Anyone who has visited the great waterfalls of the world – Niagara, the Salto Angel and the Victoria Falls – will tell you that Iguazu, on the Brazil-Argentina border, is hands-down the most incredible. Look at any list of Top 10 Waterfalls and Iguazu will be number one. In 2011 Iguazu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature: the only waterfall on the list. Even Eleanor Roosevelt placed Iguazu at the top of the pile: ‘Poor Niagara,’ was all she could muster when she first caught sight of the falls.
What makes Iguazu so unforgettable is the fact that it is both immense and intricate, enormous and miniscule. The raw power of 62,000 cubic feet of water falling 270 vertical feet every single second is counterbalanced by the delicacy of the pink, purple and white impatiens which grow like weeds and the yellow and orange butterflies which seem to have replaced flies in this paradise.
The Brazilian Side
Our passengers typically visit the falls from both Argentina and Brazil, and with good reason. For an arms-length overview of the dramatic setting and the sheer extent of the falls, we suggest going to the Brazilian side first. What sets Iguazu apart from other falls is that it has immense walls of water and it also has delicate cascades and rivulets which dance between the lush tropical foliage. Iguazu is so many things at once, and this is best appreciated as a whole from the excellent viewpoints in the Brazilian national park.
The Argentine Side
The Argentine side takes you right into the turbid heart of the falls. La Garganta del Diablo (‘The Devil’s Throat’) is the centerpiece; a claustrophobic chasm which channels more than half of the mighty river’s flow. But it is not alone: there are myriad trails on this side of the falls, some crowded and some less so, all of which offer amazing views of different sections of the falls and will inevitably result in you being soaked by the spray.
If all the walking gets a bit much, there is an eco-friendly train which covers the nine miles between the central station and La Garganta del Diablo, stopping at the Cataratas station (the point where all the trails converge) along the way. You can also take a highly-recommended boat trip along the river below the falls (this can be done from the Brazilian side too). Just be warned: you’ll get pretty close to the falls themselves, so you and your camera will get very wet. Bring dry bags or at least a large Ziploc.
Most people only stay a night or two, but there are actually plenty of other attractions in the area. The microclimate created by the spray from the falls means that the rainforest is especially rich. Guided walks and safaris are fascinating, or for the more adventurous zip-lining and canopy tours are on offer. A little further afield are the Jesuit missions of San Ignacio Mini and Santa Ana (three hours away on the Argentine side), while the Itaipu Dam on the Brazilian side is currently the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world.
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Alan R. Cohen is the Co-Founder of South American Vacations and a frequent contributor to the blog.