Iguazú is a subtropical paradise located in the extreme northeast of our country. In this post you will find a review of the most outstanding facts of the Iguazu Falls and some tips so that you can organize your next vacation in this surprising tourist destination shared between Argentina and Brazil. To be able to visit its main attractions without running too much, I recommend you reserve at least three days of your itinerary to Iguazú.
Some essential information about Iguazú.
The Iguazú River Falls are the largest in the world, its 275 waterfalls spanning 2.7 km (1.68 miles). The height of the waterfalls varies between 64 and 82 m (210 and 269 feet). 80% of these 275 falls are located on the Argentine side, and the remaining 20% of the falls are located on the Brazilian side. The waterfalls are surrounded by the exuberant Paraná jungle where the greatest biodiversity of flora and fauna in our country lives. Approximately 200 million years ago the intense movement of the tectonic plates in this region produced different volcanic eruptions as a result. The magma layers solidified in different stages, giving rise to hard basalt rocks made up of large amounts of iron, magnesium and other materials. The process of erosion of the Iguazú River was carving the landscape that we see today; this erosion becomes more pronounced at the edges, this is how the “Devil’s Throat” was formed, this is the most photographed set of waterfalls in the entire park, with its classic horseshoe shape. Due to this slow erosion, it is estimated that the Falls currently recede about 2 cm (0.8 inches) per year.
Comparison between the three most famous waterfalls in the World:
Originally these lands were inhabited by the aboriginal ethnic group called “Mbyá-Guaraní” who gave their name to the falls, Iguazú in the Guaraní language means “large waters”. In the year 1542, the Spanish explorer Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca was the first European to describe the falls. Around the year 1609, the natives began to be evangelized by the priests of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits created about 30 towns known as Guarani Jesuit missions that years later were abandoned; some of the ruins of these villages have been preserved to this day and were declared by UNESCO as Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In 1934 the Iguazú National Park was created in order to preserve the environment and the biodiversity of the area. In 1984 the Iguazú Falls were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO; and in 2011, at the initiative of the New Open World Corporation (NOWC), it was elected one of the new 7 Wonders of the World.
Tips for your trip to Iguazú.
To get to Iguazú there are daily flights from Buenos Aires airport. The flight takes approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes to land at the Iguazú airport (flying in a straight line is 1065 kilometers or 662 miles), and from the airport to the hotel or the Iguazú National Park it takes only half an hour by road. I do not recommend doing the journey Buenos Aires – Iguazú by car or bus, although the ticket may be cheaper, because you need around 16 hours to cover the 1,306 kilometers (812 miles) of travel, unless you have several days of vacation and want to know the cities and intermediate attractions between Buenos Aires and Iguazú.
The climate in Iguazú is humid subtropical, with abundant rainfall. Although it is possible to visit Iguazú all year round, the ideal months are between April and November; and thus avoid the high temperatures of summer (December to March). Keep in mind that during the winter (June to September) the average temperature is 15 °C (59 °F) and can drop to 11 °C (52 °F), so it is advisable to bring a coat. And in the summer (December to March) the average is 25 °C (77 °F), but it can rise to 32 °C (90 °F) with extremely hot days and very high humidity that, for those who are not used to it, It can cause heat stroke, sunstroke and dehydration, for this reason you should carry water with you all the time and keep your head covered.
