Niagara Falls on the Canadian-US border may be the most famous waterfall system on the planet, but there are another set of waterfalls that put Niagara to shame. So much so, that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt exclaimed “Poor Niagara!” when she saw them. There is simply no comparison. When you visit Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, you are enveloped by the verdant Atlantic rainforest and over 275 waterfalls (yes, 275). If you need more convincing of their grandeur, know that in 2011, over 100 million people selected them as one of the 7 Wonders of Nature. Oh, I also cried because of how pretty they are (several times)! Find out more about April 2018 in my handy guide below!
Operating Hours: 8 AM – 6 PM, every day
Entrance Fee: 500 Argentine pesos (ARS) cash or credit; see website for applicable discounts
If you don’t have money or time to go both parks, this is easily the side to pick. There is much more to do because 80% of the falls are on this side of the border. The park has four trails that bring you up and close to the falls, and all of which offer different vantage points. The four trails are connected by a train that drives through the flora and fauna of the park.
I started with the “Lower Circuit” which allows you to see many of the falls from the bottom. It was my favorite trail, because there is always something going on. Every few meters you encounter a new, hidden fall. Eventually, you come out of the forest into an overlook where you see the entire waterfall system. You get close enough to one fall to get showered on and see rainbows! You are also likely to see native iguanas running around. There was once a free powerboat that would take visitors to St. Martin Island (in the middle of the gorge), but access to that dock is now off-limits because of recent flooding. This trail takes about 60-90 minutes.
On my next stop, I visited the “Upper Circuit”, where you see the falls from above. The trail actually goes over the river that feeds the waterfall. At many points, you can stand right on the edge of the cliffs and see the water cascade below. Since you are on higher ground, this trail gives you a better sense of how the islands, rivers, and waterfalls are laid out. While the sound of the river flowing beneath you is peaceful, this trail can get a bit boring at times compared to its predecessor. Also, do expect this trail to be more crowded, especially around midday. This trail takes about 60-75 minutes.
I hopped on the train and rode it out to “Devil’s Throat”. Here you will get up close with the largest and strongest of all the falls. To get there, you will walk down what feels like an endless pathway (more than half a mile) over the river basin. Once you reach the end you will be enveloped by mist and water! There’s no avoiding getting wet, so make sure you bring water-appropriate clothing. Here you will get to see the Brazilian side of the falls as well. This trail takes about 60-75 minutes.
The final trail, “Macuco”, is much less visited, which means you will feel even more immersed in nature there. However, it takes anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, so only go if you really want to and have the time. In its place, I did “Gran Aventura”. For an additional 1200 ARS, I purchased tickets to a combo jungle safari and speedboat ride. 40 minutes (roundtrip) on the buggy with a guide that tells you about the flora and fauna, plus 40 minutes on a speedboat that goes into two of the waterfalls! Don’t worry about personal belongings as they equip you with a waterproof bag and let you know when it is safe to take out cameras. This takes about 2 hours.
Overall, one full day, from open to close sufficed for me to see it. The park recommends two days (probably to get more money). But if you are going in large groups or with children, an additional day might, in fact, be needed. If you do plan on coming back a second day, before exiting the park on Day 1, get your ticket stamped and you will be able to come back the next day for half-off. Coming back could be particularly nice for couples, as the park offers nocturnal dinners and trips during full moons, which are usually at the end of the month.
Operating Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM, every day
Est. Duration: 4 hours (just the main trail)
Entrance Fee: 62 Brazilian reais (BRL) cash or credit; see website for applicable discounts
I was unable to see the Brazilian falls because I had limited time and wanted to see some other attractions, but if you can go, definitely do it. The Brazilian side offers you a vantage point which while according to locals is less exciting is still different. While you are above “Devil’s Throat” on the Argentinian side, the Brazilian side offers a better, fuller view of the main waterfall since its overlook is below the falls.
