I had previously posted about our three day trip to Mendoza which was fantastic. On day 1, I also mentioned briefly about Buenos Aires where you have to fly into in order to get to Mendoza from the United States. After Mendoza on Friday, Gloria and I took a flight connecting via Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú, Argentina. This is the closest airport and city to Iguazú Falls on the Argentine side. We were met at the airport by a private driver we had previously made plans with to take us anywhere we needed to go for the three days we were going to be in Puerto Iguazú.
On the way to the town of Puerto Iguazú we passed by the Iguazú National Park which is the entrance to the falls on the Argentine side. A little explanation of the falls is probably in order now. The waterfalls come from the Iguazú River which divides Brazil and Argentina. About 20% of the falls are on the Brazilian side and 80% are on the Argentine side. Even though most of the falls are in Argentina, the best panoramic view is seen from Brazil. The falls are really approximately 275 falls divided among a 1.7 mile edge. The highest fall is 269 feet high when compared to Niagara Falls is only 165 feet high. Even the United States’ First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed when she saw Iguazú Falls, “Poor Niagara.”
We did a lot of research before our trip and learned if you want to see everything, you only need to spend about half a day in Brazil and a day or two in Argentina. The problem with being a United States citizen is even though you would only spend half a day in Brazil, you still need to get a Visa for your passport. Unfortunately the cost for a Visa is $160 and you have to go to your local Brazilian Consulate to get it. We went back and forth trying to decide to spend the money and go through the trouble of getting it, but finally decided if we were going all that way and were standing only on the Argentine side wishing at that point we were on the Brazilian side, we would be kicking ourselves. So we went through the extra effort and got Visas.
We checked into our small hotel which was located in the town of Puerto Iguazú because we wanted walking access to the town which would allow us to do something at night. We went walking to find downtown and even after asking some locals (it’s a good thing Gloria’s native language is Spanish), we were still wondering where downtown was. We kept looking for something that appeared to be a downtown but could not find anything along the main road. There were also a lot of stores closed.
Now since this is a wine blog, I’ll throw some wine into this post to make it relevant. During our walk along the street we decided to stop in a supermarket to see what was available. They had a wine section and here’s a photo of some magnums which were for sale. You probably can’t read the price, but it is 16.50 pesos. Roughly converted to U.S dollars that is $3.30. That’s right, $3.30 for a magnum of wine. And you thought Two Buck Chuck was a bargain. We should have bought a bottle just to see if it was any good.
We finally found downtown which turned out to be down a side road off the main road and had dinner at an outdoor cafe. We learned why a lot of stores had been closed and there were not many people around; the town takes a siesta from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. After 5:00pm the town awoke and there were suddenly lots of people around. I had my first Caipirinha which is Brazil’s national cocktail and it was very good. Since we had been awake since 4 a.m. to catch our flight out of Mendoza, we decided to call it an early evening.
The next morning we were picked up by our driver to go to the Brazilian side of the falls which is located in Iguaçu National Park. It turned out the border crossing was just a few minutes’ drive from town and we were through customs in a short time. We arrived at the park 30 minutes before they opened and the driver recommended we visit the bird park across the street called Parque Das Aves while we waited. It was a nice bird park and there were many types of birds commonly found in the jungle. I failed to mention the parks in Brazil and Argentina are primarily in a jungle.
One of the nice things about the Iguaçu National Park is that you can order your tickets online prior to your visit using a credit card. This avoids having to convert currency and actually avoids the long ticket line. After a bus ride with a few stops we arrived at the first location where you can see the falls. Upon our first partial view of the falls, I know my mouth just dropped. It was an incredible sight with the many falls in the distance. I have seen Niagara Falls many times and there was no comparison. Everybody was trying to get to the front of the fence so they could have their photo taken with the falls in the background. For the most part during the visit, people were very kind and patient except for a few times when some people thought they were too important. There was the typical tourist official photographers and upon watching them, there did not seem a way to get a photo taken without people between you and the falls. We walked down a path to the right and that was when we found another vantage point of the falls. This time however there was a walkway built out from the edge of the cliff where people could venture down to do kayaking or in our case, we decided to have another official photographer take our photo with definitely nobody behind us.
After our photo, we followed the path along the cliff and except for an occasional tree which we wish wasn’t there, any view was incredible. Getting a Visa for Brazil was definitely a wise choice! At the end of the path was the largest and highest waterfall, Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat), which is U-shaped. A walkway was built over the river where you could walk close to the falls and yes, get wet. We had purchased plastic raincoats which did an adequate job to keep us and our photography equipment dry.
We did end up spending a total of 3.5 hours in the Brazilian park and it was time to meet our driver to go back to the Argentine side. Now that we knew what the falls looked like in their entirety, it was going to be interesting to see how they looked from Argentina. We got to the border crossing and that’s when we hit our first stumble of the day.
