When Mother Nature created the Iguazu waterfalls, she abandoned her normal subtle grace in favour of raw awesome power. The result is one of the seven natural wonders and easily one of the places that you must see before you die. (You do keep such a list, right?)
Iguazu isn’t one big waterfall that you go to, look at, take a picture of and then leave. It is a lush subtropical jungle with about 275 discrete waterfalls for you to explore among butterflies and coatis. You can easily spend two days walking through this slice of paradise and boredom will not haunt a single step.
The Brazilian Side
Iguazu sits on the border of Brazil and Argentina. The Brazilian side is a pleasant walk along a tall ridge with stunning panoramic views of the waterfalls on the Argentine side. Since the Brazilian side shows the falls from afar, it is neither as visceral nor as impressive as the Argentine side, but it is still well worth the half day it takes to see.
The Argentine Side
The Argentine side has 80% of the waterfalls and it takes at least a day to explore. It is divided into four circuits, and I’ll list them in ascending order of ‘wow’.
- The lower circuit takes you first through dense jungle before leading you up to the middle of a great waterfall. Standing there, with a wall of water only meters away, you feel very small indeed.
- The San Martin Island lies in the middle of the Iguazu falls and is only reachable by boat. Some steep walking up the island rewards you with spectacular views of the falls and gets you close to the many vultures nesting in Iguazu.
- The upper circuit takes you to the top of a long ridge of waterfalls. The views here are so exquisite that it can be hard to believe that such a perfect vista can exist anywhere but the imagination of a most creative and imaginative artist.
- The Devil’s Throat lies at the furthest end of the ridge of waterfalls seen from the upper circuit. It is the biggest single waterfall in Iguazu, and it will hit you in the gut with its raw power. Slack-jawed, I could do nothing but stand at the head of this monster and stare in bewildered wonderment. (The Devil’s Throat can become congested, so go here early in the morning to beat the queue!)
The Boat Ride
For the most direct and intense experience of the falls, take a boat ride right into them. Yes, into the falls! These crazed boats go into and underneath two of the medium sized falls, and every single one of the screaming tourists will get thoroughly soaked.
You can take the boat ride from either the Brazilian or Argentine side. The Brazilian side is more expensive but worth the extra cost as it can be hard to do both the boat ride and see everything on the Argentine side on a single day.
You can also take the boat ride as part of a ‘Great Adventure’ package, which cost more money and wastes your time by padding out the awesome with a whole lot of dull, such as a truck drive through the jungle.
Ignore the Guides
There is no reason why you should pay extra for a guide or book anything in advance. Public transport to and from the falls are frequent, and it is more fun and engaging to explore alone and at your own pace. After all, the raw awesome beauty of Iguazu requires no explanation.
Getting There by Bus
Most people fly to Iguazu, but if you come from a place with a bus connection then take the opportunity to experience the excellent South American busses. It is cheaper and more interesting than flying. The bus ride from Buenos Aires is 16 hours long, but don’t let that scare you. The cushy seats fold down to a comfortable 180-degree horizontal position, bedding for a surprisingly good night’s sleep. On my bus there was also a bus steward encouraging me to take full advantage of the complimentary and bottomless wine and whiskey service.