Iguazu Falls are a must see for anyone traveling to South America. Their power and size, combined with the ability for visitors to get up-close and personal from all angles, will leave even the most skeptical of travelers in awe. So often, I hear from clients, “I’ve been to Niagra Falls, so I don’t need to see Iguazu.” Having just returned from Iguazu, and having visited Niagra Falls on two occasions in the past, I can easily say that they just do not compare. In terms of sheer size and an immersive experience, Iguazu Falls is far superior. Keep reading for a thorough guide to Iguazu Falls.
Where is Iguazu Falls?
The Iguazu Falls (known by locals as Cateratas Del Iguazu in Spanish, and Cataratas do Iguaçu in Portuguese) are located along the border between Argentina’s Misiones Provence, and Brazil’s Paraná state on the Iguazu River. They are about 1300 KM (800 miles) north of Buenos Aires, and about 1500km (930 miles) west of Rio de Janeiro. The border between Argentina and Brazil runs directly through the Falls, with about 80% in Argentina and 20% in Brazil. The Falls are also located very close to the border of Paraguay, and the city ‘Ciudad del Este.’
Two Cities: Foz do Iguaçu and Puerto Iguazu
To visit Iguazu Falls, you will stay on either the Brazil side or the Argentine side: Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, or Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. Which city you stay in largely depends on the country you are coming from to keep the process of crossing borders as easy as possible. Both cities have an international airport and offer plenty of options for accommodations and restaurants. Foz do Iguaçu is a larger, more modern city with several tall buildings, while Puerto Iguazu is much smaller, with more of a ‘beach town’ feel. Personally, I prefer the smaller, friendlier Puerto Iguazu in Argentina (but I tend to like towns like this.) There are also many great activities outside of the park in Puerto Iguazu.
To reach both sides of the falls and their respective national parks, you will need to take a bus or transfer from one city to the other.
The Brazilian Side – Foz do Iguaçu
The Brazilian side of the falls will reward you with the best panoramic view of Iguazu in its entirety. The national park has a trail which runs through the jungle and along the cliffside. Once you reach the end, go out on the walkway to the front of the falls for a full front on view. While this does not take you up close, like the Argentine side, the Brazil side impresses with a spectacular panoramic. You will need at least 3 hours to enjoy the Brazilian side of the falls.
The Argentina Side – Puerto Iguazu
I recommend spending at least one full day exploring the Argentine side of the Falls. This is what makes Iguazu unique and sets Iguazu Falls apart from Niagra Falls. In the Argentine national park, you have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the Falls to experience them through all the senses. Once you arrive, you find yourself on the ‘Sendero Verde’ or Green Path through the jungle. On the way, expect to see plenty of native fauna, including Monkeys, Coatis, and exotic birds such as the Tucan sitting right in front of you. Once you reach the ‘Estacion Central’, you have the option of four different circuits, each giving you a different perspective:
#1 The ‘Circuito Inferior’ or Lower Circuit
This walk gives you the opportunity to get as close as possible to the waterfalls and offers the best front-on view of the Falls. Stop at the lookouts along the way to see the river and San Martin Island. Look out for rainbows too! Once you reach the end, you will find ‘Salto Bosetti’ in front of you, an impressive waterfall which, during the higher water months, crashes down onto the path itself! Get up close to feel the spray of the waterfall and hear its power. A fantastic and exhilarating experience!
#2 The ‘Circuito Superior’ or Upper Circuit
This gives you the best view of the Iguazu Falls from above and offers many different lookouts along the way to see over the top and straight down to the rocks below. Take the trail out over the waterfalls to the end towards the middle for the most impressive top view. There are endless photo opportunities along the way!
#3 The ‘Garganta del Diablo’ or Devil’s Throat
This is easily the most impressive of the trails. Take the train from ‘Estacion Central’ out to ‘Estacion Garganta del Diablo’. From here, take the raised path out over the mighty Iguazu River until you reach the overlook at the end. As you approach, you will see the edge of the massive canyon with water disappearing over the edge at an incredible rate. You’ll have to see it to believe it. Perched on the brink of the canyon, you have water rushing underneath you. You’ll have to stop and question ‘how did they make this?’ Look over the edge straight down to see the water crashing onto the rocks below, if you can see through the spray! Selfie inclined? This is the place!
# 4 ‘Isla San Martin’ or San Martin Island
This is the island located in the middle of the Falls. When the water level is low, you can take a boat from the lower circuit across to the island and walk out along the paths for an unobstructed front on view. Water levels were extremely high while I was there, so I didn’t get to do this.
I can also highly recommend the ‘Great Adventure Boatride,’ the speedboat takes you up the river directly towards the waterfalls. This is certainly not for the faint of heart – you go right up nearly underneath the Falls! It will leave you speechless, but be prepared, you’re going to get very wet.
Other Things to do – Guide to Iguazu Falls
Pointe of Three Borders
Visit the Point of Three Borders or ‘Hito de Tres Fronteras’ – the point where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet at the intersection of the Iguazu River and the Paraná River. Standing at the corner of the Argentine side, you can see into Brazil on your right, and over to Paraguay on the left. There is a new monument to the ‘Tres Fronteras’ on the Argentine side with a modern platform complete with fountains, shops and places to sit.
In the late afternoon go to see the sunset over Paraguay, and see the distant twinkling of Ciudad del Este and the bridge from Brazil. The sunset over the falls is a spectacular sight. If you’re a photography guru, this will be an ideal time to capture some photos of the falls.
At 8 pm and 9 pm, a hologram and light show is played amongst the fountains, and is quite spectacular – highlighting customs from all three nations through its colors and pictures. The Tres Fronteras is only a short walk from the town of Puerto Iguazu. Ask your hotel concierge for the best way to get there.
Ferinha the Outdoor Market
For a taste of the classic Argentine custom – the ‘Picada’ – a meat, cheese and olive platter, visit the ‘Ferinha’ located in Puerto Iguazu. Sit outdoors in the shade at one of the many market stalls selling delicious cured meats, cheeses, olives, craft beers as well as other Argentine delicacies, and try an authentic ‘Picada’. The fair is full of Brazilians coming over to enjoy some of the best that Argentina has to offer – I recommend this as an alternative for dinner one night! The Ferinha within walking distance from the center of town, but again, ask your hotel concierge for the best way to get there.
Where to Stay
The 4-star Hotel Esturion Iguazu is located in Puerto Iguazu. This hotel offers a swimming pool, garden, tennis courts, spa, sauna, 2 restaurants, a bar, business center, and 24-hour room service. The guest rooms have cable TV, telephones, safe deposit boxes, air conditioning, minibars, and Wi-Fi Internet access. Guests can relax on the terrace in a comfy hammock.
Located between the town of Puerto Iguazu and the National Park, the Loi Suites is a stunning hotel amongst the jungle. Rooms have a natural, yet comfortable feel, and most have a balcony overlooking the jungle. It also has private access to the Iguazu River and suspended walkways to get there. A truly beautiful and natural hotel.
Sheraton (5 Star)
The only hotel located inside the National Park on the Argentina side – the Sheraton and you cannot beat this location. This is the complete experience. Opt for a room with a view of the Falls to see, smell, and hear the falls from your room. This is certainly an upgrade to heighten the senses.