Poor Niagra! Visiting Iguazu Falls

Posted by on April 1st, 2013

When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Iguzau Falls she is reputed to have exclaimed “Poor Niagara!” and it’s easy to see why. Gravity and immense quantities of water are always irresistible allies, but at the Iguazu River on the Brazilian and Argentine border they achieve a sublime chemistry which is unrivalled anywhere on the planet.

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Although they don’t contain quite as large a curtain of water as the Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border, the Iguazu Falls are widely considered to be the most impressive in the world.

I’ve been to both Victoria and Niagara, and I wholeheartedly agree with this assignation. What makes Iguazu so special is the way it combines raw power with intricate beauty. The falls can be accessed from both Brazil and Argentina, and although the Argentine side is the more impressive of the two, I’d recommend going to the Brazilian side as well as it affords an overview of the falls in their entirety which is missing on the Argentine side.

When it comes to raw power, it’s all about La Garganta del Diablo (‘Devil’s Throat’), a narrow chasm which channels more than half of the river’s flow. Standing above it on the platform on the Argentine side is an awe-inspiring experience, but in true laid-back South American style this is not where the excitement ends: not only is it possible, for a fee, to approach the bottom of the garganta in an inflatable dinghy but – when I visited at least – park officials had no objection to me swimming in the river just below the falls!

Iguazu is not all about power. The fact that the falls are broken up into many smaller cascades and rivulets makes them especially picturesque. The subtropical artist’s palette only adds to this image: white white water flows between green green foliage which is set against the bluest blue skyline. This fairytale aspect of the falls is best appreciated from the Brazilian side, as the viewpoints are further from the falls and a bit more elevated than those on the Argentine side.

One thing which is the same on both sides is the moist microclimate created by the permanent mist which rises from the falls. Impatiens grow like weeds, lending dashes of pink and purple to the collage, while ubiquitous butterflies add yellow and orange. Just walking the paths of the reserves is a pleasant diversion.

The towns of Puerto Iguazu (Argentina) and Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil) are not destinations in their own right (although the sleepy slowness of Puerto Iguazu is addictive and the beer gardens of Foz are fun) and it is for this reason that all of the hotels Vaya Adventures recommends are either in the national parks with views of the falls (one on each side) or – if you’re after something different – a jungle eco lodge 7km from Puerto Iguazu.

Most people who visit this part of the world see the falls and nothing else, but there are two other (very different) attractions worth mentioning. The Jesuit Missions of San Ignacio Mini and Santa Ana are a 3-hour drive from Puerto Iguazu and as such are best visited as an overnight detour. The enormous Itaipu Dam, on the other hand, is easily accessed from Foz and for those interested in engineering it is a feat well worth marvelling at.

NB: US Citizens require a visa for Brazil, even if they’re just visiting for the day. The cost of the visa is upwards of $140. I’d say it’s worth every cent, but the choice is yours.

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