The city of Puerto Iguazú is located 18 km (11.2 miles) from the Iguazú National Park (it is the closest city to the park). It has a population of 82,000 inhabitants and a large number of hotels and lodgings for travelers. We recommend staying on the outskirts of Puerto Iguazú, in one of the beautiful hotels inserted within the sector called “Selva Iryapú”, a natural reserve where ecological lodges coexist with aboriginal populations such as the Mbya Guaraní. The journey between these hotels and the park takes 20 to 30 minutes. Now, as long as your budget allows it, the dream place to stay is in the very heart of the National Park, unfortunately there is only one hotel within the park and its price is high, I mean the Hotel Gran Meliá Iguazú ( until a few years ago it was managed by Sheraton). Half of its rooms and common spaces have a preferential view of the falls, and those who stay here can start touring the circuits before the arrival of the first train, so if you start early, you can enjoy the falls alone for a few minutes. There are also several lodging options on the Brazilian side, both within the city of Foz do Iguaçu (where 264,000 people live), and on the access road to the Brazilian park. As in the Argentine park, within the Brazilian park there is only one hotel, called Hotel das Cataratas belonging to the Belmond chain, but in this case, very few rooms have views of the falls.
Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay share a very wide gastronomic offer, since they combine the ancestral cuisine of the aboriginal people, mainly the Guaraní cuisine, with the recipes introduced by European immigrants. Among the most popular dishes that you should try, the following stand out: Paraguayan soup (salty spongy cake made from corn flour), chipa guazú (corn pie), chipá (cassava flour and cheese bread), river fish (such as dorado, surubí, pacú and paty), meat skewers (brochette of varied meats in Brazilian-style churrascarias), feijoada (made from beans and pork) and don’t forget to drink tereré (drink made with mate tea leaves and water with lots of ice).
Main tours and activities to do in Iguazú.
The Argentine Side.
The Iguazú National Park has a varied offer of trails and excursions that will allow you to enjoy this natural wonder. In the ticket that you will pay when entering the park, the unlimited use of the ecological train that runs through the park is included. This train has only 3 stations: Central Station (near the entrance to the park), Cataratas Station (where you access the Upper and Lower Trails) and Garganta Station (from where you access the Devil’s Throat viewpoint). Remember to check the train schedules as they change according to the season of the year and the number of visitors. Bear in mind that sometimes the lines to access the train are very long and too much time is wasted. I recommend you start your visit to the park first thing in the morning, when the heat is still not so oppressive, if possible you should be at 8:00 (park opening hour) with your ticket in hand and standing in line ready to enter. Once inside the park, you have the option of taking the train or avoiding the line and walking for 10 to 15 minutes to the second station, which is reached on foot along the so-called “Sendero Verde” (or “Green Trail”) which has an extension of 0.65 km (0.4 miles). Although it is possible to avoid the train journey between the first and second stations through the “Sendero Verde”, since it is a short section; to get to “Garganta del Diablo” it is highly recommended to use the train service due to the extensive distance between the second and third stations.
The three main pedestrian trails inside the argentine park:
Lower Trail: This sector is accessed from Cataratas Station. It is an unmissable circuit, in which you have a very close contact with nature, and where you get beautiful views at the foot of the falls. This trail has two options: a shorter route through a walkway without steps, and a longer one but with stairs. The entire ride is 1.4 km (8.7 miles) long, and its duration is approximately 60 minutes.
Upper Trail: Like the previous one, this sector is also accessed from Cataratas Station. In this circuit you get great panoramic views from the top of the falls. It is a totally flat one-way ride with a total length of 1.7 km (10.6 miles), and an approximate duration of 75 minutes.
Devil’s Throat: Accessed from Garganta Station. This circuit takes you to the most spectacular and most photographed sector in the entire park known as “Garganta del Diablo” (or “Devil’s Throat”), it is a set of 80 m (262 feet) high falls where the noise caused by the rushing water is shocking. It is in this place where, after breaking the water in the bed of the Iguazú River, a dense cloud of steam forms that rises to the sky, drawing this dreamlike landscape. The main viewpoint is reached by a single, completely flat walkway, whose length is 2.2 km (1.4 miles) round trip. The approximate duration of this circuit is 90 minutes.
