Imagine the Grand Canyon with millions of gallons of water pouring relentlessly over the sides. Now imagine standing at the edge of it, looking down into it. Or standing at the bottom, getting wind-tossed in the mist of the pounding water. That’s what Iguazú Falls is like. It’s loud, it’s wet, and it’s overwhelming, especially to this drought-weary California girl. In short, it is the most amazing and humbling place I’ve ever been, and there’s no surprise it makes it onto many “Natural Wonders of the World” lists.
Sounds like Niagara Falls, you say? Not quite. Iguazú has the greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world – more than twice that of Niagara. Taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide, Iguazú Falls are the result of a volcanic eruption which left a large crack in the earth. And unlike Niagara Falls, which is concentrated in one area, Iguazú Falls boasts 275 falls along 2.7 kilometers (1.67 miles) of the Iguazú River. Not too shabby.
The highest falls are 82 meters (269 ft) in height, with most being around 64 meters (210 ft). The Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish or Garganta do Diabo in Portuguese), a U-shaped, 82-meter-high (269 ft), 150-meter-wide and 700-meter-long (490 by 2,300 feet) cataract, is the most impressive of all, marking the border between Argentina and Brazil.
Iguazú Falls is located at the juncture of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. In fact, it is possible to eat breakfast in one country, lunch in another, and dinner in a third.
The falls have two accessible sides – one in Argentina and the other in Brazil. Each side is accessed by a national park, and each side offers a different perspective on the falls. Two thirds of the falls are within Argentine territory. Most visitors to Iguazú Falls will want to sample the views from both sides of the border. This article describes the Argentine side of the falls.
Iguazú Falls is located at the isolated, northernmost tip of Argentina in the town of Misiones. The Falls are a 16-hour drive or 4-hour flight (airport code IGR) from Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city.
The falls themselves are located within Iguazú National Park, with an area of 190 square miles (492 square km). The park and its counterpart in Brazil, Iguaçu National Park, were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1984 and 1986, respectively.
The Misiones province was named after the Jesuit missions established there in the 17th and 18th centuries. Five of those missions (San Ignacio Miní, Santa Ana, Nuestra Señora de Loreto, and Santa María la Mayor in Argentina and the ruins of São Miguel das Missões in Brazil) were collectively designated a World Heritage site in 1983.
The Argentine side of Iguazú Falls is characterized by a series of forested walking trails accessible by a train, which was designed to minimize visitors’ ecological impact on the area. The Upper Circuit trail gives visitors a panoramic view and the chance to walk along a path at the top of the waterfall’s edge, offering a unique and thrilling perspective. The Lower Circuit trail gives the opposite perspective, allowing visitors to walk along the surf at the bottom of the falls. You can also board a boat here to take you under the falls themselves (worth the money). The Macuco Trail is a good bet if you’re looking for a break from waterfalls to see tropical birds and animals, with one 20 meter (62foot) waterfall at the end. The Devil’s Throat is the motherlode, though. The train drops you off close to the trail head, which puts you right up close and personal with the park’s largest and most impressive falls. Remember to protect your camera from the water!
Although there are plenty of hotels in the town of Misiones, there is only one hotel located within the boundaries of Iguazú National Park, and it’s a beauty. The Sheraton Iguazú Resort & Spa is far from cheap, though – expect to spend $300 or more per night. Many rooms offer a balcony view of the falls, and the train is a short walk away. There’s also a pool and spa with massage services. The resort is a great option for a special occasion, your final night in the area, or if you only have a very limited amount of time to spend (staying within the boundaries of the park will save you time getting to/from the park so you can make the most of your visit).
Important logistical information:
- Visitors to Argentina from the US, Canada and Australia do not need a visa, but before arriving in Argentina must pay a “reciprocity fee.” The fee for US citizens is $160, reflecting the amount Argentine citizens wishing to visit the US must pay for a visa. Visitors from other countries require a visa. More information can be found here http://www.embassyofargentina.us/en/consular-section/visas.html
- You may rent a car in Argentina and drive it into Brazil but not Paraguay. You may rent in Brazil and drive into Argentina but not Paraguay. If you really want to go to Paraguay that badly, you can park your car near the border and hire a moto-taxi to drive you to the front of the line at border control.
- You may choose to fly into one country and out of another. Leave time for border crossings.
- Plan to spend a minimum of one full day on the Argentine side. Two days is better.
- The best times to see Iguazú Falls are in the spring and fall. Summer is intensely tropically hot and humid, and in winter the water level is considerably lower. Remember that Argentina is in the southern hemisphere, so their seasons are the reverse of ours.
- Visit theIguazú National Park website