No matter how many waterfalls you have seen in your life, these leave the most experienced travelers mumbling all kinds of words of excitement when you finally stand in front of the “Garganta del Diablo” or the “Salto San Martin”. In my opinion, these are the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, far more impressive than Niagara Falls (USA), Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) or Angel Falls (Venezuela).
Shared between Argentina and Brazil, the falls are set inside a 2.100 square kilometer National Park, resembling very much the Amazonian rain forest to the north. Most of the National Park is in Brazil, but most of the walks and viewpoints are in Argentina. A few numbers may help to understand what makes them so impressive: The falls are “only” 80 meters high, but together more than 2 kilometers wide! The quantity of water falling down varies a lot depending on the season. Normally it ranges between 1.500 and 2.000 cubic meters per second. But it can be much more! Twice it reached no less than 39.000 cubic meters per second…
Above all it is the setting, in the middle of the rain forest, that makes this place so magic. The River Iguazu separates in many arms that consequently create a whole set of waterfalls, bigger or smaller ones. The most dramatic, “Garganta del Diablo” or “Devil’s Throat” is at the end of a gorge.
Best time to visit the falls
You can visit Iguazu Falls any time of the year, yet I personnaly preferred being there in the winter (August). I noticed quite a difference in the amount of water in the Falls between January 2008 (mid-summer) and August 2015 (mid-winter). In the winter, you almost cannot see the bottom of the Gargantua del Diabolo, because of the much larger quantity of water and hence of spray. Staying on the Mirador both in Brazil and in Argentina (Gargantua del Diabolo) in the Winter insures you a thorough shower…
Besides, the heat in the summer turns out to be a major challenge. At 11:00 am it was already very hot, and at 01:00 pm it was simply unbearable. In the winter, nights are chilly, and days are mostly clear and temperatures in the upper twenties (Celcius), making visits very pleasant at any time of the day.
Organizing a visit to Iguazu Falls
You should visit both sides of Iguazu Falls, in Argentina & in Brazil, either staying at Foz do Iguacu in Brazil or in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. The Argentinian village is much smaller and actually much nicer. If you are in one country and do not intend to keep on traveling in the other country, you should actually choose accommodation in the country you are visiting, and then take a daily transfer to the waterfalls to the other country. That way, you do not have to change currency, you avoid going through immigration, you save the time of a new check-in / check-out, … And more important, doing so is no limitation, as you don’t need a whole day on each side. And you will not be able to stay until sunset or to arrive as early as sunrise, as the opening hours of the National Park are quite restrictive on both sides.
Nonetheless, on both sides, I strongly suggest to arrive early, as large tour groups arrive between 09:00 and 10:00 am and create quite a commotion.
Visiting the Brazilian side
The Brazilian side of the waterfalls do not offer close views from the waterfalls (except from the “Mirador”), but on the other hand you get a much better panorama and hence a much better idea of the overall dimension and layout of the falls. It is consequently a good start for your visit.
Even more than in Argentina, you find here lots of cheeky and begging coatis. Those look like foxes with a very long snout, that you find either on the ground or in trees, looking for any kind of fruits or any food that tourists may carry around…
Iguazu from the Air
From the Brazilean side, you can go on a helicopter to have a bird view of the falls. It is indeed questionable if one should go or not, as those helicopters permanently circling above the Falls are a serious noise disturbance of the experience of the area. I have here to admit that I went on a helicopter on both visits, in January 2008 and in August 2015.
If the first tour (2008) was a great experience, enabling me to taking excellent pictures of the falls, the second tour (2015, 95 USD for 8 minutes) turned out to be quite a disappointment, as they now use much bigger helicopters (6 seaters), reducing your opportunity to taking good pictures.
Iguazu from a Boat
In 2008, I went with “Gran Adventura” on a Boat Tour. This one hour tour starts off with an eight kilometer ride through the rainforest in a 4-wheel drive truck. The ranger explained the fauna and flora of the rainforest and stopped to point out various rare trees. But the fun part is the boat ride on the river that takes you close to the falls so that everybody gets completely wet. It is not just a little sprinkle but a thorough “Ducha”. That makes you duck and takes your breath away. Apart from the shower, the boat ride passed by some other waterfalls and we had the most amazing view by being so close. Note that you can now go on a boat tour on both sides of the falls: Argentina & Brazil.
Exploring the Argentinean side
First, you do not need to take the train: you can walk all the way to and from the waterfall. The first part is only a 10 minute walk, and to reach the “Ganganta del Diabolo” you add another 25 minutes. Considering that you only have one train every half hour and sometimes more than one hour waiting time, this is an option to really consider…
It might be a matter of taste, but I would recommend to start with the Paseo Superior, which give you a first impression of the waterfalls, then move to the Paseo Inferior, which will take you much closer, and finally reach the “climax” with the “Garganta del Diablo” or “Devil’s Throat”.
The view from “Garganta del Diablo” is simply breathtaking! Incredible amounts of water are rushing by, their spray providing a good shower to visitors, but also leaving layers of water on the lenses of the cameras (hence the importance to go there in the end). The noise from the huge masses of water plunging down is so loud that it is difficult to talk.
In 2015, I could not go to Isla Grande San Martin, and did not exactly understood why and how long it will be closed. This island has a trail of its own that offers the best view of Salto San Martin. The rocks and walls of this cascade are covered with what looks like grass. Despite the force of the water rushing over these plants, they miraculously manage to cling to the rock. Another thing that baffled us was what effect the water has on the rocks at the bottom, the constant pounding and hammering …
Taking pictures in Iguazu
First thing, you will need to protect your Camera from the spray, which can be heavy on both sides. You will get actually completely wet, so does your camera if you have no pretection.
A wide angel (I use an EF 16-35 L 4.0) is a great help, as you have several great panoramic views, especially at the “Gargantua del Diabolo” and on the “Mirador” in Brazil.
A Tripod and Variable Density Filter (consider 4 to 6 stops) will enable you to achieve long exposures even during day time, creating great effects on your pictures for a waterfall.