Yacaratiá Trail with Navigation: I recommend you combine the 3 previous pedestrian trails with a vehicular tour thorugh the Yacaratiá trail and a navigation along the Iguazú river. This excursion lasts approximately 135 minutes. Tickets can be purchased online or at the sales office within the park. It is a vehicular ride through the jungle, where the guide comments on the characteristics of the local fauna and flora; and then continues on a boat that goes up the Iguazú River, crossing rapids until reaching the majestic waterfalls. There, after a few minutes of contemplation, the boat approaches the “San Martín” and “Tres Mosqueteros” falls, and its mission does not finish until all the passengers have had the best shower of their lives. It is important to clarify that this tour is for people over 12 years old and that to access the boat you must descend more than 200 steps and same amount of steps when returning, which requires a good physical condition. In case you have children under 12 years old in your group who wish to do this tour, I advise you to do it from the Brazilian side where there is an excursion very similar to this one called “Macuco Safari”, in which there is no age limit so that it is possible to do it with children.
In case you have more days off in Iguazú, there are both in the Argentine and the Brazilian sides, a great variety of circuits and activities that you can do:
Sendero Macuco (or “Macuco Trail”): It is an ideal option for those who want to have a more intimate contact with nature. There are 7 km (4.3 miles) round trip along a pedestrian path through the jungle until reaching the “Arrechea Fall”. The duration of this walk is approximately 180 minutes round trip.
Full Moon Walk: It takes place only 5 nights a month as long as the weather allows it. It consists of a tour accompanied by local guides, first on the park’s Ecological Train to “Garganta Station”, and then a walk illuminated by the light of the moon until reaching the viewpoint of the “Devil’s Throat”. There you will have a few minutes to contemplate this magical landscape with a totally different perspective from the one you had appreciated during the day.
Triple Frontera (or “Triple Border”): This is how the border crossing between the countries of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is known. These three countries are separated by the course of two rivers: the Iguazú River and the Paraná River. In each of these countries a monolith painted with the color of the flag of the country it represents has been built; and a gastronomic and commercial center has developed around it, where visitors can enjoy and relax. On the Argentine side this place is known as “Hito de las Tres Fronteras”, and on the Brazilian side as “Marco das Três Fronteiras”.
The Brazilian Side.
Iguaçu National Park: It is a protected territory next to the Argentine park, but in this case, belonging to Brazil. If you are staying in a hotel on the Argentine side, I recommend you visit the Brazilian park since both parks, Argentine and Brazilian complement each other perfectly. From the Brazilian side you can see falls that cannot be seen from the Argentine side and the other way around. Upon arriving at the entrance to the park of Brazil and after paying the entrance ticket, you will board a bus that will take you to the beginning of the trail. This is a one-way pedestrian circuit which takes approximately 120 minutes; you should bear in mind that there are steps during most of the route. When you reach the end of the circuit, you will have the option of climbing the stairs to the exit, or queuing to access an elevator that effortlessly takes you to the same place. On the upper level you will find the bus stop that will take you back to the park exit, and also a gastronomic and commercial area. When leaving the park you will find two other options that you may be interested in taking advantage of: On the one hand, you will see the entrance to the “Parque das Aves” (or “Bird´s Park”), it is a park specialized mainly in the conservation of different species of birds; and right in front you will see “Helisul”, from where helicopter rides fly over the falls to get different panoramic views of them. It is very important to bear in mind that if you are staying in Argentina, you will have to cross the border twice, which usually delays the tour, for this reason you should not forget your passport, and if necessary also your visa .
During your visit to Argentina, don’t miss this Wonder of the World, where in addition to its famous waterfalls, you can enjoy one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Perhaps, with some luck, you will be able to find the friendly capuchin monkeys swinging between the branches, a family of coatis (South American raccoon) crossing in front of you, multi-colored butterflies fluttering around, toucans posing on the top of a tree waiting to be photographed and a jaguar hidden among the dense vegetation… or perhaps you should avoid the last one on the list 😉
If you want to keep reading and find out about current entrance fees and the latest news in Iguazú, or in case you need to contact them, I recommend you access the official tourism site of the Iguazú National Park through the following link.