Visiting Iguazu Falls takes commitment. Though it sprawls across the boundaries of three countries (Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay), it still manages to elude many travelers. It’s a 24-hour bus ride or 90-minute flight from Buenos Aires and even further from Rio de Janeiro. And once visitors get in, they quickly discover that—other than the falls—there is a relative dearth of local attractions.
But, don’t let that scare you off. There’s a reason Iguazu Falls sits on the shared throne of the 7 Wonders of Nature. It’s spectacular. Iguazu is 1.7 miles of rushing water, white rapids, and dancing rainbows surrounded by a verdant background of subtropical rainforest. Bent into a meander, the 275 individual waterfalls pour in a picture-perfect panorama.
When she first clapped eyes on Iguazu, Eleanor Roosevelt is commonly quoted as exclaiming: “Poor Niagara!” In reality, comparison to North America’s famous falls is futile. Niagara Falls is a series of three falls; Iguazu has hundreds, some plummeting 60 feet further than Niagara. Niagara is easily accessed from major American and Canadian cities with ample infrastructure. Iguazu is isolated in a rainforest.
Iguazu challenges travelers, daring them to make the voyage. Here’s how to rise to the adventure.
See both sides
Both Brazil and Argentina have National Parks established on their respective side of the falls. You should visit both. The Brazilian side is where you want to go for the postcard-perfect photos. It is difficult to fully comprehend the immensity and pure natural beauty of Iguazu until seen in person from Iguaçu National Park. Designated in 1939, Brazil preserves 185,260 hectares around the falls in this national park, home to several endangered species and numerous jungle creatures. Most visitors take the park bus to a paved path that follows the river; it is wheelchair accessible. Various outlooks jut forward, each offering increasingly remarkable views. The grand finale is a platform that takes you practically underneath Devil’s Throat (Garganta do Diabo), a strong horseshoe cascade. You will get wet.
On the other side, Parque Nacional Iguazu offers further charms. Though the national reserve is smaller, the areas accessible to visitors are much more expansive. Because most of the falls are on Argentinean territory you’re walking above (the upper circuit) and below (the lower circuit) the waterfalls themselves. This allows for an inmate experience with Iguazu. A metal walkway spans part of the river, taking you just far enough to peer down into the misty depths of Devil’s Throat.
Don’t rush it
Getting to and from Iguazu Falls requires a fair bit of transport. There’s the flight itself, airport transfers, and the trip to each side of the falls. Done on a tight timeframe it can begin to feel more like a race than a vacation. Though you can technically be in and out in three day, it’s not recommended. To fully appreciate where you are, you should try and schedule at least one full day on each side of the river, plus another few to relax. (Not convinced? Check out this blog on 4 indulgent South American lodges for some serious R&R.)
The towns of Puerto Iguazu in Argentina and Foz De Iguazu in Brazil are rather basic, and both require a bus ride to access the national parks. To appreciate the surrounding subtropical beauty, you may want to consider staying in a lodge or hotel slightly outside of town. These properties usually include large outdoor pools and relaxing facilities.
There are several ways to test your limits in and around the Iguazu Falls. The most popular excursion is a boat ride underneath the falls. In a small zodiac, thrill-seeking travelers head toward the foot of the falls. You'll get close enough to be doused with an impressive spray and appreciate the power of the pounding water, but not so close as to be in real danger. Those who’d rather see the big picture can take to the air. Helicopter rides circle the site, giving passengers awe-inspiring views aplenty. It’s a splurge, but a worthwhile one. Various other activities can challenge you physically while further introducing you to Iguazu’s beauty, such as rappelling and hiking excursions.
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