A place you will never forget…
Las Cataratas del Iguazú are probably one of the most jaw dropping sights on our planet. Straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, the vast majority of the waterfalls are located on the Argentinian side. However, a visit should really include both sides since the experiences are quite distinct. The Brazilian side provides an enhanced tourist experience with truly amazing panoramas, not to mention a possible helicopter ride and a delightful bird park. On the Argentinian side, there are beautiful trails and you also get the opportunity to really get up close and personal with the falls. The experience on this side is much more that of a national park. However, no matter which side you visit, only a truly jaded traveller would fail to be impressed by this marvel of the natural world.
How to visit
Budget for a minimum of three days visiting the falls on both sides (two days on the Argentinian side and one on the Brazilian side). Also, if possible, visit the Brazilian side first. There is a hotel for the rich and famous overlooking the falls. Needless to say, these are people who are willing to pay top dollar prices for their views!
However, be warned, tourists and travellers from the four corners of the planet flock here and this is reflected in the prices. Budget travellers, take note, this is NOT a cheap South American destination!
The helicopter trip in Brazil (see below) with all the frills included costs $140 and the entrance to the national parks isn’t exactly cheap either. For example, a one day ticket will set you back about 270 Argentinian pesos. Make sure that you get your ticket stamped at the end of your visit so that you can enter half price the next day. There are boats trips and ecological trips on both sides and these are not included in the entrance fee.
Despite the costs, there will be moments when you will stand transfixed by the amazing power of the natural world. If you do choose to take a trip right up to the falls, be prepared to get WET, WET, WET!
Visiting Iguazú Falls on the Argentinian side is less costly and gives you the opportunity to get close to the falls. For those who need Brazilian visas (Americans, Australians and Canadians), this may be the only choice available due to the cost.
American passport holders have to pay a $160 charge to receive a Brazilian visa. Canadians pay $65 and Australians $35.
Getting there and getting tickets
Travellers based in Puerto Iguazú can take regular buses to the National Park or those who have little time may choose to go by taxi instead. The bus trip costs P$ 50 (2014 prices), but if you speak Spanish, you may be able to negotiate a competitive price for a remise or cab. Once at the park you will need your passport in order to be able to purchase an entrance ticket. Most nationalities pay P$330 for the basic ticket and this price has to be paid in Argentine currency. Should you forget to bring cash with you, there are ATMs close to the ticket office. The park is open from 8:00 to 18:00 every day.
Get back early (around 16:00) and have your ticket stamped at the main ticket office in order to gain free entry the next day. This only works if you visit the National Park on two consecutive days.
The Argentine National Park
Upon entering the park you will most likely need to take a train to Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat), which is where you will see the falls at their most powerful. Also, as you walk to the train station, you will see various booths where you can buy additional trips including Gran Aventura, Aventura Nautica and the Ecological Ride. If you have the time and money, go for the Gran Aventura, which combines the boat trip with a guided visit of the jungle around the falls. However, if you are on a restricted budget, you should maybe choose Aventura Nautica, which is the boat trip close to the falls. The power of the falls and the presence of rainbows everywhere you look can only be described as unforgettable.
Want to skip something? The guided tour through the jungle is on a truck and a guide provides a commentary in English and Spanish. My guide was probably loud enough to scare every animal for at least a square kilometre into hiding. You can pass on this one, I think.
Where to stay?
Puerto Iguazú is a one horse town in search of its horse!
On booking.com many of the hotels and hostels offered tend to be outside of Puerto Iguazú. On my visit I stayed in Barrio de las Orchideas, roughly half way between the town and the falls. Unless meeting other travellers is really important to you, there is no reason to stay in Puerto Iguazú, particularly if you manage to find better value options elsewhere. Provided your accommodation is on the main road to the falls, it should be possible to catch a bus out to the National Park.
How many days do you need?
This depends on you. However, you should ideally spend at least two days. The first day might include some or all of the adventure activities and the second day could then be spent just wandering trails, exploring and taking those perfect pics. If, like me, you fall in love with this place, you might want to give it extra time and visit the Brazilian Falls as well.
