Iguazu Falls is one of those out-of-the-way-yet-must-see attractions on the itinerary of most visitors to Argentina. These are massive waterfalls, dwarfing the likes of Niagara Falls and hence, every waterfall we've seen so far on our journeys. The Parque Nacional Iguazu exhibits characteristics of a North American theme park with extensive catwalks, trails, rides, a train and even an expensive resort within its borders. It also has the crowds to match.
People recommended that we come either first-thing in the morning or late afternoon. We ignored this advice and ended up on a bus to the park just after 8.30 am. Our hostel advised us to book the Great Adventure experience with Iguazu Jungle. We arrived with time to spare and took a nature walk along the Green Trail, which begins near the Central Train Station. Perched at the very top of a tree near the end was a Tucan! We were very excited to see one in the wild, but that was the last special bird we saw all day.
The Great Adventure starts with an open-air vehicle ride along the eight kilometre Yacaratia trail. It's supposed to provide visitors a glimpse of the flora and fauna in the park, but we thought it was a complete waste of money. The vehicles are big and noisy and the guides speak to everyone through a speaker system and microphone. No wonder we didn't see any wildlife as we sped through the jungle.
At the end of the ride we were led to a waiting speedboat, which took us through the Lower Iguazu River to reach the Devil's Throat Canyon. It was fantastic to see the falls for the first time from the water. The boat went right up to the falls around San Martin Island and allowed us time for photos before zipping right up to the face of them and drenching us with water. We were all sufficiently soaked through but the boat had one more plunge for us, placing us right underneath the second largest falls in the park. It was mayhem on the boat with people laughing, screaming and enjoying the shower. We spent the rest of the day drying out but this boat trip is highly recommended and can be done on its own, without the vehicle trip.
Our next stop was the platforms and catwalks of what is known as the Upper Circuit, offering views of several waterfalls from the Upper Iguazu River. This was probably the most crowded place in the park with hundreds of people battling for space. Thankfully the falls are loud enough to drown out everyone's voices and the hordes didn't really spoil it too much. Finally, we made our way to the Cataratas Station to take a train to the biggest and most powerful falls in the park: Devil's Throat.
If we could have our time in the park again we would visit this first and then take the boat trip. The catwalk to get to the viewing point is long and the platform allows visitors to stand right on top of the falls where the spray drenches everything in sight. We spent less time here than we would have liked because we had finally dried off after the boat trip. We were also disappointed to learn that the Macuco Walking Trail, which takes about three hours return to complete, closes at 3 pm. This is one of the major wildlife viewing opportunities in the park, along with San Martin Island, which can only be reached by boat (no additional charge) but is sometimes closed because of a high river level as it was on the day we visited. But despite these regrets, we still had a great day at the park and were really impressed with the waterfalls. It was definitely worth the long journey to get to them.
Getting there: Bus services run from the Puerto Iguazu terminal every twenty to thirty minutes from 7.30 am to 8 pm. The park is open from 8 am-6 pm. Regular flights to Puerto Iguazu from Buenos Aires are available and take about an hour and 45 minutes. Buses are also available but compare prices because it is a very long ride. Park entry is AR$100; tickets must be first purchased from the cashier on the right-hand side of the entry gates so be sure to stand in the correct line when you arrive. You must then move to the line at the left where tickets are collected. Be sure to get your ticket stamped on the way out to receive half-price admission on the second day. The Nautical Adventure boat trip we recommend is an additional AR$110.
- Bring a change of clothes in a dry bag and a rain poncho if you don't want to get too wet from the spray (though we saw many people wearing these and they looked pretty soaked through anyway).
- Bring your own lunch - the food in the park isn't brilliant (heat your own empanadas...enough said). But beware of coatis, which have long snouts, racoon tails and behave like bandits, arriving in packs anywhere people have food. They were more of a nuisance than aggressive and could be shooed away by clapping and yelling, but we saw a large group of them descend on two girls eating lunch on a bench. They have sharp teeth so petting them as we saw a few people doing is probably not advisable.
- Arrive when the park opens (get the first bus from town at 7.30 am) and see things in this order: Macuco Walking Trail (wear mosquito repellant); train from Central Station to Devil's Throat; Devil's Throat Circuit; train to Cataratas Station; Nautical Adventure via Lower Circuit; Upper Circuit; San Martin Island; Green Trail; and Visitor's Centre.
- Skip the Great Adventure - the wilderness tour is really not worth the extra money. Try the Nautical Adventure or Ecological Ride instead.
Where are your favourite waterfalls?