The Panoramic View of Iguacu Falls- Brazil side

I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the majority of Iguazu Falls was in Argentina, because when I first learned about the falls from the Brazil side. Of course, the travel completist in me wanted to see both sides. But when I was imagining going to Iguazu, I was under the assumption that Brazil and America still had a fairly restrictive reciprocal visa policy in place, where it cost a decent chunk of money to visit Brazil, and Americans have to get a visa in advance. So when I had to make my pivot to incorporating Iguazu into my Argentina vacation, I assumed I wouldn’t be able to readily visit Brazil, because I wouldn’t have enough time to secure a visa. However, when I was talking with someone I met on my cruise and he was saying he was going to visit Brazil after the cruise, I asked about the cost of the visa, and he said that policy had been rescinded and you didn’t need a visa beforehand to visit Brazil as an American.

That opened up another whole day of possibility for my Iguazu excursion. It was easy to incorporate a day trip to Brazil on a guided tour to see those falls. Only about one third of Iguazu Falls are in Brazil, so I knew a trip there wouldn’t necessarily take all day. In fact from what I have seen, most of the day trips from Argentina to Brazil to see the falls are really only about a half day. Literally three countries converge at the meeting point of the Iguazu and Parana rivers, so Brazil is just across the bridge. Because we aren’t locals, we did need to clear passport control when entering Brazil to get our passports stamped, but that process only took about 20 minutes of waiting while our guide got them all done at once. That was actually a relief, because when I was talking to a woman the day prior on the Argentina guided tour, she had gone to Brazil the day prior on a guided tour, and it took her group 90 minutes of waiting to get their passports stamped.

So we were off and running a lot sooner than I feared, and the entrance to the park isn’t far from the border. As usual, you have to buy your own entry ticket (unless the ticket is included in the price of your excursion, which in my case, it wasn’t). Luckily the line wasn’t long. We arrived not long after the park opened, and again, this wasn’t peak tourist season for falls visiting.

After that, you get on a park bus that will stop at a variety of places. Brazil has a complementary river adventure to the falls like Argentina, and there is a trail you can access the pier. But the majority of people will get off at the bus stop across from the large pink Hotel Belmond Das Cataratas. The vast majority of visitors will traverse the 1.5 kilometer paved trail that starts with a frontal view of Tres Masqueteros falls and moves up the river, culminating in a close up view of Garganta del Diablo. Like with my visit to the Argentine side, I kept having to stop and gawk at the view and take pictures. The water flow was high so that provided a lot of visual drama when observing the falls. The rock formations and trees around the falls added to the picturesque nature of the site. However, unlike my independent trip to the Argentine side, I was part of a group tour, and even though we didn’t have to stay together as a group, I was mindful of how long we had before we were expected to meet back up at the bus stop. Not wanting to lose time on seeing the grand finale of the walk, I tried not to stare too long in any one place.

The culmination of the walk is the boardwalk out so you are facing Garganta del Diablo head on. I honestly didn’t have a super clear view of that part (which is the most thunderous part of the falls), because the mist from the spray and the wind was so strong as to obscure the view. This is also the part where you can get pretty wet if you want to. If you don’t, it’s probably best not to go far out on the boardwalk (you’ll know when you are about to get wet). But if you do go out, you can either just get pleasantly drenched, or you can don a plastic raincoat (they are sold everywhere in the park) to stay somewhat dry. I originally pooh poohed the idea of a raincoat, because I didn’t mind getting wet. However, I really didn’t want to get my backpack and all its stuff wet, so thankfully one of the fellow tourists on my trip gave me their throwaway rain poncho when they were done using it.

The walk out on the boardwalk is very scenic, as this is the closest you are to the waterfalls on the Brazil side, and you are looking up at the falls flowing down in front of you. And yes, you can get super wet if you walk all the way out to the end. As much as I wanted to stay longer, the mist constantly blowing in my face was a bit distracting, so I walked back to a drier vantage point.

Once you have had your fill of this view, that is pretty much the end of the path. There is an elevator that goes up to the top where the bus stop is, or there is a paved path that will go up. Since the wait for the elevator was long, and I was running short on time, I elected to take the walking path, which wasn’t as steep as I feared, even though it is all uphill. Honestly, anyone of moderate level of fitness should have no problem with that. Whether you take the elevator or the path, you will end up in the same place, with an overlook at the far left part of the falls.

That is pretty much it for the visit to the Brazil side of Iguazu Falls. It made for a nice half day excursion. Even though we were on a timetable, I didn’t feel overly rushed or feel like I missed any view. There is a lot to take in, but there is enough time to do so.

