Iguazu Falls – Argentina? Brazil? – or almost Paraguay

Tuesday, 14 November 2023

▲ Iguazu Falls from Brazil – yes they’re wonderful. If you want to compare the Iguazu Falls with Niagara Falls (Canada-USA) or the Victoria Falls (Zambia-Zimbabwe) the Iguaza Falls National Park website has all the comparison figures. I’d also throw the Murchison Falls in Uganda into the mix, I went there in 2022. This trip I went to the Iguazu Falls on both sides – Brazil has the best views, you look across at the falls, but if you want to get up close and personal to the falls then go to the Argentinian side.

My South American travel started with a visit to Buenos Aires, then a ferry across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay. After a spell in Uruguay – Colonia and Fray Bentos followed by Montevideo and the Uruguayan beach strip – I continued to Asunción in Paraguay.

Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina converge just a few km from the Iguazu Falls so I departed Asunción on a bus to the border town of Ciudad del Este. It’s a 330km trip and there was no way it was going to take less than four hours, as the bus timetable suggested, 5-1/2 hours was much more like it. It took about an hour to finally get out of the outer suburbs of Asunción, they just go on and on. Once we got moving periodically the sign at the front flashed up the message that we have an ‘Exceso de Velocidad 98 km/h’.

So how do I get from Ciudad del Este to the Hotel das Cataratas, on the Brazilian side of the falls where I will be staying? A bus from Ciudad del Este across the Friendship Bridge to Foz do Iguazu in Brazil and a taxi from there seems to be the go. I’ve got some more confusion if we’re actually at the right Ciudad del Este bus station, some people don’t seem to be getting off, but it’s all OK and outside (thanks to an English-speaking taxi translator) I get a taxi straight through to the hotel. Except we then get to the bridge entry and find the bridge totally locked down. The bridge traffic is reputed to always be bad, but the driver seems to be gesticulating that there has been some sort of accident. I walk along the queue trying to find out what’s happening and then pay the driver off and set off for Brazil on foot.

▲ crossing the bridge, Ciudad del Este to Foz do Iguazu – it’s not far across the bridge – although it’s hot – and I never see Paraguayan immigration for departure although I do sort out Brazilian immigration for my arrival. This border corner – Paraguay-Brazil-Argentina – seems to ignore border rules for short term visitors to the falls, but I need my passport stamped for going further, ie for exiting Brazil. After which I found another taxi – a Brazilian one – for the ride to the hotel.

So off we went, but still not all the way to the hotel, I was dropped at the park entrance from where a Hotel das Cataratas minibus departs every 20 minutes and one, full, was about to go as soon as I arrived! Slowly, there are interminable 30 and 40kph speed limits and the driver obeyed them. The drivers tote a little GPS tracking device for each trip and any speeding infringement is jumped on.

◄ Barbie would have felt right at home. The Barbie-pink Hotel das Cataratas also features a Barbie-pink VW Kombi, it would be the perfect vehicle to arrive with and a perfect match for the hippie-blue VW Kombi parked outside the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport in New York City, where I would stay a week later.

The Hotel das Cataratas is part of the Belmond (formerly Orient Express) empire and apart from being a wonderfully luxurious hotel it has the undoubted advantage of being inside the national park on the Brazilian side. So you can have a look at the falls before the crowds start to arrive at 9 am or hang around after they have to leave at 6 pm. The equivalent hotel on the Argentinian side of the falls is the Gran Melia Iguazu, clearly visible just a few hundred metres away, but 41km (25 miles) if you want to get there by road.

▲ Elevator for Garganta do Diablo, Salto Santa Maria, Iguazu Falls, Brazil – the big difference between the Iguazu Falls and those international competitors – Niagara and Victoria – is that there are so many separate falls at Iguazu, 275 of them. Starting with the Devil’s Throat – Garganta do Diabo on the Brazilian side, Garganta del Diablo on the Argentinian side – from my Brazil side hotel you can walk to it along the riverside walking trails or go along the road and take the elevator which drops you right down to the river beside the Santa Maria Falls. With a rainbow if you’re lucky. Along the way I’ve seen lots of little lizards and a few really big, impressively big, ones. Plus some coati, the raccoon related most-common-mammal of the park.

▲ Salto Santa Maria, Iguazu Falls from Brazil – then you can take the walkway which leads out towards the bottom of the Devil’s Throat, but if you want to get right to the edge of the throat and look down you do that from the Argentinian side.

▲ Paseo Inferior, Iguazu Falls, Argentina – I depart my Brazil-side hotel at 730am and head to Argentina – 20km downriver, cross the bridge (passport stamped out of Brazil, passport stamped into Argentina) and then 20km upriver. Then I start walking and after an hour or so I’m looking right across the river and the falls to my hotel, it felt like a stone’s throw away, with binoculars I could have checked my room. There are two walking routes on the Argentinian side, I start on the lower altitude, closer-to-the-river level Paseo Inferior and having completed the 2.9km loop climb up to the slightly shorter 1.8km Paseo Superior …

▲ Iguazu Falls, Argentine side … which looks at all those falls from higher up. They are spectacularly beautiful.

▲ Cataratas-Garganta train, Iguazu Falls, Argentina – from the park entrance it’s a short walk or train ride to the Cataratas Station from where the two walks – Inferior and Superior – start. Having completed the circuits I’m back at the Cataratas Station again from where a longer train ride – 2.3km – goes to the Gargantua del Diablo – Devil’s Throat – train station. From that station a km-long metal pathway runs right out to the point where you can look down through the chaos to his tonsils.

▲ Garganta del Diablo, Iguazu Falls, Argentina – it is indeed very spectacular and there are indeed a big crush of selfie-takers there to celebrate the site. It’s no distance from the Argentinian side of the throat to the less spectacular Brazilian side, where I was yesterday afternoon. From the walkway you can see some very big catfish and turtles, are those endangered William’s South American side-necked turtles?