An Insider’s Guide to Iguazú Falls
No matter how high your expectations, when the calm waters of Rio Iguazú erupt into a torrid rush of white water as the river quite literally drops off a cliff in front of your eyes, even the most world-weary of travellers can only stand and stare. The mesmerising natural wonder – which can't be properly called a waterfall, consisting as it does of up to 300 separate cataracts depending on water levels – is as spectacular as it is immense, and its spellbinding beauty is taken up a notch yet further by a dreamlike subtropical setting complete with lively wildlife and omnipresent rainbows. So there's no doubt that it's a must-see, but how, when and where should you visit? Senior Travel Consultant Hannah Donaldson offers her advice.
When to go
Iguazú Falls is well worth a visit at any time of year. Being subtropical, the climate is usually hot and humid, though it is cooler in our summer months, particularly July and August. The water level does tend to be lower in our summer months too, so if you have the luxury of visiting the falls at any time I’d suggest going in April or May when the falls are still nice and full from the November-March rains but the weather is usually warm and sunny, and the water in the falls themselves is clear and white. Between December and March is when Iguazú Falls will be fullest, so this is another particularly impressive time to visit, but the downside is that the weather can be wet and the water can appear a little muddy.
How long to stay
Iguazú Falls straddles the border of Argentina and Brazil, and each side offers something different (see ‘visiting the falls’ section below) – a visit would really not be complete without seeing both of them. Ideally I would suggest staying for three nights, giving you two full days to explore both sides of the falls as well as some time for relaxation in the area. If you are short on time though you can visit both sides with just a two-night stay – any less than that and you will almost certainly regret it.
Where to stay
If you are looking to splash out on accommodation, Iguazú is a very good place to do it. There are two hotels which overlook the falls, the Sheraton on the Argentinean side and Das Cataratas, part of Belmond, on the Brazilian side. These are both first class hotels and give you the luxury of being able to explore the falls straight from your hotel, including at times when they are closed to the public.
Away from the national parks, I feel the Argentinean side offers the best accommodation. The Loi Suites is an excellent first class option, the Panoramic a good superior and Jardin de Iguazú is a very comfortable mid-range hotel.
Visiting the falls
If you are staying at the Sheraton or Das Cataratas you are able to step straight out of the hotel and onto the walkways of the national park. If not then we can provide a driver and guide to take you to the entrance of the falls and give you a brief introduction at the visitors centre, and from there you can begin exploring at your own pace.
The Brazilian side arguably has the more spectacular views, but there is more to discover on the Argentinean side, which has a network of paths above, around and below the different cascades: you can easily spend an entire day exploring. There is also a little gas-powered train to take you to the upper walkways, where the trail leads to the ‘Garganta del Diablo’ or Devil’s Throat – the most dramatic part of the falls. On this side of the falls the view of the Devil's Throat is from above: an almighty rush of water thunders down to earth beneath your feet.
On the Brazilian side, the walkways offer a series of very impressive panoramic views, culminating in a close-up view of the Devil’s Throat, this time from below. The route is shorter than in the Argentinean park: you’ll probably need two or three hours to see everything.
The border crossing between the two sides is very easily managed and the journey between the two sides will only take around 45 minutes including border formalities.
Both sides offer boat trips to the base of the falls which are great fun but not for the faint-hearted – be prepared to get very wet!
The falls are the highlight but if you do have extra time the surrounding area is certainly worth exploring. The Itaipu Dam on the Paraná river is the largest power station in the world and is worth just going for a glimpse even if you don’t want to have the ‘technical’ tour. The ruined Jesuit mission of San Ignacio Miní can also be visited on a day trip from Iguazú. Founded in 1610, San Ignacio Miní was one of the most prosperous Jesuit missions and makes for a fascinating visit.
Wildlife is of course another big attraction of the area, and I would recommend a couple of nearby jungle lodges where you can experience the natural beauty of the area to the full. One is Posada Puerto Bemberg, which is surrounded by Atlantic forest and is fantastic for bird watching. Further afield (about a 2-hour drive) is Yacutinga Lodge, where you have the chance of spotting iguanas, coatis, deer and opossums as well as many different varieties of birds. If you are keen on wildlife then you may also want to consider linking your trip to Iguazú with a stay in the Iberá wetlands, an unspoilt marshland area quite similar to the Pantanal of Brazil where the abundant wildlife is easily spotted.
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Ben Line - Travel Consultant
Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.
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Jamie backpacked across Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil before joining us; he has a degree in politics and is also a keen sportsman..
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Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.
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Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our Sales team.
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After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.