How much time is needed and which side of the falls to visit? Brazilian or Argentinian? How to avoid crowds? Plus how much, how to get there and so on.
Iguazú Falls is one of those places one could list together with all the superlatives such as breathtaking, incredible, wonderful, magic and all that. There’s no doubt, that it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.
Numerous islands along Iguazú‘s 2,7-kilometre-long edge divide the falls into many separate waterfalls, their height varying between 40 and 82 metres. The total number of all individual falls is often stated as 277 but in reality it apparently fluctuates from 150 to 300, depending on the water level.
The World Wonder
Overall, it really is a spectacular place and that might be the reason why it has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 (Argentinian side), followed by the Brazilian side two years later. It’s also officially a World Wonder.
The classic wonders are: the Egyptian pyramids, the Pharos or lighthouse at Alexandria, the Phidiases statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the the Colossus of Rhodes, I’m not sure if I listed them in the right order though. Is there an order?
Iguazú Falls or Cataratas del Iguazú (esp) or Chororo Yguasu in the original Guaraní language are apparently one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, although it’s apparently 132 million years old as opposed to the Great Egyptian Pyramid which has “just” some 2580 years. So which one here is “new”?
FYI: Iguazú falls are also often compared to Victoria falls. From the perspective of the variables that can be measured, Victoria falls have (at its more than 1,6km width and over 100m in height) the largest curtain of water in the world. The only wider falls are Congolese Boyoma Falls. As for the volume, Iguazú currently has the sixth-greatest average annual flow.
A legend says that there once upon a time, a big bad snake called Boi lived in the river. To keep him sweet, the aborigines (Guaranís) apparently sacrificed a young woman every year as an offering. However, once a brave Guaraní dude decided to save his love who was picked for the offering, but both lovers stupidly tried to escape through the river…
The bad Boi then naturally burst in anger. It bent its body to split the river, which was the act that formed the waterfalls in order to condemn the escaping pair to an eternal fall. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind to be eternally falling with my lover in this fairy-tale like place. It would be a matter of perspective then, the optimist could call it flying because the eternity of the fall should guarantee that one never hits the ground, innit?
So the snake’s punishment was silly because the pair must be then still falling/flying somewhere here, inside such beauty, while millions of visitors, whom didn’t even piss the snake off have to pay the entrance fee. Plus most of them are only view the falls from from the ground, unless they pay extra for the helicopter ride. Silly old bad Boi and his “punishment”. I hope that the lovers haven’t started arguing over some minor problems their extraordinary love life brings them, after all it’s been a while…
Anyway, let’s get to the point: which side is better to visit?
The water supply of the falls is Rio Iguazú, which is the natural border between Argentina and Brazil here. On the right bank is the Brazilian territory, which is home to more than 95% of the Iguazú River basin but it contains just over 20% of the falls’ cascades. The remaining 80% of the cascades are therefore in Argentina. This divide often leads to the eternal question about which side of the falls is better to visit.
Well, Argentina’s side of the waterfalls have amazing infrastructure that allows the spectator to walk above this natural demonstration of power and beauty. I honestly have no idea how they build those paths. The footbridges on the Argentine side, reminiscent of those around Perito Moreno Glacier, are in my opinion also a minor construction wonder, given it’s extensive size and location but the Brazilian side has – let’s say – a better angles of the whole spectacle.
The whole competition is however completely and utterly unnecessary. The well designed and organised tourist infrastructure allows any visitor to see both sides, even in one day but I would however personally recommend to split your visit into two days.
The flights from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú are going from about €35, if you book your flight well ahead. From the airport, the shuttle takes about 40mins to your hotel for a decent €4,65.
From Puerto Iguazú, a small touristic town filled with hotels and restaurants on the Argentinian side, there are numerous bus companies that will take you to the falls. The bus journey is about 20 minutes and it will cost you €6.
If you heading to Brazilian side, the bus is the same price – it only takes a bit longer to get there, depending on how fast the immigration process is on the day of your visit. Check if there are any national holidays and so on to minimise the hustle.
The park entry on the Argentinian side is €16,50, while to get to the Brazilian part, you’ll pay a similar equivalent of money. Both, Brazilian as well as the Argentinian sides accept both, cash as well as card payments.
How to avoid the crowds?