Visiting the Brazil side of Iguazu National Park is a rather different experience than visiting the Brazil side. In Argentina, the trails take you much more up close and personal with the falls, and much of the trail is just over the falls, so you can see them close up. Brazil is the place to see the falls from a distance and take in the wide panoramic view of the falls. It is a good companion piece to Argentina. From Argentina you see the falls and the rushing river from a more personal vantage point, but Brazil gives you the full breadth of the expanse of the falls, which are almost three kilometers wide. The visits are complementary, and I would recommend visiting both (on different days, otherwise you feel rushed trying to fit in both parks with a border crossing before the park closes at 1800). Of course if forced to choose only  one, I would recommend Argentina, just because of the closer view of the falls. I was very pleased I had the opportunity to visit Iguazu, and take advantage of the change in my itinerary to do so. Even with the heat (I pretty much hate heat and humidity), the trip was a delight. Though keep in mind if you visit Argentina, the Iguazu area has a much more tropical rain forest climate, so pack accordingly, if you are going to other, rather different climates in Argentina, like Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego.

Thrilling and Refreshing Iguazu Falls River Adventure

The next day in Iguazu, I had a full day national park excursion scheduled. My travel agent had billed it as a Iguazu Jungle Explorer Great Adventure, which is why I did the national park on my own the previous day. However, once talking to my guide that morning, I realized that the river adventure included a guided tour of the park. We started off early, to beat the heat and the crowds, and did a guided tour of the same trails I had seen the day before. I enjoyed seeing the views again, but I wasn’t bothered by the quicker pace, because I had spent plenty of time seeing the waterfalls the day prior. I got to spend all the time I wanted at each viewpoint, so I viewed the tour today as just getting to relive the views. Even though my pictures turned out well, nothing beats the in person experience. And seeing those falls and the rushing water and surrounding green landscape was just as exciting this day as it was when I was seeing them for the first time.

There is a wide variety of flora and fauna in the park. I saw a variety of birds, most memorably a toucan, and the most common mammal I saw was the coati, which is sort of like a raccoon. They tend to congregate where people are, hoping to get some food. Cute little critters, but best to keep your distance in case they attack and bite. I know larger mammals exist in the park, like pumas, but chances of seeing them with lots of people around are very remote.

We spent the morning walking the Superior and Inferior Circuit trails, and the afternoon was the Gran Aventura excursion with Iguazu Jungle Explorer. I was the only one from my group doing that excursion, so my guide dropped me off at the ticket place where I would board the jungle van.

The first part of the excursion is taking an open air truck trip down the road to the pier. This was a good opportunity to just enjoy the view of the tall jungle trees and just marvel at all the green around you. The journey ends at the stairs that you take down to the pier on the river. You get a life jacket and a dry bag to put all your stuff you don’t want to get wet (including your shoes if you desire) and then board the motorized rubber boats.

They take you on a super fast journey up the river until you reach the falls near San Martin Island. So you are looking at the falls from a completely different perspective. The prior day and this morning, I got my fill of the falls from overlooking the tops of the falls. But now I was looking up at the falls from the vantage point of the river, and I could really feel just how enormous and powerful these falls are.

You are given ample time to take in the view and take all your photos. And then the fun begins. The driver gets you as close to the pounding falls as possible. Since I was there in spring, the river levels were pretty high, so the falls were absolutely thundering. So while we weren’t able to get directly under the falls, we got so close, that we were absolutely drenched. The spray is overwhelming, and it’s hard keeping your eyes open. You just have to feel the cool, refreshing water soaking you completely. We got to enjoy this experience from two different vantage points. The first was at the base of the Tres Masqueteros Falls, and the other was near the base of the Mbigua Falls. Those views are on either side of San Martin Island that sits imposing in the river in front of the falls.

The entire effect was thrilling and an adrenaline rush, even if you are just enjoying the view from the boat. But to feel the awesome power of those falls is an experience to behold. Plus the river water is cool and feels oh so good in that bright hot sun. After our waterfall stops, we sped back to the pier at high speeds. You are still on an adrenaline high when you get back and walk up the stairs to the truck stop to get back to the starting point. Even though you are completely drenched after arriving at the pier, you will quickly dry off in the heat, and in no time, it didn’t even look like you got soaked.

This excursion is an add on to park admission, and it isn’t cheap (at least by Argentine standards). But I thought it was worth it. It is a very different, much more thrilling look at the falls. It may not last long, but the experience is memorable and the view worth it.

The Verdant and Steamy Iguazu Falls- Argentina side

My first day in Iguazu was an early one. I had an early morning flight from Buenos Aires to the town of Puerto Iguazu. It was the base for my three day excursion to see Iguazu Falls. I first learned about Iguazu Falls when I watched season 2 of The Amazing Race, and I was entranced and wanted to visit them. I absolutely adore waterfalls, and seek them out whenever I can. It was doing my research about Argentina, when I realized that the bulk of Iguazu Falls are actually in Argentina (The Amazing Race featured the falls from the Brazil side, so that is where I figured you had to access them).

