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The majesty of Iguazu

ARGENTINA | Wednesday, 7 March 2012 | Views [1001]

Iguazu falls, otherwise known as Iguassu and Iguacu depending on which country you are in at the time.  Iguazu falls, as I will call them in this blog, are some of the most famous falls in the world. High up on every visitors wish list and pretty much on every South American tourists itinerary. Therefore I have decided that whilst recounting our own personal experience of Iguazu, I will also write this blog as a kind of guide for those who wish to have more information regarding travelling to and staying around the falls.

For those that are not aware Iguazu can be viewed from three different South American countries, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. However the falls themselves and split between Argentina (80%) and Brazil (20%). The falls actually consist of almost 300 different waterfalls cascading over rocks with the main feature being the Devils throat (La Garganta del Diablo), 150m wide and almost 100m tall, in a giant U-shape.

We decided to visit both the Argentinean and Brazilian sides of the falls and would highly recommend everyone take the time to do this if they can.

Firstly we started with the Argentinean side. We took a luxurious 20 hour bus from Salta to the town of Posadas where we then had to purchase an additional ticket for the final 5 hour trip to Iguazu. It was a long journey but the first bus was so super comfortable, leather seats, blankets and pillows, free meals, non-alcoholic drinks and movies one after the other during the time when we weren’t sleeping. It was like being in business class on an airline. We had decided to book a hostel in advance as we weren’t sure how long it would take us to find one when we arrived and figured after such a long bus ride we would want to know exactly where we could go to relax and take a well needed shower.  However we soon discovered on arrival at Puerto Iguazu, the town on the Argentinean side of the falls, that it would have been fairly easy to find somewhere to stay. The town is basically a tourist hub. Everywhere you look there were signs for either a hostel or B&B lodging. The town is also very small and the bus station basically sits right in the centre of it so it makes it very easy to walk anywhere you need to go from there.

We stayed in a hostel called El Guembe house hostel. It had a lovely pool and hammocks in the front garden as well as a big spacious kitchen, a lounge with computer and free wifi. We were lucky enough to get a room with air-conditioning which made sleeping a little easier. It was about 35 degrees each day we were there so the pool and air-conditioning were much appreciated. We had two priorities on arrival. Firstly we had to find a laundry. Luckily for us there was one right next to the bus station which did a load of washing for a flat rate of 30 pesos (about $6). We were happy to pay that in this tourist town as we really needed the clean clothes. The second job was to find where the Brazilian embassy was so that we knew where to go first thing the following morning.

All Australians require a visa to enter Brazil. In fact residents of USA, Canada and Japan (amongst some others) will also require one. Being Australian was actually a lucky thing as residents of the USA had to pay more than three times what we did for our visa. We knew before we arrived that we needed a visa. We could have opted to get this in Buenos Aires but had heard stories of the embassy there making things extremely difficult for travellers to get visas and that it could take more than a week sometimes. On the other hand from everything we had read it seemed that the Puerto Iguazu embassy was more than happy to process visas in 24 hours in most cases. That sounded like the best plan to us. The embassy is open Monday to Friday from 8am – 2pm. We had arrived on a Sunday evening so we decided to work out where the embassy was and then get all our paperwork printed and sorted so we were ready to hand everything in on the Monday morning. Sure enough, it was an easy process. We handed in our forms, a photo and paid our money and were told our visa would be ready for collection tomorrow at 11am. Hurrah! So by 9:15 we were out of the visa office and on our way to the bus station for a bus to Iguazu falls.

The buses to Iguazu run every 20 minutes throughout the day and we paid 10 pesos ($2.40) per person each way for the ride. It takes about 30 minutes to get there.  The buses are always pretty packed so we were lucky to get a seat. On arrival at the national park entrance you have to pay an entrance fee of 100 pesos ($22) per person as a foreign resident. Argentineans and members of Mercosur (the South American version of the European Union) can enter for less.

The entrance ticket includes both the “jungle train” and the boat to Isla San Martin in the middle of the falls. The Jungle train takes people from the entrance of the park to the start of the walkways to the upper and lower falls and then on to the Devils throat. We however decided to walk to the start of the falls walkways rather than taking the train. The first walk takes you through the jungle part of the national park where you get to see little Coatis, otherwise known as Brazilian aardvarks. These cute racoon like animals are everywhere around the falls. Making mischief and keeping tourists entertained with their antics.

Everything we had heard said you needed a full day at the park. We always doubted this and wondered how on earth one could spend a whole day looking at a waterfall! We soon found out. We started with the Upper Trail of the falls. This is an approx 1 hour walk along the top of the Argentinean falls and back. It gives you a great view to look down into the falls although you can’t see the Devils throat from here.

