The border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina is such that no army could cross it. The Igauzu/Iguacu river flows over 60-80 metres of rock across an edge with a length of 2.7km. You already know all about the waterfalls – you’ve seen the pictures I am sure. I don’t need to tell you just how spectacular it is, but you might be interested in what it is like to visit, and how best to go about it. The first thing to know is that Paraguay, despite being next door, doesn’t get a look in as its border is north of the falls – only Brazil and Argentina got invited to this party (which probably makes Paraguay rather sad; no one goes to Paraguay). I arrived in Foz do Iguacu, the local Brazilian town, at ridiculously early o’clock, but I know that everyone said not to bother with the town itself as there is nothing there, and to go straight to the falls. How right they were. Town is a dull affair. Don’t bother with it. I stayed at the top of town, a scant three hundred metres from the bus station, so that I could get everywhere I needed without walking the distance in to the centre. A public bus (it’s full of tourists, so you know you are on the right one) goes fairly frequently (check with your hostel) from the bus station, stopping through town also. When you arrive at the entrance to the falls park, queue up and pay, and then you’ll be herded on to buses that will take you to the falls themselves. There is an optional stop for those who want to splash out on getting wet with a boat trip up the falls, but I decided to be frugal. At the far end, you’ll disembark and get your first view of the falls. At this point everyone will get out their cameras and snap for all they are worth, despite the best views being quite obviously to come in the near future. I was entirely guilty of doing just this. You’ll also most likely have your first encounter with a Coati.
These guys are tame, racoon like animals that live around the park. They are tame because they are used to the presence of humans, but they aren’t stupid. They know that eight times out of ten, a plastic bag that a human is carrying will contain food. These make pretty good odds, so if there is a fleshy human carrying a plastic bag, it will tear it down and tear it up. They have pretty gnarly teeth, so beware! They are also pretty cute.
The Brazilian side is a few hours of walking down the falls getting good panoramic views and at the end, a bus will be along to take you back to the entrance, and that’s the end of the day. OR IS IT?
A somewhat neglected (read: quiet and not bulging with tourists) attraction lies at the entrance to the Iguacu falls park that I have to confess, I got more enjoyment from than the falls themselves: Parque Das Aves. It is as you might expect of a bird park; a trail through the jungle with aviaries and so on with different species of bird native to South America. If you want to get up close and personal with a Toucan (and make a ridiculous pose like me), then this is the place to do it.
There are also Flamingos, innumerable species of parrots, a hummingbird and butterfly house, owls, ground dwelling birds and a few massive snakes. It’s worth it, I promise, and I say that as someone who has no real ornithological interests.
You didn’t just to go to Iguacu to see the falls from the Brazilian side did you? I hope not as the best side is yet to come. The border crossing can be made very easily from the aforementioned bus terminal (the bus actually goes from just above the terminal itself – make sure you don’t get the one going to Paraguay). It’s cheap but you should be able to get a ticket that will allow you to pick up the next bus from the passport office, making it even cheaper. Once at the Brazilian side, you will need to get off to get your Brazilian exit stamp (this is especially important if you have any plans to return to Brazil – you’ll be fined if you neglect this the next time you get to a border) and then go straight back out to wait for the next bus. When it gets there you’ll possibly (probably) find it’s a completely different bus company. You’ll need to buy a new ticket for this, but it’s cheap so don’t cry about it. If you insist on waiting for the “right” bus, you may be there a long time. The Argentinian side is easy – a quick stamp and off you go.
As with Foz do Iguacu, Puerto Iguazu is a bit of a nothing town as well, although it’s a lot more compact. The buses to the falls go frequently and are comfortable. Getting there is just the start though! Unlike the Brazilian side, there are multiple trails you can take around the park for different views of the falls, and just nice walks in general. Unlike the Brazilian side, you get up close with the falls in a big way, with some circuits going above the smaller falls, and others below. The piece de resistance however is the platform above the Devil’s Throat, or Gargantua del Diablo. This is where a large portion of the river is squeezed in to a thin cataract (bonus tip: the spanish for waterfall is cataratas) whereupon it spills over in a maelstrom of thunderous noise, foam and mist. It’s quite an experience.
You can also take a boat trip to an island surrounded by the falls but this isn’t open on the low-season when I was there. You will get wet. Actually, if you go around all the falls, you will get wet. It’s a light mist, but after five minutes you realise that you are soaked. I can’t pretend it was unpleasant. Being in the hot sun while walking without shade is a tough ask, and the misting was welcome.
Getting back to town is an easy task – hop on the bus and off you go. Just make sure your camera stays dry.