When visiting the Iguazú Falls, casually speaking one can say: “Argentina has the falls – Brazil has the views”.
The world’s largest waterfall system is located in the border triangle of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, where the Iguaçu falls over the edge of the Paraná plateau.
23 kilometers before the confluence of the Iguazú and the Paraná, the falls divide the river into an upper and lower Iguazú. Along the 2.7 km long plateau edge of basalt, which recedes by 3 cm each year, 150 to 300 cascades plunge between 60 and 82 metres, depending on the water level. Only a short kilometre of the abort edge is permanently “dry”.
On both sides of the border, the national parks Parque Nacional Iguazú (1984) and Parque Nacional do Iguaçu (1986), which belong to the Unesco World Heritage, protect the Atlantic rainforest of the upper Paraná (Mata Atlântica). Surprisingly, this extremely species-rich form of vegetation can also be found in the urban area of Rio de Janeiro with the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. Half of the tree species found in the Atlantic Rainforest and two thirds of the bromeliads and orchids are endemic.
The (endangered) animal species of the park include jaguar, jaguarundi, tapir, ocelot, tirica, anteater, black masked guan, harpy eagle and the spectacled caiman. You can also find birds such as the great dusky swift and giant toucans, and a variety of butterflies. The vinaceous-breasted amazon, a parrot species recognizable by its ruby-colored forehead, can also be seen in the park from time to time.
The ubiquitous Coatís should be treated with caution, as should the Capuchin monkeys, as they like to eat provisions that visitors bring with them and are by no means as harmless as they look. Under no circumstances should they be fed!
Visit to the Argentine side of the park
The Argentinean side of the Iguazú falls offers various routes and activities where you can experience the water world up close. It is a good idea to get to the Visitor Centre as early as possible to catch one of the first trains of the so-called Tren Ecológico de la Selva (included in the ticket price). This train, powered by a gas locomotive, runs between the Visitor Centre, the Estación Cataratas and finally the path to the spectacular Garganta del Diablo, into which half of the river’s water falls. The route between the first two stations of the train (Estación Central and Estación Cataratas) can also be covered on foot via the Sendero Verde.
The Circuito Superior begins at the Cataratas station and essentially follows the upper edge of the Salto dos Hermanos, Salto Bossetti, Salto Bernabé Mendez and Salto Mbigua Falls.
The Circuito Inferior, on the other hand, leads over a series of footbridges and stairs into the cascades of some smaller falls (Lanusse, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca) and ends at Salto Bosetti.
Steps also lead down to the river, where you can take a boat to Isla San Martín if the water level permits. The small plateau of the island can be climbed on steps and explored along a small circular path.
The Garganta del Diablo is the dramaturgical highlight and the logical end of a visit to the Argentinean side. It is reached by a footbridge that is about one kilometre long. At the end one stands on a balcony in front of the huge 80 metre high water wall.
Those who are still looking for an adrenaline kick and are ready to get soaked to the skin can take a boat tour in a power boat to the foot of the falls, pathetically called Gran Aventura. Even if you skip the boat tour, you should have a rain cape with you and also pack the camera waterproof. It is also a good idea to take a change of dry clothes with you.
The Brazilian side of the Iguaçu Falls is far more compact than the Argentine side.
However, the shorter route system offers even more spectacular views than those one can enjoy from the viewing platforms of the Argentinean side.
At the entrance, there is also a bird park that is worth a visit. It is home to birds (about half of which were rescued and half born here) such as the large bright red macaw, the yellow-breasted macaw, the harpy, the flamingos, the owl and the rare southern cassowary which actually lives in Papua New Guinea.
Another perspective on the Iguaçu Falls is a helicopter flyover. The rather short, expensive and ecologically rather questionable pleasure promises lasting impressions, depending on the weather. Boat trips are also offered on the Brazilian side.
By far the best gastronomic offer within the Brazilian National Park can be found in the restaurants of the luxury hotel Das Cataratas.
The city Foz do Iguaçu itself, with about 250.000 inhabitants about eight times bigger than the (also quite uninteresting) Argentine Puerto Iguazú, has few sights of interest to offer. The most important local sight is the new Marco das Três Fronteiras (symbol of the border triangle at the confluence of Iguaçu and Paraná). Previously only the three boundary stones, painted in the national colours, could be seen. Since the end of 2016, a somewhat artificial architectural ensemble reminds of the history of the Jesuit missions of the region and of the European “discoverer” of the Iguaçu waterfalls, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. At nightfall you can watch the best sunset in Foz, and at 7.30 p.m. there are regular dance and folklore events.
The Paraguayan/Brazilian Itaipú dam and power plant, which is still considered the largest in the world in terms of electricity production despite the Chinese Three Gorges Dam, are worth a visit not only for technology enthusiasts. Guided tours that also include the interior of the plant (Circuito Especial) are preferable to the classic visit (Visita panorâmica).
It is advisable not to visit the Paraguayan Ciudad del Este, which is hard to beat in ugliness and as a typical border town with countless electronics shops and other shops is mainly aimed at Brazilian customers.
Those who shop here should be careful not to get rid of their purchases quickly …