It’s hard to top Antarctica, nothing could ever compare to its beautiful landscapes or delightful inhabitants, & just the fact that we reached the frozen continent it can’t really be topped…except maybe the moon? But our next stop, Iguazú (or Iguassu or Iguaçu) Falls, you get an entirely different side of the world's beauty. VT Alumni Travel offered this trip as an extension onto the Antarctic cruise but given its popularity it filled quickly. Since we have time to do what we want, we decided we’d go anyways & were not disappointed.
The falls are an incredible testament to natures sheer power & beauty, standing in awe while contemplating how they even came into existence, still reining supreme after all these years. The area has a surreal vibe around it – often noted more like a well-designed Disney Park (which does it no justice but you can understand why). You can’t imagine what the first outsiders of the area must have thought when they came upon it, at the same time the most awe inspiring & terrifying place on earth.
There are two sides to the falls & two different ways to enjoy them - it is worth doing both. Most locals & guides will suggest spreading out your visit over two days to do this. While taking two days is preferable, it’s not necessary, you can tackle them all at once; plus, there isn’t that much to do in the surrounding towns, they basically exist for the falls themselves. We had one full day, one partial, & decided we’d go for it (opting to sleep in & be lazy the next morning).
Given that part of the falls is on the Argentinian side of the river (where we were staying) & the others split on the Brazilian side, doing both requires you to cross a border. Tip: Don’t forget you HAVE to have a visa to enter Brazil (US, CA or AUS), don’t forget to do so before arriving! We planned to get up & head over to the Brazil side first thing when the parks opened, handling the border crossing & the farthest away falls first.
Critical to a successful one-day waterfall extravaganza was our taxi driver, Nino, that we got through the hotel. Going with our own driver (vs the local bus options) easily saved us an hour or two between traffic, bus schedules & navigating the border. It isn’t difficult or undoable on your own but having a local guide who does this all the time was immensely helpful in getting through the immigration process for a 1-day visit. Plus, arriving right as the park opens before the bus crowds join gives you a bit more personal time at the falls.
Iguaçu Falls, Brazil
The Brazilian side of the falls, Iguaçu National Park, has some of the best views of the falls (in our opinions) & includes a long walkway stretching out for a look into the Devils Throat. Tip: We wouldn't suggest bringing a pricey camera along unless its VERY waterproof - if you do the falls right you WILL get wet! All pics taken with our water resistant Iphone - thanks Apple!
The park opens at 9am (we were on the first bus in, along with several park employees) & is easily doable in 2-hours for a brief walking tour. But be alert! You may run across the parks’ Jaguars in a little game of eye spy!
We spent our semi-private tour time (going early allows you to beat the crowds) slowly walking about just enjoying the views before grabbing a coffee at the café. If you want to spend more time on the Brazilian side, or are splitting your viewing days, there are additional activities like the 9km jungle walk & river rafting / kayak trips to enjoy (not included in the price of park admission).
Iguazú Falls Park, Argentina
After our little stroll, it was time to hop back over the border & check out what the National Park in Argentina had to offer. Again, we luckily had Nino to get us back over the border & to the park entrance quickly, but there is a bus that runs from park to park if you need other transportation.
The Argentinian park is much larger than the Brazilian, including a small tourist train taking visitors up to the top spot with long walkways over the river out to the falls. Here the trails don’t always come as close as Brazil, especially at the top of the falls, but we recommend this trail first as it’s the most popular & a cannot miss experience. Its not a long walk, the only major downside being it can become more crowded & making your way through can become difficult. At the end is a large platform that extends along the top of the Devils Throat, higher than the view on the other side. Here you to gaze down the falls rather than into them, the waters mist blown back in your face, again a testament to the amount of power flowing over the rocks. Here you really get a better appreciation for the magnitude and power of the rushing water.
Here the park is littered with different walking trails all along the falls, the upper circuit gives you panoramic views of hundreds of falls, bringing you much higher than the Brazilian side. More than one you’ll catch your breath, not imaging you could ever have come so close to the top of the falls (without going over of course)
Next the lower circuit provides a more up close & personal touch to the surrounding jungle & falls. Here you can walk amongst the trees, in & out of catwalks extending from the rocks. This is the best opportunity to get a sense of the size & enormous number of waterfalls that make up Iguazú - you could spend hours leisurely taking in the views. In fact, we recommend spending AT LEAST 4-5 hours on the Argentinian side.
One other attraction we did not do was the river rides along the bottom of the falls & over to San Martin Island. For an extra cost & again if you decide to take more time at each park you can easily check a boat over from the lower circuit trails - a highly recommended adventure by locals.
In short, it’s easy to see what continues to draw so many visitors to the area & why Iguazú was chosen as one of the 7 Wonders of the World in 2011. It’s reported that, on an official visit, Eleanor Roosevelt gazed at the falls & exclaimed “poor Niagara!”.