Wow. That was my first impression of the Iguazu falls and I assume probably of everyone else who has ever visited them.
Even with all the facts and figures to hand (it’s four times as tall and twice as wide as Niagara Falls, with 553 cubic feet of water pouring down 275 separate cascades per second), it’s hard to convey the immensity and impact of this UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.
It’s easy to see why mystical stories have cropped up to explain this natural phenomenon. According to legend, a serpent god planned to marry a beautiful woman from a local tribe, but she tried to escape with her human lover. In a wild rage, the serpent sliced the river in two, creating the waterfalls and separating the two lovers for eternity.
From the Brazilian side, it’s like one of those magical places in a film, where after a long, arduous journey, a traveler finally arrives at their blissful destination. You get dreamy panoramic views and where the sun meets the water in the air the most beautiful rainbows pop up – I’ve never seen one that almost completes a circle before. If the Brazilian side is heavenly, standing on the Argentine side beside the Garganta del Diabolo (the devil’s throat) where water drops 350ft, is like hovering above a boiling witch’s cauldron, with the thunderous crashing of water, an ever-present cloud of spray and birds circling overhead menacingly.
Iguazu is one of those place that you have to see for yourself and the two sides are so different that you should definitely try to visit both. Before you go, here are five tips to help you get the best of your time there.
Go early to avoid the crowds
Whichever side you’re going to visit, try and arrive just before the park opens so you can get in before everyone else. We got to the Brazilian side around 10am and also didn’t realise that it was a public holiday in the country. The trails were almost as packed as being in a city at rush hour. The views were still amazing but fighting through a sea of selfie sticks detracted from the experience somewhat. The next day we headed to the Argentine side first thing and got to see the magnificent Garganta del Diablo with fewer distractions.
Stay at the Belmond Hotel de Cataratas if you can
If possible, splash out and spend a night at the Hotel de Cataratas, a lovely baby-pink, colonial hotel that’s nestled within the forest on the Brazilian side. Although it’s expensive, you can open your curtains in the morning to a view of the falls. And you’ll be able to head out first thing, getting a head start on the swarms of tourists. Guests at the hotel are also able to stay later in the park so you can catch sunset over the falls in relative peace. Definitely choose the Belmond over the Sheraton, the only other hotel in the park, which looks like an office block on the outside and a conference centre on the inside, and has mediocre food and slow service. If the Hotel de Cataratas is out of your price range, grab a cocktail by the pool and then sneak back into the park at dusk for some spectacular views of the sun setting (that’s what we did).
Prepare to get wet
Not just wet, but completely soaked. The exhilarating boat ride on the Argentine side takes you right up to the edge of the falls and you’ll by drenched by the cascades and spray coming up off the river. We saw one pragmatic older man boarding the boat in just a pair of speedos. If you’d prefer to keep your clothes on, pack a lightweight spare outfit and store it in the big waterproof bags they give you at the start of the tour. Even if you don’t go on a boat excursion, be warned that the spray from the falls at the main viewing points can be intense at times. Check that your camera can cope with this and be sure bring a cloth to wipe the lens. This is the kind of situation when a go pro really comes into its own.
Put your camera down
I wish I had followed this advice myself. When in such a breathtaking location I get obsessed with taking the perfect picture. But Iguazu is one of those places that a camera can never do justice. It’s more than just a view. You feel the thunderous noise, the gusts of wind, the mysterious mist, and the invigorating spray. So put your camera down (even for just a few minutes), stand and experience this natural phenomenon.
Wonder at the wildlife
The falls may be the main attraction but the nature and wildlife in the rainforest are outstanding. My favorite thing was seeing the Great Dusky Swifts circling above the falls and and then swooping behind the cascades to where they nest. During the walks you might find wild monkeys posing for groups of tourists, racoon-like coatis begging for food (be careful – they can transfer rabies) or brave Plush Crested Jays that beadily poke their heads round corners to see what’s going on. If you’d like to find out more about the birds, the Parque das Aves, a sanctuary on the Brazilian side, hosts a whole range of birds from South America, most of which have been rescued from traffickers. I loved seeing the hummingbirds with their beautiful teal shimmering feathers and the toucans with their radiant beaks. The park does a backstage tour where you have access to restricted areas and can find out more about their conservation and rescue programs.
Have you ever been to Iguazu? What did you enjoy most?