The waterfalls of Iguaçu have been credited with all kinds of superlatives: the best, the highest, the largest, the most spectacular, the deepest, the most impressive. They create expectations and because my partner Coen and I like to get what we expect, we have no problem waiting two days for the weather to clear before we buy our ticket, walk through the gate, and step on the bus that will drive us to the catwalks. What I don’t know yet is that I am going to get even more than ‘just’ those superlatives.
Iguaçu Falls comprise 257 tiered waterfalls surrounded by subtropical rainforest, and are spread out over three kilometers in the Iguaçu River before plunging into the Paraná River. I do wonder how anybody came up with that number of 257; the falls are one impressive mass of water, which must also have been the image the Guaraní had. These indigenous people named the site Iguaçu, meaning ‘great water.’
In Your Bucket Because…
- You like to tick off UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Iguaçu National Park is on that list (1986).
- You hope to see a giant otter and giant anteater, and both still live in this park.
- It is indeed one of South America’s, if not the world’s, most spectacular landscapes.
- Good for families and anybody who likes nature and/or hiking.
Iguaçu Falls in Brazil or Iguazu Falls in Argentina?
Like Niagara Falls in North America and Victoria Falls in Africa, the falls border two countries: Argentina and Brazil. They can be visited in both countries, each having a national park around the water mass. After having visited both sides I would say there is not one ‘best’ side. The general argument, with which I agree, is that the panoramic view of the Brazil falls invokes a feeling of being overwhelmed by the size of the waterfalls, while in Argentina you’ll have more angles from which to view the cataracts, some in close up. I would suggest, if time permits, visiting both sides and allowing a full day on either side to do the waterfalls justice.
Photos and Emotions
Double-decker buses constantly ply between the entrance and the visitors’ center / food & beverage plaza at the far end, following a 1200-meter long catwalk, called “Trilha das Cataratas.” Since we want to see it all we get off at the first stop and our expectations come true and those superlatives aren’t exaggerated at all; the falls are fantastic, overwhelming and stunning at the same time.
It’s one of those places where I conclude that photos of nature hardly ever do justice to a place, no matter how many you take (Coen took 200). In the end they are just that: images of waterfalls. They can’t convey my emotions: feeling the force of nature, hearing the deafening noise of roaring water, getting soaked due to the billowing mist, realizing that no matter where I look around me, there is water.
A 360-degree Rainbow
At the end of the catwalk is a side catwalk reaching out to the middle of the river. It brings me to the Garganta do Diablo: Devil’s Throat. From this horseshoe cliff, 15 waterfalls come crashing down at an amazing speed, creating a continuous sound of thunder and with a drop of 90 meters, this is Iguaçu’s highest waterfall. Make sure to bring waterproofs and protection for your camera, as the mist of the falls is sure to soak everything.
We didn’t bring those waterproofs and thus had a problem with the camera. As Coen stayed on the main catwalk I walked as far as possible, and indeed got soaking wet. I didn’t mind. As I moved closer I saw more and more rainbows in the clouds of spray and then I blinked: Was this really what I thought I was seeing? A 360-degree rainbow circle hung right in front of the waterfalls; no beginning nor end. It was the most unusual, extraordinary thing I have seen in my life.
I called Coen to come and share this with me, but waterfalls are not only beautiful to watch but also deafening – he didn’t hear me. The image stayed for a minute or so and with a new ray of sun dissolved in the air. Indeed, some things can’t be captured on camera – and don’t need to. I can assure you that this image will remain etched into my mind forever.
- The nearby town of Foz do Iguaçu has an extensive tourist infrastructure with restaurants and hotels for each type of traveler and budget. There is a campsite across from Iguaçu National Park.
- Information about excursions, entrance fees, opening hours and such is available at all hotels and information points at the airport, bus station and downtown at Rua Baro do Rio Branco.
- The town is connected by plane with all major cities in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
- Early morning is arguably the best time to photograph the Brazilian waterfalls – contrary to the Argentinean falls, where late afternoon provides the best light.
- How many waterfalls you get to see depends on the time of year. During the Brazilian summer, from December to March, the water level is at its highest and the falls give their best performance. However, it is also the hottest and most humid season. The climate is more agreeable during the Brazilian winter, July and August, but this may result in the falls having little water. Some will argue that the months in between, May and September, are therefore the best – not too humid, not too hot.
- Activities in the park include hikes, a boat trip, a helicopter flight and rappelling.
Photos by Coen Wubbels