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 “Garganta del Diablo” or Salto San Martin. This place was definitely one of the highlights of our trip through South America. These are some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, far more impressive than Niagara Falls, for example.
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 are about 2 kilometers wide! The quantity of water falling down varies a lot depending on the season. When we were there, the flow was 1.750 cubic meters per second. But it can be much more! 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.
The Brazilians side is much busier with a lot more tourists staying in Foz de Iguazu, because all the big hotels and a lot more accommodation is found on this side than in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. Since there is basically only one walk on the Brazilians side, it appears almost congested during the high season. From Brazil the view is more comprehensive, providing a good overview of all the falls, whereas in Argentina you get closer to each individual waterfall. Brazil also offers helicopter rides above the falls, 80 USD for 10 minutes. The four choppers are constantly flying, and waiting time can be up to two hours, so many tourists are willing to pay this kind of money. Gilles was one of them. He said it was indeed a great experience. The noise of the helicopters is omnipresent all over the park and Argentina has protested several times, warning of the environmental impact this has. Much to the dismay of Argentina, Brazil also plans to illuminate their part of the falls during the night, whereas on the Argentinean side only full moon walks are offered.
Most tourists spend only one or two days at the Iguazu Falls. Well, we felt that even three days were not enough. Besides the falls, there is bird and butterfly sanctuary and a national park that can be visited off the beaten tracks for those who have time and stamina. The heat turned out to be a major challenge for all of us. At 11:00 am it was already very hot, and at 01:00 pm it was simply unbearable. The afternoon of the day we arrived, we visited “Garganta del Diablo” or “Devil’s Throat” on the Argentinean side of the falls: A little train takes you to the entry of a 1 kilometer long trail that leads to the Mirador. The view from there is simply breathtaking! Incredible amounts of water are rushing by, their spray providing a pleasant cool off for the sweating tourists, but also leaving layers of water on the lenses of the cameras. The noise from the huge masses of water plunging down is so loud that it is difficult to talk. Also the walk to the Mirador was very pleasant, we crossed the wide river on the “catwalks” and even saw a caiman and lots of exotic birds.
On the second day, we started early with “Gran Adventura”. 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. We all enjoyed it very much and even little Raphael, aged 18 months, braved the adventure with the help of a sailor who covered him with a poncho. Apart from the shower, the boat ride passed by some other waterfalls and we had the most amazing view by being so close.
After the “Gran Adventura”, we took a little ferry to Isla Grande San Martin. 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 …
From the ferry dock, we made our way up walking the “Paseo Inferior” stopping at more viewpoints. By then, it was around 01:00 pm and the heat was so unbearable that we decided to skip the Paseo Superior, which takes you along the top of the cascades.
The Brazilian side of the waterfalls is completely different: you do not have the close view from the waterfalls, 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 complement to the Argentinean side. Gilles family invited him to see the falls from high above, from a helicopter. It was his first time in a helicopter and an even more amazing view of the waterfalls, a great experience.
The afternoon, we spent in the “Parque das Aves”, a park with lots of exotic birds, mainly from the region and the Amazonian rain forest. Something both sides have in common is 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.
All in all, the 3.5 days we stayed in Iguazu were not too much for this absolutely spectacular place. Apart from the heat, which was at times suffocating, it was a great experience for all of us.