When we flew into Buenos Aires from the United States, we had to pay a reciprocity fee, basically a Visa, and have a receipt for payment to show customs when we arrived into Argentina. We gave no thought that going to the Brazilian side and then back into Argentina we would need this same receipt. Uh oh! After some nervous discussions with the custom authorities, I realized I had kept a PDF file copy of my receipt in Dropbox on my smartphone. They were able to see that and from there eventually look up our two receipts in the computer. Now they probably could have done that from the beginning but they probably want to make tourists sweat. Just kidding! Anyway, we eventually got our passports back and were on our way to the Iguazú National Park.
Our driver dropped us off at the park where we had planned on taking a speedboat ride up the river and then to the base of the falls. There were warnings you would get soaked on the boat so we were prepared. We decided if we were going to get soaked, we would end the day that way and go back to see the rest of the park the next day. There are two speedboat rides available. The first is the Great Adventure which you first ride through the jungle on a large truck and then take the boat down the Iguazú River, through some rapids, and then arrive at the waterfalls. The second is the Nautical Adventure which is just a speedboat and is the same as the end of the Great Adventure ride when it arrives at the waterfalls. We decided to go all the way and take the Great Adventure.
Iguazú National Park is primarily an ecological park compared to the Brazilian park and it is surrounded by jungles. Fauna and animals are commonly one of the reasons people visit the park besides seeing Iguazú Falls. We soon learned the park entrance is a good walking distance to anything noteworthy so luckily we were in good walking shape. We had to walk to the center of the park to get tickets for the boat ride if we were going to pay by credit card. We caught the jungle truck and rode through the jungle with the tour guide pointing out various things. The river then came into view and we left the truck and entered the speedboat. We were given very large dry bags in which we could store anything we didn’t want to get wet. Fortunately the bag was big enough to hold a backpack, shoes, etc.
We rode through the rapids bouncing a little bit but since the front of the boat rose out of the water, you could only see out the sides. Fortunately we were sitting on the right (okay, starboard) side of the boat and there are a few falls on the Argentina side which we could see during the ride. We then got to the base of one fall and started getting wet while people cheered. The driver brought the boat back around for a second time for the same experience. This wasn’t the “get completely soaked” part so the boat went to sit in the middle of the river for a while. We were told to put away our cameras because we were now going to get really wet. Unfortunately at this time we were facing into the sun which had come out from behind the clouds and combined with the mist of the falls, it was very difficult to see the falls. When the boat was brought to the base of another fall for the “soaking” part, I found it impossible to keep my eyes open with the blinding sun and water. And oh yes, we got soaked! The rest of the group was cheering wildly and that probably urged on the driver because we went around for another time under the falls. The boat then turned around and headed to shore where we docked and disembarked.
After turning in our life vests and dry bags and getting dressed again, we started the hike up the hill to the top of the park. Along the way we could visit a few waterfalls and see them up close. After reaching the top, it was getting near closing time for the park and we headed toward the exit, again with a long walk. Our driver had not yet arrived at our predetermined time but it was just a short wait and he was there.
We cleaned up at the hotel and then tried to decide on where to eat. We had been so used to the fine dining experiences in Mendoza that we tried to find the closest thing to that in Puerto Iguazú. Some recommendations from locals led us to Aqva Restaurant which turned out to be a very good choice with the wine selection and cuisine.
Sunday came and our driver picked us up for the rest of the Argentine Iguazú National Park. There are primarily three paths in the park to different sets of falls. First was a trip to the largest waterfall Garganta del Diablo to see how it looked from the Argentine side. A train takes you to the waterfall. We stood in line for the train but filled up before we could get on. It is a 1.2km trip to the Garganta station and trains come every 20 minutes. There is a walking path next to the railroad track and after doing some calculations, we decided to make the trek ourselves. We passed the train returning to the first station during our walk and we hoped we could beat it on its return trip. It turned out to be a 25 minute walk to the Garganta station for us and we actually beat the train returning. It’s a good thing too. From the station to the viewing platform of Garganta del Diablo is a footbridge over the river that is an unbelievable 1,100 meter/.7 miles long. People from the train before us were returning from the falls and by the time we got to the magnificent view from the platform, there were not many people there. On our return trip on the footbridge, the train we would have been on had arrived and people were coming which would have made the viewing area more crowded. It was a good choice to make the walk to the falls but there was no way we were walking back!
Next up was the Upper Circuit trail which has the best views for the majority of the falls on the Argentine side. The trail let us walk right at the top of the falls. We then went to the Lower Circuit trail which let us view the last few falls. It had been a long day of walking but it was definitely worth it.
Combining the views from the Argentine side along with what we had seen from the Brazilian side made for an unforgettable experience at Iguazú Falls, one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
For those reading this as an e-mail, please go to the website for a slideshow of photos.