From Buenos Aires, we scheduled a three-day visit to Puerto Iguazú to visit the great waterfalls. They are located in the far northeast of the country, straddling the border with Brazil, situated in atmospherically misty jungle terrain, occasionally split by wide, slow rivers. The climate is quite tropical; when we arrived in town at 8:30am it was already 26°C/79°F outside.On our first day, we didn’t get to the park until a few hours before closing. Having done our research though, we hopped straight on the little train to take us up to the head of Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat), the most dramatic of the Iguazú Falls.
In some ways it felt like a movie. There was a progressive build-up to the main event as we rode the train and then walked across iron pontoon bridges to the head of the waterfall; first we saw a narrow, slow-moving branch of the river, then a much wider stretch, then there were rapids, then mist in the distance and finally the roar of the Devil’s Throat itself.It is hard to completely describe the sensation of standing there though. The sheer volume of water rushing past you, the noise and the spray, the height as you look down into the misty depths, all convey a sense of a tremendous power of nature at work. It is quite awing. Physically, it is a horseshoe-shaped cliff, resulting in concentrated gush of water into the river below. It isn’t the only waterfall at Iguazú; there are around 270 falls in total as the river is quite wide here, but the Garganta del Diablo is the most impressive single one. We simply stood and enjoyed the view until the park ranger came to move us along as the park began to close for the evening.
On the way out we got our tickets stamped at the ticket office and so benefited from half-price admission the following day. Arriving in the morning, there were queues for the train up to the Devil’s Throat, so we were glad to have done it last night when the train was nearly empty. There are only three stations on the line, Garganta del Diablo being the furthest one. The other two are at the Visitors’ Centre and the start of the walking trails, but are close enough together that it’s easy to walk between them.
The Argentinian side of the falls is much like a modern theme park. There are broad concrete paths, good signage and plenty of toilet facilities and “retail opportunities.” They have a number of trails you can follow to explore the falls and the surrounding jungle.
We started on the “Upper Circuit” which takes you across the head of several of the cataracts and gives you impressive views of the chain of waterfalls along the rock faces. Along the way, we also encountered quite a bit of wildlife. The most common were Coatis, small pointy-nosed creatures with long, stripy tails. They look like small anteaters but are related to racoons – and equally as much of a nuisance; there are notices throughout the park warning you not to feed them and showing you graphic pictures of the injuries they can inflict. We also came across several lizards, the largest about three feet long, and a couple of tribes of monkeys, not to mention a variety of showy birds and butterflies – and quite a few giant ants, typically about three centimetres long.After completing the Upper Circuit we took a break for lunch at Cataracts Station before assaying the Lower Circuit. This one is shadier, so better to save for the afternoon. Passing along the lower river, it also gives you the chance of a refreshing shower from the spray as you get close to a couple of the falls on the way. There’s not much I can say about either trail, other than to say they are dramatic and then let the pictures speak for themselves.
The third trail we explored was the Macuco Trail. It takes you out into the jungle to a waterfall and back. It sounded quite exciting in the guidebooks but, in reality, was a monotonous dirt track that felt like it went on forever. Apart from one colourful species of insect, we didn’t get to see any wildlife we hadn’t seen already in the park. The waterfall at the far end was nice enough, but unimpressive compared to its siblings on the other trails. We took a few pictures, turned around and came home.On our final day in Iguazú, I set out alone to visit the Brazilian side of the falls. Brett, being without a Brazilian visa, stayed back and explored Puerto Iguazú. (Our host had suggested there were ways of doing the visit without needing a visa, but it sounded decidedly dodgy and no cheaper than having properly obtained a visa, so we didn’t take the chance.)
It is certainly true that the views of the falls from the Brazilian side are more impressive; you get a breadth of vista there that you can’t achieve close-up to the falls themselves. The downside, however, is the Brazilian facilities and organisation compares most unfavourably to that in Argentina. It would only be a slight exaggeration to call the Brazilian Falls experience one long queue from arrival to departure. The facilities are just not sufficient for the number of visitors, resulting in long queues to get in and out and lots of congestion and jostling on their single viewing trail. It doesn’t help that the visitors’ centre on the Brazilian side is a twenty-minute bus ride away from the trail itself!Their lack of signage is also problematic. It was only sheer luck on arrival that I found my way to the queue for tickets instead of joining the hour-long queue for the transfer bus without having already paid for entry. Thanks to being in the right place at the right time, I managed to avoid that hour-long queue altogether, but still had to queue around forty-five minutes for my ticket and then again to buy lunch, to collect lunch and finally for the bus back to the entrance. Not fun.
Anyway, I gritted my teeth, patiently endured some of the worse tourist excesses I observed, and got my pictures. I was not sorry to leave though.