What are the downsides to visiting Iguazú?
Its location is the fly in the ointment. Puerto Iguazú is out of the way. Unless you are on your way to Brazil, this is either a long bus journey or a relatively expensive flight from Buenos Aires. In addition to this, should you want to travel elsewhere in Argentina, you will need to backtrack quite significantly, although those who want to go to Salta and the northwest can cross through Paraguay via Cuidad del Este.
I am sitting on a bus travelling nine kilometres through forest and there is still no end in sight. I am beginning to wonder if it was worth the taxi trip from Argentina and the 52 reals that I have paid for the entrance fee. Eventually we come to a stop and I get out, but I still see no sign of the falls. Argentinians have told me that the National Park is smaller on this side and I begin to think that I have paid more than 30 euro for an unremarkable bus trip through a forest. Descending a trail I hear the familiar thundering roar of the water in the distance and, rounding a corner, I finally see a broad panorama of the falls. This, in fact, turns out to be the theme for the day. Although a visit to Iguazú Falls on the Argentinian side gives you an up close perspective of this natural wonder, the Brazilian ‘Iguaçu’ experience tends to be more panoramic and the views are consequently even more spectacular.
The Brazilian Iguaçu Experience
If you have to choose between visiting the Argentinian side or the Brazilian side, this is probably your best bet as long as you do not have to pay hefty border fees. The National Park trails are shorter on this side and you can see everything in a matter of hours. Also, the ground here is generally higher and this gives you better panoramas across the falls. The visit on the Brazilian side is a more touristic experience. You can take a helicopter trip that costs between 120 and 140 USD (depending on whether you buy the accompanying DVD with photos and video of your trip). There is also an impressive bird park located just opposite the entrances to Iguaçu National Park and the helicopter company. You will experience the awesome ‘Garganta del Diablo’ from underneath here whereas you experience it from above on the Argentinian side. Many will argue that the view from underneath is better, but do expect to get wet!
See the ‘Useful Information’ section below for practical information regarding your visit.
The Helisul Experience in Brazil
Helisul is the company that offers these flights over the falls and their office is close to the entrance to the Brazilian National Park. The total cost of the flights is about 120 USD without the accompanying DVD with video and pictures, which will cost you about another 20 USD extra.
You might say that this is hardly worth the money, particularly if you are on a long trip across the continent and your budget is tight. On the other hand, if your resources allow you a little more flexibility, I can say that this was the experience of a lifetime. The view of the falls from the sky above was breathtaking. Also, if you have never had the opportunity to ride in a helicopter prior to this, I can hardly think of a better place to start. I absolutely loved this, but it’s your call at the end of the day…
To get a flavor of the experience, take a look at this short video clip that I took in the helicopter. Click here.
This guy gave up on trying to film the falls from a helicopter, so instead he somehow managed to capture these images by flying a drone over the falls. See the impressive results when you click here.
The Brazilian Bird Park
Parque das Aves is one of those experiences that awakens the child at heart in each of us. Filled with wildlife including reptiles, butterflies and birds, it is a worthwhile stop either before or after any visit to the Brazilian falls. Located across the road from the entrance to the main park and the helicopter pad, entrance now costs 36 reals (the equivalent of about 10 euro or 11 USD). Budget at least an hour to visit the attraction and spend time admiring the avian attractions. The butterfly section is particularly attractive and children of all ages will have the opportunity to come in close contact with both birds and butterflies. Although the current price tag may seem steep, it is well worth it, particularly if you want to wow the folks back home with photos of exotic creatures.
Useful Information for Iguaçu Brasil!
Getting there: If you stay on the Argentinian side of the border, you can take either a bus or a ‘remis’ (cab) across. You will need your passport stamped unless you are a citizen of a Mercosur country.
Getting around: The entrance fee includes the bus ride to the trails. There are also stops for different activities on the way .
Costs : Europeans and Americans pay around 52 reals (2015 prices).
Up to Date Information: http://www.cataratasdoiguacu.com.br/portal/
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