The first thing I felt when I got off the plane was the strong heat and humidity, even at 0900 in the morning. It was a definite shock to the system. I had come from Ushuaia, and previously the Pacific Northwest, where the highs were in the 50s at best, and the fierce wind could make it feel even colder, to Puerto Iguazu, where the highs were in the 90s and the humidity was cooking. I had to scramble for appropriate clothes, because I had packed plenty of long sleeved shirts and warm pants to layer against the cold and wind, but only about two T shirts. But I made it work, even if the sweat was pouring off me at times.

Since I got to Puerto Iguazu early in the day, and I didn’t have any excursions planned that day, I decided to spend the afternoon visiting Iguazu National Park on my own. My taxi driver was more than willing to come back to the hotel to drive me to the park, and pick me up at the agreed upon time (for the right price of course). I knew I had an excursion in the park the next day, but I didn’t know if it consisted of a park tour. In any case, I like to do things at my own pace when possible and not under the direction of a guide (at least for things that don’t absolutely require a guide).

Now the afternoon is the not the BEST time to visit from a weather perspective, because the sun is at its peak heat. But there are also fewer crowds at that time, and the park has plenty of shade to hide from the sun. So I bought my ticket and headed in. There is a train that can take you from the main gate to the center of the park, but there is also a nice, fairly short nature path that takes you to the same destination but allows you to see some of the flora and fauna of the park. My one disappointment when I got to the park, was realizing that the Garganta del Diablo (or Devil’s Throat) was closed. It is a boardwalk that goes out to the center of the waterfall and overlooks the most thunderous part of the falls. I was really looking forward to seeing it, but spring meltoff had raised river levels so high, that it took out part of the boardwalk. So you could only see that part of the waterfall from afar.

But even with that closed, there were still ample things to see and do in the park. Argentina has about 2/3 of Iguazu Falls within its borders, and its boardwalks and trails give you a closer, more intimate view of the falls. The trails are very well marked and easy to use, and in the case of one trail, it is supposed to be one way only to better control visitor flow.

If you have the time, I would recommend you see all the main trails in the park, because they provide different views of the falls. But if you only have time for one trail, make it the Superior Circuit. It is the longest trail, because it has the most views of the falls. There are many viewpoints along the trail that give you a variety of awe inspiring views of the waterfalls. The trail itself is a well maintained boardwalk so you are on the side of the falls, and is flat and easily traversable.

The hardest thing about the trail was tearing myself from the viewpoints. It felt like every viewpoint was better than the last, and I was constantly taking pictures and taking the time to take it all in. This is when I was glad to have done this park on my own. I didn’t have to worry about keeping up with the group or afraid of pissing off the tour guide, because I was too slow. I had allowed myself nearly five hours of excursion time before my agreed upon pickup time with my taxi driver, so I had no need to hurry. Iguazu Falls were the best waterfalls I had ever seen, and I wanted to really take it all in.

It is hard to pick a favorite viewpoint, because they are all different, but spectacular. The crowds weren’t overwhelming, which is probably partly because it was the afternoon and many of the tour groups had left, but also because it was November, and the peak tourist season hadn’t hit yet. I heard the crowds get ridiculous in December and January, and I try to avoid peak travel time for most of my vacations.

I was definitely feeling the heat, but the nice cool water bottles helped a lot. The Superior Circuit has a clockwise travel pattern, so you see all the waterfall viewpoints first, and then the trail turns inland through the lush, verdant forest before bringing out near to where you started. I still had time on my hands, so I decided to do the Inferior Circuit, which is a shorter trail, and different viewpoints of waterfalls.

This circuit doesn’t have an established traffic pattern, maybe because the entire trail wasn’t open. The trail was open in two different directions taking you to different waterfall viewpoints, but the interior of the loop trail was closed down due to trail erosion. The first waterfall viewpoints I stopped at was Dos Hermanas Falls and Chico Falls. These views were from the bottom of the waterfall looking up, and were a counterpoint to the overhead falls views from the Superior Circuit trail.

Then I backtracked and followed the trail down past a couple other small waterfalls to an expansive lookout of San Martin Island in front of you in the Iguazu River. The view is wide and nice, though it feels a bit bifurcated by the terrain, since the island view divides the waterfall in half.

By this point, I was tired and sweaty and getting close to my pick up time. Instead of taking the train back to main gate, I decided to take the nature trail back, and it was a pleasant way to end my day. The park was getting ready to close in about an hour, so there were substantially fewer tourists, and it felt so much quieter than the din earlier in the day. I am very glad I took the opportunity to see the park at my own pace, because it is truly worth a full day of your time.