It is a brand new year and many of us are looking for unique destinations to visit. One of my favourite places is also one of the world’s best-kept secrets, Iguaçu Falls, on the border of Argentina, Paraguay. Many people do not realize this nearly 3 km long waterfall is the largest in the world, and at twice the height of Niagara, is also one of the tallest.
A good way to see Iguaçu is by combining it with Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city in Brazil (next to São Paulo). The city is amazing, and the biggest decision is where to stay. I chose Ipanema beach, as I thought it was prettier than Copacabana or Leblon, the other two beaches of Rio.
One of the most amazing sights in Rio is Corcovado, and the statue of Christ of the Andes. The mountain is 710 metres above sea level, and on the tip of its peak, stands the famous monument of Christ the Redeemer. Built in 1931, it is made of reinforced concrete and covered with small, soapstone triangles. The views of Rio from the top of Corcovado are among the best anywhere.
Corcovado Mountain is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in Brazil. I would suggest getting there early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and certainly try to avoid weekends when the local people visit.
Another reason to visit Rio de Janeiro is of course Carnival, which takes place every year In the 5 days leading up to Lent. The bleachers set up to view Carnival, are located at the base of Corcovado, but there are usually two million people per day on the streets.
More than half a million people travel to Rio for carnival, which is termed the world's largest party. The festivities take place on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, as well as in bars, nightclubs and restaurants. If you are looking for a peaceful vacation spot, I would suggest you switch your time schedules around.
I continued my exploration of Rio, making my way to Sugarloaf Mountain. Accessible only by cable car, many mountaineers have tried climbing the steep cliffs.
Sugarloaf Mountain lies 450 metres above sea level, and the views are fantastic. You can even see the 14 km bridge that connects Rio to neighbouring Niteroi.
Before leaving Rio I stopped at the famous San Sebastian cathedral, built in 1976 and named for Rio’s patron saint. The cathedral is 96 metres wide and 80 metres high. Twenty thousand worshippers can fit inside the church at any given time, and everyone has a view of the suspended cross hanging in the centre. Stained glass windows run from floor to ceiling, and the seven-bell carillon creates a beautiful sound throughout the area.
Getting to Iguaçu Falls is a two hour plane ride, but is well worth the trek. I stayed at the Sheraton Hotel, on the Argentine side, which appears to be carved out of the jungle surrounding it. The hotel offers a little bit of civilization, amid the thousands of acres of wild tropical forest.
Iguaçu Falls is made up of 275 individual cascades, and the thundering water can be heard from many kilometres away.
Devil's Throat, the most spectacular part of the falls, measures 82 metres high, and is the tallest drop across the entire falls.
The area was settled by missionaries, and had various owners. It was not until 1907 that someone saw the tourist potential of the place, setting up the first hotel and creating roads for people to get to view the falls.
The rainforests surrounding Iguaçu contain 2,000 species of plants, and is home to the only marsupial found outside Australia, the opossum.
The walkways and paths on the Argentine side are quite narrow and very rustic. They are extremely safe, however, it almost feels as if you are walking on top of the water.
Iguaçu Falls is the border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. After spending two days on the Argentine side, I made my way through Paraguay, across to Brazil
Even though it is the same waterfall, the views from the Brazilian side are very different. Visitors have an opportunity to walk along a path at the foot of some of the cascades, making you appreciate just how majestic they are.
During the rainy season, which is from November to March, the rate of water plunging over the falls can reach almost 13,000 cubic metres or 450,000 cubic feet per second. The rainy season is also the tourist season, because the falls are so spectacular.
Iguaçu Falls was born millions of years ago, likely the result of a volcanic eruption, and the slow, but steady movement of tectonic plates. It was simply but aptly named, “Great Falls” by the Guarani indigenous people. In 1986, the United Nations declared the Falls a natural heritage of mankind.
If you would like to know more about Rio or Iguaçu Falls, check out my latest travel show at Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel on YouTube and Rogers TV.