Once you enter the Argentinian part, you can opt for a free ‘train’ ride to one of the two stops that would get to the 3 major walks: Inferior, Superior (1st stop) and the Garganta del Diablo (2nd stop). Another option you will get is to take a free boat ride to a small island San Martin and take a short walk there.
I recommend taking the very first bus from Puerto Iguazú at 7am to arrive with the first group. If you do arrive early enough to make the first ‘train’, take it and head straight to the 2nd stop (Garganta del Diablo). That way you will avoid the crowds at the busiest spot. We’re talking about one million visitors per year but it feels like if they were all there on the same day together with you, it does.
If you fail to be early like me – because the wine was too good the night before – just forget the train and take a 10 minute walk to get to the 1st stop of the ‘train’ where the inferior and superior trails begin. Otherwise you’ll get stacked right at the entrance waiting for the second or third train and the cues behind you will just get longer and longer, only to allow the million people inside the park right behind you, making the whole place very busy.
FYI, at the entrance you need to get a free train ticket that will indicate the time of your train. As I said, unless you make it to the 1st one, forget the train and walk to then less busy superior and inferior walks. You can always take the ride from the 1st stop to the Garganta del Diablo stop after you will enjoy the emptier superior and inferior walks.
The Inferior trail, I opted for to begun with turned out to be my favourite one. It takes you around the bottom edge of the falls. Very pretty. Superior trail takes you around the top edge. Both trails were not that crowded but it might be due to the fact that I did manage to make it to the second wave of buses and most of the early visitors headed further to Garganta del Diablo first.
With more and more tourists entering the park, the rest of the day turned out to be a great test about how much tolerance to the massive selfie crowds one has. I got personally irritated only much later, when I arrived to then already busy Garganta del Diablo trail. There was literally no space to walk and a lot of acrobatics were needed in order not to be hurt by selfie sticks.
The thing is that many of the visitors are rather inconsiderate (well, an English person would say it that way) but it would in fact mean that many of the visitors totally don’t give a shit about others at all. For example I was a gentleman and let the two ladies to go ahead of me to the viewpoint after cuing for 20 mins in a crowd but they not only took ages taking like a trillion selfies and videos each, they have started to watch them on the spot as well 😀
Anyway. Once you enter the Brazilian side, there’s a free bus that will take you towards the falls. There are earlier stops one can get off to explore the activities and some minor treks but most people headed to the last stop, which is pretty much the one main trek there. The bus returns to the entrance of the park from the end of that trek/walk.
Oh yeah – and get ready for getting wet off the falls’ rainy flow that reaches the paths with the help of the wind, especially on the Brazilian side. Another important thing is to remember the name of the bus companies that got you to the entrances of either of the parks as there will be many people/buses at the exit. Then there are the entry requirements, like visas and all that but I believe that you don’t have to be reminded about those 🙄
FYI: you can also take a rafting mini trip here. Helicopter ride is $120 for 15mins, boat rides are also available… My budget was a boring git here unfortunately ):
What would I do differently if I visited the falls with the knowledge I have now?
Except from trying to piss the bad Boi in order to be condemned to the eternal flight in the place with my girlfriend, I would fight the wine temptation the night before with stronger will and wake up for the first bus. The second bus I’ve taken meant that there were already too many people brought here by the first buses from the various companies and I couldn’t get to Garganta del Diablo earlier when it wasn’t so busy yet.
I would also split my visit in two days and went to the Brazilian part early morning the next day, I’m sure it would have been less busy during an earlier visit.
Can you get to Iguazú from Uruguay?
I’ve travelled to Puerto Iguazú from Urugua’s Montevideo. It proved to be a bit of a challenge but it’s doable. You can take a bus to Salto (6hrs/€30), then cross the river to Argentina’s Concordia, from where you can take the bus heading from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú (12hrs/€42).
A word of advise: Please make sure you will pre-book the connecting bus from Concordia because I haven’t done so I got stuck there for 1/2 day but the city isn’t exactly the nicest location to wait 8 hours for the bus. In fact, I decided to get a hotel instead. But after booking into a hotel room near the bus terminal, which I was to share with 3cm long cockroaches, Concordia was the first place I visited during this trip, where I’ve asked myself: “What the hell are you doing here?”