Besides walking along the falls, you can also walk two trails that go through the jungle: the “Black Well Trail” and the “Bananeiras Trail”. The latter sounds like the most interesting since it takes you along lagoons and eventually leads out to the top of the river, where you can pay for a peaceful boat ride on the headwaters of the falls. This later trail takes 2 to 2.5 hours.
The Brazilian park offers two special excursions: the “Macuco Safari” and a helicopter ride with Helisul. The safari can be done as just the buggy trip or the buggy plus a speedboat trip through the waterfalls. In my opinion, do “Gran Aventura” in Argentina instead as Macuco is 323 BRL (nearly double the price of Argentina’s) and offers the same experience. It appears that for pricing on the helicopter ride you must contact the company directly, but some have quoted it around 300 American dollars (USD). If you choose to do it just know that you are paying that much for only a 10-minute ride.
A cool, and more affordable luxury the Brazilian park has which the Argentine one does not is a restaurant right on the edge of the falls. I am unsure of how wind and being so close to the water affects the dining experience, but it is definitely worth a check! Do be warned that there are monkeys and raccoons roaming the trails and dining areas of both parks. They are not dangerous if not bothered, but they will try taking your food if left unattended. They almost took my sandwich!
Tips on Getting There
- Citizens of Australia, Canada, the European Union, South Africa, the United States, and most Latin-American countries can enter Argentina visa-free. Americans and Australians will need visas to enter Brazil.
- Cataratas International Airport (Argentina) and Foz do Iguacu International Airport (Brazil) are within 10 minutes of each national park.
- If you are traveling from within Argentina or Brazil, you can find several bus lines into the region, but the price is not significantly cheaper than flying.
- Be warned: The Brazilian airport has NO WiFi. I am unsure about the other.
Tips on Where To Stay
- Don’t book any of the hotels with views of the waterfalls. They are insanely overpriced.
- You can rent an Airbnb in either of the two cities’ centers for as cheap as $10-$15 a night and the places are genuinely well-kept. Being in the center gives you more bar, club, market and restaurant options.
- In Argentina, stay on/near Av. Victoria Aguirre or Av. Misiones. In Brazil, stay on/near Av. das Cataratas or Av. Juscelino Kubitscheck.
Tips on Getting Around
- Uber is not available in Puerto Iguazu and is fairly new in Foz do Iguacu.
- Taxis will upcharge if they recognize you as a tourist – which they will because no amount of practice will mask your accent.
- Local buses are cheaper than taxis and are reliable, running every 15 – 30 minutes starting at 7 AM. Simply know the following:
- The local Brazilian bus is green. The 120 line runs to the airport, national park, and city center. The fare is 3.55 BRL.
- The local Argentine bus is red and says Rio Uruguay on the side. The bus also goes to Brazil, so ask the driver before boarding. The fare to the falls is 20 BRL or 85 ARS.
- Itaipu bus is a white and blue bus. It makes trips between all both countries and will display the destination on the windshield. Simply flag it down when it is approaching your stop. The fare is 5 BRL or 25 ARS.
Tips on Crossing the Border
- Make sure to exchange money before crossing the border.
- Bring your passport and visa anytime you plan on crossing the border.
- You will need to get off your bus at Argentine Immigration & Customs any time you enter or exit the country. The process takes 5 minutes and the bus will wait outside for you.
- When taking the Itaipu bus into Argentina, you will need to transfer to the local red bus to go to the national park. Otherwise, the bus will take you into the city’s downtown. The transfer stop looks like this, but ask your driver just to be sure.
Taking in the beauty of the falls requires at least two days – one on each side of the falls. But, while the falls are the region’s crowning gem, there is so much more to take advantage of during your visit. The nearby cities of Puerto Iguazu, Argentina; Foz do Iguacu, Brazil; and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay are replete with cultural and tourist attractions. Make the most out of your days (and money) while you visit the falls by checking out these other 10 spots.
For a full photo album with all my pictures, go here.