The world-famous Iguazu Falls are often named as the most spectacular waterfalls in the world and listed as the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011. When we were planning for the South America leg of the trip, we never thought Iguazu would be something we would skip. Yet when we were just one step away in Rosario, Argentina suddenly we questioned whether we wanted to make the trip. After months of never-ending bus rides, should we really take a 24-hour bus ride up to the Falls for just two or three days, only to take another 20 hour bus ride from there to Salta, our next stop?
After wavering back and forth, we got it together and put this into perspective: this is a once-in-a-lifetime situation and we will never be closer than this. We booked our bus tickets and set off to find out what this trip was all about but we went into the experience with two different perspectives and wondered if we would both leave feeling that the trip to Iguazu Falls was worth it…
I was committed to the long detour up to Iguazu Falls, but was feeling completely burnt out when we got there. Thankfully, or not, the first two days in town were gray and rainy so we pushed back the trip to the falls until the third day. Unfortunately, both the town of Puerto Iguazu and our hotel left much to be desired and I was doubting the decision to come to the Falls.
In Patagonia, we could have drunk the water straight from certain rivers it was so clean, and Buenos Aires felt practically European. But Puerto Iguazu felt run down, our overpriced budget hotel bed gave us itchy legs and the only good wi-fi was at Freddo and Bonafide, Argentina’s biggest and most impersonal ice cream and coffee chains. The town felt like a tourist trap, and my alarm bells go off at the mention of a tourist trap, so I was already on edge.
Was this really going to be better than Niagara Falls, I wondered?
It made sense to compare the two, as both can be visited from two sides in two different countries: Niagara Falls runs along the border of the U.S. and Canada, and Iguazu Falls actually runs between Brazil and Argentina.
Finally, on day three the sun finally came out and we hopped on the tourist bus and were shuttled to the Argentine side of the Falls. Here we lined up to buy tickets, passed through the turnstiles at a massive entrance and my alarm bells went off again when we herded onto a silly tourist train that left from ‘Grand Central Station’ and chugged along through the forest to the first part of the park. I held back making sarcastic or negative comments – Dani’s eyes were wide with excitement and I didn’t want to take anything away from her. But I was feeling very much tourist trapped…
Here every bit of doubt and sarcasm was zapped out of my system.
The first views were incredible, like nothing I’ve ever seen before! This was 10, even 20 Niagara Falls lined up in a row. I was consumed by the 375,000 gallons of water rushing over the falls edge per second and I wondered how many seconds would it take for the water in one of Patagonia’s massive glaciers to rush right by my eyes here? Ten seconds? White, blue, brown and beige water rushes past your eyes in every pattern, from rapids to waterfalls crisscrossing over and through each other, grape-sized droplets exploding off as mist and spray.
I even found the walkways incredible: wood and steel paths hang directly over water, and you stand just meters from the moment when the water rushes over the edge. If you were to fall over, you’d be no more significant than a drop of water yourself. I have never felt so small..until the next part of the day.
Act 2: We took a speedboat out onto the Iguazu River alongside the falls. I expected to cozy up near the falls like we did at Niagara, where I filmed the whole time. Oh no! Everything we had with us went in massive dry bags and the speedboat literally took us under one of the falls. I had absolutely no control, my eyes tried to stay open to experience this completely, but I lost the battle and completely stopped blinking and kept my eyes shut after a few seconds. This was a thrill like no other and gave me a respect for the Iguazu Falls that I simply can not articulate.
We dried off and made our way on the train, which I suddenly didn’t mind, and made our way to the only other stop – The Devil’s Throat.
Act three, Devil’s Throat, was probably the most amazing experience of the day in terms of sheer wonder. In this one little corner of the Iguazu Falls, over 50% of the water plunges from the Iguazu River above into the Parana River below. The mist bounces back up higher than skyscrapers and so thick you can’t possibly see the bottom. I couldn’t get enough of staring down into this incredible abyss.
The next day, Dani went to see the falls from the Brazilian side, but American passport holders have to pay $130 for a visa just to cross over for the day (the same as for a three month tourist visa) or risk sneaking over on local buses and not paying, but I don’t take those kind of risks, so I didn’t go to Brazil.
After two days of rain in Puerto Iguazu, the weather on the third day was perfect, and I was so relieved. I felt sorry for the people on their tours who only had one shot at seeing the falls, and had to go in the rain – what an entirely different experience.
I knew I’d be taking hundreds of photos and had read that sunny days meant rainbows and butterflies – how could we not wait for that!
We had to walk to a little jungle train station, take a little train to the first stop called ‘Cataratas’ (waterfalls in Spanish) and followed the upper trail. I heard the water before I saw it, but when I finally got that first glimpse of the Iguazu Falls, I immediately understood why people had said to us that Niagara Falls seems tiny in comparison.
Apparently, Eleanor Roosevelt sighed, ‘Oh, poor Niagara’ when she first saw Iguazu. Even though that first glimpse reveals on a fraction of the over 270 falls, I was blown away by the size and power of what was within my view.
