Welcome to one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Iguazu Waterfalls (Cataratus Iguazu), the largest waterfall in the world. The falls are located in northern Argentina on the border with Brazil, and every 30 minutes buses make the short trip across the border to see the site. The Brazil view is an overview perspective, while the Argentinian view provides an up-close, feel-the-spray-of-the-falls perspective.
Right now is South America’s summer and a great time to escape the cold of the Northern Hemisphere. So exchange that wool sweater for shorts and flip-flops and off we go.
It’s possible to get there from Buenos Aires by bus, plane or private car. Bus is the most economical, but it’s about a 17-hour ride. Plane tickets cost $350 to $550, but flying into Iguazu gives you more time to explore the town and the falls.
Puerto Iguazu is the town associated with the falls. Places to stay here range from the upscale Sheraton (which is actually inside the park) to budget hostels. Many of the hotels are located on Highway 12 (the road to Iguazu Falls). This is about a 10-minute bus ride into town and about a 25-minute ride to the falls. I suggest a hostel in Puerto Iguazu, which makes it easier to eat and shop.
Finding food is easy in Puerto Iguazu, with choices from fast-food stands to elegant restaurants. Nothing is cheap, but everything is delicious. If you see a restaurant that looks appealing, go for it. The town is small and safe. Walk around, shop the souvenir stores, get ice cream and simply enjoy the area.
You don’t need a tour company to book your trip to Iguazu Falls. This saves money, and it’s easy to get to the falls on your own. You get on the bus, arrive, get off the bus, buy a ticket. The falls are divided into three main areas: Garganta Diablo (the big one — use the train at the park to get there), Upper Falls and Lower Falls.
Since I love to fish, I wanted to fish the Rio Perana. I found a tour company called Hunt and Fish Safaris in Argentina, run by Susana Mendoza, who speaks English and is familiar with what is available in the area. My guide was excellent. Even though he didn’t speak English, we did just fine. More importantly, we caught fish.
In 1696 the Jesuit Mission San Ignacio was founded, and some of its impressive rock structures remain. Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons starred in the 1986 movie about the founding of the mission, aptly named “The Mission.”
A different adventure is a trip to the Wanda Geode Mines. Accompanied by a guide, you explore the mines, which contain acres of sapphire geodes. A shop (of course) is located on the property to sell you jewelry made there in the factory.
The summer months — December, January and February — are high season, and the crowds are tremendous. I went in July. There were still a lot of people there, but the lines were short. The weather was in the 70s — perfect.
While you’re there, look for coati, fun little animals (similar to the raccoon) who love to steal your food. They hang out by the train and provide an infinite amount of free entertainment.
The park opens at 8 a.m, and tour groups begin arriving around 9. The best idea is to plan to arrive before they do or leave when they have gone. Most groups are gone by noon, but the park stays open until 6 p.m. Plan on spending about six hours at the park. There really is that much to see.
The narrow-gauge train is part of the cost of admission ($22). It goes to Garganta Diablo (Big Devil), the largest of the waterfalls. Do not miss this! Only cash is accepted, so make sure you arrive with plenty in hand. They will tell you there is an ATM, but it rarely has money. As I was standing in line to get tickets I saw that the three young men in front of me had no cash, and neither did the ATM. They had to catch the bus back to Puerto Iguazu to get money and then return sometime later.
If you plan to spend two days at the falls, have your ticket stamped before you leave the park the first day. This will entitle you to a 50 percent discount on the second day.
Either bring a rain poncho or plan to buy an inexpensive one at the park because it’s for sure you’ll get wet. There are several activities, such as the boat that goes under one of the falls, where even a poncho won’t help keep you dry.
To the right of the park entrance is a history of the park presented in easy-to-follow panels. It’s well worth 30 minutes of your time to learn about the flora and fauna, the indigenous peoples and the magnitude of the forest.
I’ve never encountered anything with the majesty and beauty of these falls. I agree with Eleanor Roosevelt, who said when she saw Iguazu Falls, “Poor Niagara!”
WHEN YOU GO
For more information, visit www.iguazuargentina.com/en.