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May 14th, 2015

Legend of the Falls by Martin Symington

Martin Symington, featured in Wanderlust Magazine, heads to the Iguazú Falls where three countries collide, so if you’ve got a week you can explore Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in a single trip for a real South American adventure…

All year round, planeloads of tourists descend on South America’s number one ‘must see’ natural wonder. The falls span the River Iguazú, which forms a border between Argentina and Brazil (where it is known, in Portuguese, as the Iguaçu). Most visitors check them out from both sides in a camera-clicking whirlwind. They revel in blasts of elemental high drama, often including a bouncing rib ride up a gorge for a drenching in writhing coils of spray at the falls’ feet. They spend a couple of nights at a hotel in one country or the other, then fly out. With a week to play with, my plan was to discover what other marvels this region holds. Remember that 1986 film The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro? Shot in and around Iguazú, it shows off the scenery to extravagant effect, enriched by Ennio Morricone’s haunting score. What happened to the great Jesuit missions destroyed in this era? How much of the rainforest remains? And how about Paraguay, which slots into the jigsaw at a triple border with Brazil and Argentina, where the Iguazú gushes into the River Paraná.

My first glimpse was from the Brazilian side where I was lucky enough to be staying at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, a Portuguese colonial mansion within sight – and rumbling sound – of the falls. It is the only hotel within Brazil’s Parque National Iguaçu, which means that outside the 9am – 5pm park opening hours, guests have exclusive access to the clifftop viewing platforms and forested pathways. In early-morning solitude I chose a spot to relish the grandeur of the falls in the company of an inquisitive coati – a tame and cute-looking (but actually rather vicious) South America racoon – before breakfasting on fresh papaya and coffee so strong it made my head buzz.

Brazil and Argentina are rivals over everything from football to beef steaks to the depths of their national debts. When it comes to panoramas of the falls, the former scores with its walkways and viewing platforms. But Argentina gets an equaliser by allowing you up and close personal. Certainly, the Argentine side is a touch Disneyesque, with its little train from the visitor centre, but it is the place to get roaringly near and soaked – as I did crawling to the edge of the Garganta del Diablo.

Full article by Martin Symington featured in Wanderlust Magazine May 2015.

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