Iguazu Falls is located in an idyllic, tropical forest location straddling the border between Brazil and Argentina. There is no avoiding the fact that a trip to this remote natural wonder, whether visiting from Argentina or Brazil, involves a long journey and considerable expense but the first view of the magnificent falls will convince any doubter that every penny and every bump in the road was worth it.
Iguazu Falls are, quite simply, unmissable.
The largest waterfall system in the world, Iguazu Falls (meaning great waters in the local Guarani dialect) is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Iguazu River cascades over the edge of the basalt Paraná Plateau creating a dizzying array of between 150 and 300 waterfalls (depending on the current water level) over the course of nearly 3 kilometres. The sheer scale of the Falls and their seemingly never ending length is difficult to comprehend. The highest waterfall is a staggering 82 metres.
Visiting the Falls from both countries is well worth the time and effort; you will get contrasting views and experiences and see the Falls from a variety of angles and perspectives. We also saw a completely different set of animals! We stayed in Argentina and visited both sides of the National Park by public transport.
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
Long distance buses – with varying degrees of comfort – travel to Iguazu from Buenos Aires but you need several days for the whole Iguazu trip; one way by bus is around 18 hours. We decided to fly to Iguazu from the capital and reasonable fares are available if booked far enough in advance.
The short flight from Buenos Aires arrives at the tiny airport in Puerto Iguazu, a lush tropical landscape in the far north of Misiones Province, a world away from the chaos of the capital city. The first thing that struck us on leaving the airport – apart from the heat- were the butterflies. Swarms of hundreds of bright yellow butterflies flitted across the road leading into the town; it was magical.
All visitors stop on route to town at a tiny hut to pay a visitors tax; some places in Argentina charge a tax to leave, Puerto Iguazu levies a tax to get in. Our taxi driver, with faultless English, gave us a constant stream of information about the history, flora and fauna of the area.
Puerto Iguazu is a large, bustling town with a centre that caters for tourists in its gift shops, ice cream parlours and pizza restaurants. Before our visit, I had read unfair negative reviews describing Puerto Iguazu as ‘undeveloped’ and ‘not catering for tourists’ and whilst it was less manicured than other Argentine tourist towns, it is also much less sterile.
We stayed self catering in a residential area on the edge of town, in a small, family run guesthouse found on Booking.com. Not a hotel or restaurant in sight and we loved it! Our small apartment was clean, quiet, and friendly. We stayed for several days as we wanted to visit the Falls in good weather from both Argentina and Brazil so we allocated more days to the trip than we needed to.
Walking everywhere, we visited tiny local grocery stores (often just tin huts) trying new and unusual fruit, vegetables and ice creams. We liked wandering around the dusty residential roads looking at small, metal houses with gardens overflowing with bougainvillea and mangos. But as in the rest of Argentina, sightseeing involves being endlessly barked at and followed by stray dogs.
We walked to the viewpoint of the Tres Fronteras where the wide Iguazu river hugs the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. (I would recommend getting the bus from town as it was further to walk than we thought and very hot)! It is a peaceful, scenic spot.
Visiting Iguazu Falls In Argentina
A public bus runs directly to the park from the bus station in Puerto Iguazu. The timetable starts early allowing you to arrive at the park for opening time. This is highly recommended to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Check current prices and payment options before visiting the park; entrance fees are expensive and vary frequently according to the inflation rate. Children under 6 are free and children aged 6 – 12 year receive a large discount.
Recently, only Argentine pesos were accepted, no credit cards, but this has now changed (but may change again)! Whatever the current price, there is a three tier pricing system and as an overseas visitor you can expect to pay nearly double what a Argentine national will pay.
Once inside the park, there is the option of walking the waterfall trail to the culmination point, the iconic Gargantia del Diablo ( ‘The Devils Throat’) or catching the eco train.
If you have arrived early and the park is quiet, I would recommend going straight to The Devils Throat; it will enhance your experience of this incredible place if you are not being jostled by crowds or hit by selfie sticks.
The small, open sided eco train takes you directly from the entrance of the park to the start of the cross river walkways to access The Devils Throat.
However, you can also walk there along a stony, muddy path through the forest by the side of the train track. It is a bit of a slog with children as there is little shade on this hot pathway but we loved this peaceful walk. Apart from when the train passed (full of people wondering why on earth we would choose to walk!), we didn’t see any other tourists on this beautiful walk.
As it was so quiet, we saw a variety of interesting insects and hundreds of colourful, inquisitive butterflies. The butterflies are attracted to people by the salt in your sweat and they land everywhere on your body. They were mesmerising to watch. With over 2000 species of flora, 500 species of birds and 80 different mammals, there is always something new and interesting to see.
At the end of the trail, metal walkways guide you over the flowing Iguazu river to the mighty Devils Throat. Unfortunately, our trade off for this lovely walk was a very busy Devils Throat!
Half of all the Iguazu rivers’ flow funnels into this 90 metre wide and 80 metre deep channel creating a thunderous roar of water and associated constant stream of spray. You can hear the impressive falls before you see them and at the end of the walkway, standing opposite the cavernous drop, you can feel the reverberations of the force of the falls around your body. The magnitude and the force of the water plunging into the chasm below produces so much spray it is hard to distinguish the shape and course of the falling water. Everywhere you look there are waterfalls tumbling and gushing from cracks in the basalt rock face. It is an awe inspiring and exhilarating experience.
As the parks most visited location, it gets very busy here and it takes patience to wait for a viewing spot and to deal with the crowds. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and carelessly waved selfie sticks. I even had someone rest their selfie stick on my head to steady it! Most bizarre of all were two men who carried step ladders with them across the trails to climb above the crowds to get an uninterrupted viewpoint for that all important photo!