There were two trails, upper and lower. First I took Jess up to get an overview from the platforms and then went down to the lower trail which I had read was where you really felt the power of the falls. We got soaked just from the mist, and I’ll never forget how loud the crashing water was and how close I could actually get to the various waterfalls.
From there we got in line for the speedboat (we bought tickets along with our bus tickets back in town). When the driver actually went full-speed under one of the waterfalls, pure adrenaline rushed through my veins as the water landed on me with full force. For a second I thought we would all drown. Within a minute, I was soaked to the core.
From there we made our way to Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo), which is over 700 meters wide and 82 meters high. This is the biggest waterfall in Iguazu, and even though we had already been at the falls for hours by the time we jumped onto the train to the viewing platforms, this was such a highlight to the day. First, we walked one full kilometer on walkways over rivers and through jungles that there would be no other feasible way of traversing. I watched a crocodile chill out next to a catfish the size of a dolphin for over 20 minutes, in awe of the fact that they were not 50 feet from the edge of the Devil’s Throat and yet would never be able to fathom what a giant drop lay just beyond their neighborhood.
When we finally got to the U-shaped Devils’ Throat, I was overwhelmed by the power of the water, which somehow seemed ten times more powerful than the other falls we had seen that day. Knowing that the water was rushing over the edge, non-stop, day and night in perpetuity made me feel dizzy.
The next day, I went to Brazil by myself. We fly sometimes (rarely!) without each other, but are always together when we go through land borders, so it felt strange to worry about visa stamps, hearing Portuguese and dealing with a new currency all while Jess was back at the hostel.
On the Brazilian side there is no train, just a bus to the first viewing platforms. Only one 1.5km walkway follows along the cliff, unlike the many trails weaving up and around the Argentine side but it offers exactly what the Argentina Falls can’t offer: a panoramic view of almost all of Iguazu Falls.
The most spectacular feature on this side of the falls came right at the end: a viewing platform right in the Devil’s Throat. Like Jess said, in Argentina it’s like looking down into an abyss, but in Brazil a walkway brings you over the river along this massive wall of water that crashes down right next to you (and obviously soaks you).
It’s a magnificent sight. The walkway ends at the viewing platform directly over the second half of the terraced falls. Standing on this terrace I saw the upper half of the waterfalls above me, and the lower half crashing into the river below me, water around me on three sides, thanks to the U shape of the Devil’s Throat. This is what I felt made the Brazilian side really special and definitely worth the visit.
As much as I’ll remember the waterfalls, on both sides I’ll also never forget the thousands of colorful butterflies fluttering past and even landing on us, ever so gently and often. The jungle here felt like some sort of paradise right out of a storybook.
Yes, without question, a trip to Iguazu Falls is worth every penny and minute of time to get there. It is hard to comprehend the power of these waterfalls, but once you are right underneath them, you get the full gasp of how they are able to provide enough energy for all of Paraguay and 20 per cent of Brazil.
There are other, equally famous falls in the world, like Africa’s Victoria Falls which are larger but don’t have the walkways that give you the kind of access that you have at Iguazu, and then you have Niagara Falls, which are simply ‘cute’ in comparison.
Details: How to visit Iguazu Falls
Unless you take a helicopter from the Brazil side, it is impossible to see the entire 1.7 mile stretch of cliffs where the Iguazu River crashes 60-80m down into the Parana River below.
- Plan in at least three days in town so you go on a day with good weather. It makes all the difference.
- Stay either in Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil) or Puerto Iguazu (Argentina). Both are thirty minutes from the Falls.
- Local buses go from either side every twenty minutes.
- There are also nicer, air-conditioned buses at a higher price. If you visit the Brazilian side from Argentina, fork out the $2 extra for the tourist bus – that way you don’t have to change at the border.
- Bring your own picnic lunch. The food on both sides is mediocre and overpriced.
- Bring a dry-bag for your valuables – you will get soaked on some of the platforms. (Large, heavy-duty dry bags are available from the speed boat company if you go out under the falls – which you really should!)
What does it cost to go to Iguazu Falls?
- Bus from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu: There are several companies that offer the 20-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Iguazu on a daily basis; prices range from ARS650 – ARS850. You can find a full list of bus companies and prices here.
- Bus from Puerto Iguazu to the Falls: ARS60 round-trip return to either side
- Most companies offer return tickets – we used Rio Uruguay on the Argentine side, and Cruces del Norte runs from Puerto Iguazu to the Brazilian Falls)
- Local bus from Argentina to the Brazilian Falls: ARS8 to the border, ARS12 from the border to the Falls
- Admission to the Argentine side: ARS170
- Boat tour (Argentina side): ARS150
- Admission to the Brazilian side: BRZ41.66
- If you’re American, either get the $130 tourist visa or don’t go. If you’re going to Brazil anyway, then it’s not a problem.