were many child beggars walking barefoot from table to table all day throughout town.Our tip: Try to find a good deal for a nicer hotel on Booking.com or a hostel with excellent ratings on Hostelbookers, and book well in advance. Splurge at some of the nicer restaurants – we loved La Rueda, an upscale restaurant on Avenida Córdoba 28.
The real stars of Iguazu are not the Falls!
Sure, the Falls are why we are all here and are by the far the most stunning aspect of your trip to the park. But you rarely hear about the coatis (a raccoon-like animal) that feel like the true main attraction. From the minute you pass through the gates, you’ll be met by dozens of coatis roaming freely.
Tourists are constantly snapping pictures of them, possibly more than of the Falls. They kneel down and get so close to them – but don’t be fooled. These buggers BITE. They steal food, rummage through bags and depending on how many there are – they can get rather aggressive. There are very large, very graphic warning signs showing what a coati bite looks like, but in true tourist mode, people from around the world still get frightening close to them, feed them or even pet them!
Our tip: Don’t feed the coatis and keep a safe distance if you don’t want to pay for a rabies shot. If they smell food, they are likely to bite you.
The nature around the Falls is spectacular.
Staring at the Falls for hours, getting lost in imagining all that water rushing by your eyes every second – that’s the core reason you visit Iguazu Falls. But the wildlife here is amazing, and more than almost anything else, we’ll remember the butterflies, hundreds of them, fluttering around us as we wandered along the trails and through the gorgeous jungle here. There are colorful birds, huge catfish in the river, crocodiles, those pesky coatis and monkey and jaguars, (albeit the last two we didn’t personally see).
Our tip: Take some time for a picnic – bring your own food, as the food in the park is overpriced and lackluster – and really take in the jungle scenery as well, not only the Falls.
The National Park is huge!
While the Brazilian side is pretty manageable with only one walkway (1.2 km long / 0.75 miles), the maze of walkways on the Argentine side is much bigger than we expected. While you can see Niagara Falls easily in a couple of hours, you can wander the walkways at Iguazu Falls for hours and hours. The upper trail, the lower trail, the trail on St Martin’s Island, the trail to the Devil’s Throat. If you’re also planning to take a boat ride, you can easily spend six hours in the park, especially as the little train ride from the entrance to the first set of trails takes a while, as does the train ride to the Devil’s Throat (Garganta Del Diablo).
Our tip: Plan at least half a day for your visit to make sure you have enough time to walk all the trails, and have time to take in the falls from all the viewing platforms. We wouldn’t advise to attempt seeing the Brazilian side and the Argentine side in one day.
The weather is iffy.
Iguazu Falls are in a tropical region and it rains. A lot. Being in the densely humid jungle, it can rain hard for a few hours or a whole day. We saw plenty of package tourists trucking it out to the Falls the first two days we were in town because they had their one day and it was time to move on.
Our tip: Err on the side of unpredictable tropical weather and give yourself a couple of days’ leeway so you can opt to go on the sunniest day possible. Trust us, the sun sparkling off the water, countless rainbows and all those butterflies make waiting a day or two totally worth it.
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