Our experience at The Devils Throat is why I highly recommend visiting when the park is quiet!!!!
Leaving the worst of the crowds behind, we walked the waterfall pathways. The walkways are brilliantly designed and constructed either hugging the side of sheer rock underneath dripping ferns and inquisitive lizards or crossing narrow gorges and plunging falls – the metal gangways allow you to look through your feet at the ferocious water below them. There is a plentiful shade on this path and mercifully some benches so you can just sit and soak up the tremendous views.
There are sweeping, expansive viewpoints mixed in with tantalising glimpses of hidden waterfalls through dense forest. If you are lucky you may catch a rainbow through the spray.
The walk is not challenging in difficulty or in length but it does get very hot so make sure you carry plenty of water. Some parts of the walk brings you up close to the plunging water which is an experience not to be missed for the sake of getting wet!
It is possible to take a speedboat trip to the base of a fall but as it wasn’t permitted with young children we didn’t do it. After watching how bumpy the boat ride was I was glad we hadn’t considered it. Also, if timing is right, you can visit the park on the night of a full moon.
There are no toilets or catering facilities on the path and though there is undoubtedly an environmental impact from visiting tourists and the building of walkways and other infra structure, I think park authorities should be commended for keeping the park as natural and unspoilt as possible. If you have been to Niagara, you will understand what I mean! We visiting tourists have a part to play in removing our rubbish, not damaging plants and in adhering to the many signs asking people not to feed or interact with wild animals.
Our trip was a long, exhausting day but worth every sweaty minute. We left exhilarated wondering how the Brazilian side of the falls would compare.
Visiting Iguazu Falls in Brazil.
The Brazilan side of the Falls is easily accessible by local bus from either Puerto Iguazu in Argentina or Foz do Iguacu in Brazil. A cheap, punctual bus starts early and runs directly from the bus station in Puerto Iguazu to the Brazilian side of the Falls. At the border, the bus stops and waits for passengers to pass through immigration – our driver was helpful in directing us what to do. Our children were thrilled to get another stamp in their passport.
A separate entrance ticket is required by both Argentina and brazil and again, fees are expensive and often vary so check before visiting. Children under 2 are free and children aged 2-11 years receive a discount. There is a three tier pricing system, cheaper tickets are available for Brazilian nationals and nationals of neighbouring countries.
Once inside the park, a short bus journey leads to the starting point for the walk along the falls; this bus will pick you up from the far end of the walkway so your route can be one way only if you wish.
There is a single, 2.7 kilometre walkway which is paved, winding and mostly fenced to one side. The path is narrow in places with steps up and down and it can get very busy. Don’t forget to look at your feet whilst captivated by the views – we saw people tumble on unexpected steps.
Take your time, wait for any crowds to pass, for peace and quiet to return and you will be rewarded by toucans, coatis, butterflies and the biggest millipedes you have ever seen. Adhere to the signs not feed the coatis, they may bite or scratch.
Whereas the Argentine walkways get you close to the top and bottom of individual falls and provides you with stunning, side on views along the valley, the Brazilian paths are on the opposite side to the majority of the falling water and is all about expansive panoramic views of the cataratas.
The first view of the Falls from exiting the bus is stunningly beautiful but little did we know that this was just a tiny teaser for the incredible views to come.
Each corner or bend in the path brings more incredible views; at nearly 3 kilometres long, the waterfalls seem to go on for ever.
Eventually you come to the end of the trail to a final, ingenious walkway utilising sensitive design and impressive construction techniques.
You walk along the lip of one waterfall, looking to your right at water plunging over an edge into an abyss below, whilst on the left side, you find yourself at the base of a huge, wide waterfall. The ground resonates with the force of the cascading water; it is a breath taking experience. Be prepared to get very wet here but in high heat, it is a blissful relief!
Visiting Iguazu with children
Like all family travel experiences, the age of your children will influence your experience and enjoyment of Iguazu.
For babies and very young children, bring a carrier if possible, rather than a stroller. Paths are narrow with steps and you will get around easier without a pushchair. There are limited options for a good run around. Paths are fenced but the fences are sympathetically constructed to their environment and have wide gaps between the layers so you will want to keep your children close. There are numerous high, steep drops!
Move slowly, take lots of rest breaks to help cope with the high temperatures and bring lots of food and water; there are (thankfully!) very few catering facilities inside the main body of the park.
Use the toilets when you see them as there are very few in the park and the paths are not conducive to nip behind a tree for a loo stop!
The paths are not difficult in length or challenging in difficulty – the crowds and the heat will be the most challenging aspect of the park for children. Take your time and allow surges of people to pass.
All children will love getting regularly soaked by waterfall spray. Bring waterproofs if they don’t!
Prevent boredom with endless flora and fauna I spy games – I spy something beginning with ‘w’? Anyone….?
Our children were awed by the views (I think we have spoilt any other waterfall we visit from now on!) and an unexpected joy came from the close up exposure to insects and other animals. They particularly loved all the butterflies landing on them.
Do not expect a sanitised theme park, a car park within shouting distance, fizzy drinks within arms reach and you cannot be disappointed by magnificent Iguazu.
Be prepared for crowds, heat and taking thousands of photos.
I have been lucky enough to visit Victoria Falls (love) and Niagara Falls (not so much love) and Iguazu is incomparable – in sheer magnitude, in panoramic views that are the very definition of breath taking, in its wonderful under development and lush, tropical location.