We then did the longer Lower Trail. This basically took us about 3-3 1/2 hours including a visit to San Martin Island. The lower trail winds down on boardwalks through the jungle and then along multiple view points where you get a front on view to look up at the falls you were just standing at the top of from the Upper Trail. We got some great photos from this trail. There is of course an option to purchase tickets for what is called the “Jungle adventure” where you have the opportunity to take a boat out under the waterfalls and also a jungle eco-adventure drive amongst other things. We decided to skip this simply because we felt we didn’t have the time in one day. We wanted to make sure we made the most of the 100 pesos we already paid to enter the park. So next we took the boat out to San Martin Island. This is a small island in the middle of the river and can give you your first view of the Devils throat and a close up of some of the other larger falls. We had a picnic lunch on the island whilst watching beautiful birds and cheeky monitor lizards. There aren’t that many places to buy food in the National park and it is of course quite expensive so we were glad we had taken the time to purchase some sandwiches from the bakery in town that morning. We also enjoyed a much needed quick dip in the river after hours of walking in the humid heat.

Our final destination for the Argentinean side of the falls was of course The Devils Throat. This powerful waterfall was simply magical. There was so much mist coming up off the falls that we were all getting wet just standing on the platform looking down at them. In fact the mist is so thick within the Devils Throat that you actually cannot see the base of the falls. It looks like the water is kind of disappearing into the Earth! The only way to get to the Devils throat is on the “jungle train” which is a tacky tourist thing but included in the entrance ticket and also gives your legs a rest after all of the walking on the trails. From the train ‘station’ it’s a flat 1km walk along a boardwalk out to the falls. We got a good look at some birds, Tortoise, Catfish and gorgeous butterflies along the way. The boardwalk also crosses over the river in a few places which was pretty cool. Our day spent on the Argentinean side really gave us an awe-inspiring view of how big the falls are as you get to view them from both the top and the bottom. Even though we didn’t do the boat under the falls we still felt that we got the full experience of the Argentinean falls.

Day 2 was time to check out of our hostel, pick up our Brazilian visa then take a bus to Brazil. Again buses to Brazil are quite frequent, every 30 minutes or so and only cost us a few dollars. When we got to the Argentinean border everyone gets off the bus, you get your passport stamped by immigration then back on the bus to the Brazilian border. Here the bus driver gave us a little coupon which indicated the name of the bus company we were travelling with and told us to get the next bus. He left everyone with their bags and we then had to go to the Immigration office, fill out an immigration form and have our visa and passport checked and stamped. We then walked back over to the bus stop and waited probably around 20 minutes until our bus came. There are a few different companies and your ticket will only allow you to get back on a bus with the same company as you arrived with. Otherwise you just pay again if you want to get on the first bus that arrives. We were happy to wait to save a few dollars.

Foz do Iguacu is the name of the town on the Brazilian side of the falls and that is where we were headed to. It is about a 40 minute drive from the border and we stayed in a hostel called Supernova, again with a lovely little pool. Foz itself is more of a mini-city. It is very big and spread out and nowhere near as quaint and peaceful as Puerto Iguazu. We took it easy the rest of the day and found a great Sushi restaurant close to the hostel for dinner. We hadn’t had Sushi since arriving in South America so that was a delicious meal.

The next day we visited the Brazilian side of the falls. The bus stop for the falls buses was only 100m from the hostel we were staying at so that made it easy. It is about a 40 minute drive to the falls from Foz do Iguacu and the bus goes via the local airport on the way. On arrival we once again needed to pay the National Park fee which was just a few dollars cheaper than that Argentinean side. This time however you need to board a bus which takes you along the National park road. There are options to get off along the way and purchase tickets for different jungle trails and bike and boat trips if you wish but we just got off at the start of the falls trail. There is just the one trail on the Brazilian side so it means that there are quite a lot of people and it can be slow moving when it is a skinny pathway and people are always stopping to take pictures. Whilst there is much less of the actual water of the falls on the Brazilian side it means that you get an awesome overall panoramic view of all the falls on the Argentinean side. There are multiple viewing platforms including one where you walk out over the top of the falls in front of the Devils throat. You get plenty wet from all the spray coming off them but it was an amazing experience as you really got to see how huge the Devils throat is as you are halfway down it on the Brazilian side instead of just looking down in to the mist from the Argentinean side.

Because it is just the one trail on the Brazilian side it only takes a couple of hours and then you take the park bus and then the city bus back into town. It probably took us four hours in total from when we left the hostel until we got back. Again the bus back into town goes via the airport so if you had a flight it would be easy to get there directly from the park.

We had the most amazing couple of days at Iguazu. Absolutely loved every minute. So if you ever go to South America make sure you don’t miss it. Our next destination for Brazilian Carnavale, Florianopolis!

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