Craig and Linda Martin are world-travelling Kiwis, blogging and podcasting at the award-winning Indie Travel Podcasts. ...Find out more!
The Iguazu Falls (also variously spelled Iguacu, Iguaçu and Iguassu) are one of the world's most impressive waterfalls. Located near the triple border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay in South America, they can be seen from two countries: Argentina and Brazil. Most tourists visit both sides, but this sometimes isn't possible due to visa or time restraints.
I've been to both sides twice, and I think both sides offer a different experience of the falls. The entrance fee is similar (around US$23), and both sides have boat trips and other optional extras available.
Last year, we visited the Brazilian side first, which is probably the best option. There's less to do on this side, with just the one path running alongside the river, but the views are spectacular. It's a full panorama of waterfall, with the Devil's Throat section off to the left and smaller falls stretching away to the right.
When you arrive you walk through an interesting information display with facts about the falls; this leads you to a bus stop where you can wait for the bus to take you along the road through the national park to the falls. Last year, that's exactly what we did, catching the bus to the last stop. We then proceeded to get drenched at the bottom of the Devil's Throat then walk back along the riverside path to the first bus stop opposite the pink hotel. This year, we joined a guided tour with Urban Adventures, who are allowed to bring their own vehicles into the park.
Our guide Clarice dropped us at the entrance, where we bought our tickets and walked through the museum section to the park road, where she was waiting for us. She then dropped us at the first stop and let us wander along the path for a few minutes before meeting up with us later on to tell us about the falls and walk with us the rest of the way. Being Brazilian, she was naturally biased towards the Brazilian side, though she agrees that the Argentinean side is worth a visit too.
The experience on the Argentinean side is quite different. I found it a lot more touristy; there was more to do, certainly, but also a lot more people there to do it. On arrival, you take a walk along a forest track until you arrive at Estación Cataratas (Waterfall Station), where you stand in line to wait for a train to take you to the waterfalls. You can also walk if you like - last year we caught the train there but walked back on the path alongside the train track. This year, with Urban Adventures again, we caught the train both ways.
Once you get off the train, you'll see signs for the Devil's Throat Walkway, a wooden boardwalk that takes you over the upper part of the river and opens out into a platform above the Devil's Throat, the most impressive part of the Igauzu Falls. The platform was packed both times we went, but at least it was open ... It closed for repairs for a short period this year after being damaged by flooding, and only reopened again three days before our visit. On the Argentinean side, you're at the top of this section of the falls, out over it in fact. In contrast, the walkway on the Brazilian side takes you over the river at the bottom - an altogether wetter experience!
After walking back along the walkway, we caught the train back to Estación Cataratas, from where you can walk the Upper and Lower Trails. As the names imply, the Upper Trail is higher up and gives you views of some of the smaller falls from above, while the lower trail allows you to get up close and personal with these same falls lower down. This year, we visited the Argentinean side first, and when we went to the Brazilian side I recognised some of these smaller falls, many of which are named after people. It was cool to see from a distance what I'd seen close up the day before.
This year we chose to do a boat trip on the Argentinean side, something similar is available on the other side of the river. Our boat trip was followed by a jeep ride through the national park, with a guide telling us about the flora and fauna of the area. Last year, we also headed into the jungle along the Macuco trail, where we saw monkeys and a variety of birds. This year, no monkeys were to be seen on the Argentinean side, though we did spot some in Brazil.
So, Argentina or Brazil? Well, if you want more options for things to do then Argentina. If you want panoramic views, Brazil. If you want to ride a train, Argentina. If you prefer buses, Brazil. If you really can only visit one side, you'll have an awesome experience on either, with various viewpoints and a chance to get up close and personal. But really, if it's at all possible, you should visit both sides of the Iguazu Falls.