It is known as the largest waterfall in the world and is located deep in the heart of the Argentine jungle. It is one of the planet’s most spectacular marvels and it is called Iguaçu Falls.
A small path will lead an adventurous tourist from the luxuries of the Sheraton Hotel deep into the sub-tropical rainforest of Argentina. Continue on for another fifteen minutes and you begin to hear a sound, which starts as a soft rumble and grows to earth shattering proportions. Suddenly, you turn a corner and roaring right before you is mighty Iguaçu Falls.
Iguaçu Falls, a World Heritage site, is a seventy-two metre drop in the Iguaçu River and spans a total of four kilometres in length. In all, the falls are broken into 275 separate cascades, each with the power and thrust of a mini Niagara. Unlike Niagara Falls there are no wax museums, no casinos, no one walking a tightrope over a main street and not one souvenir shop to be found. Instead, visitors are exposed to natural wonders created for pure enjoyment.
The falls are located in a part of the South American jungle where three countries meet; Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Argentina offers the best overall perspective of the falls, but Brazil has confiscated an unsurpassed view. The most thorough way to visit this spectacle is to see it from both countries.
When I arrived in the Argentine town of Iguaçu (I referred to it as Argentinean, but was corrected several times) a short taxi ride took me to the Sheraton Hotel, located directly at the falls. A ‘falls view’ room will guarantee you a spectacular view of ‘Devil’s Throat’; a large curved section of cascading water similar in shape to Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls, but about three kilometres long. The exterior wall of the hotel’s lower lobby is floor-to-ceiling glass, with doors that take you directly to a path leading to the gardens. The water and mist of the falls are in view from the moment you check in. Even the restaurant is partially constructed of glass to ensure you do not miss any of nature’s breathtaking scenery. Each of the modern 176 guest rooms has a balcony where a spectacular vista can be viewed over breakfast
A metal walkway leads you from the hotel along tropical plants and exotic birds (the foliage alone is worth the trek), as it winds its way over streams and around rivers. Most of the plant life in the 185,000 hectares of Iguaçu National Park is natural; however, there is a small collection of strange vegetation not native to South America. These rare floras were planted by a hermit who decided to make the park his home in the nineteen fifties.
As you stroll leisurely through one of our planet’s great spectacles you become one with nature. The pathways take you over waterfalls, around mountainous terrain and near the bottom of the rushing water. Peace and tranquility are their biggest assets, although a reinforcement of nature’s fury is never more than a few metres away.
From Argentina it is about a thirty minute drive to the border of Brazil. Do not forget to pre-arrange a visa to enter the country! If in the event you forgot your visa - not to worry. In the Argentine town of Puerto Iguaçu a camera shop will, for a mere six Argentine pesos (ten Canadian dollars), take four colour photos (two of each of you if you are travelling in pairs). Photos in hand, a ten minute walk will put you on the doorstep of the Brazilian Consulate, a two-room building with a staff of four. Transferring sixty-eight Brazilian Riel to the person in charge will start the process. Sixty-eight Riel is about eighty Canadian dollars; however, they only take US currency.
The procedure takes about an hour, but there are several shops to visit during your down time. Be prepared to leave your passport at the Consulate while they arrange your visa – and don’t forget a receipt.
Crossing the Brazilian border is simple; a few questions, a scrutinizing glance and you step into Brazil. It is about a twenty minute drive to the entrance of the park and once there, you have the opportunity to tour the only gift shop within kilometres. The Government of Brazil has been successful in eliminating all tourist traps from the area, leaving a beautifully maintained, scenic and environmentally friendly park.
A bus will take travellers to the falls, where a metal pathway leads you along endless metres of walking trails. The view is even more spectacular here than from the Argentine side. As far as the eye can see you are faced with cascading waters plummeting hundreds of metres into a white water gorge. Unlike the Argentine side, you have the opportunity to follow the path to the bottom of Devil’s Throat, or Garganta del Diablo, as it is known locally. As you stand, surrounded on all sides by the rushing water, the view leaves you breathless. No matter where you look, you see and hear the incredible force of the rushing water.
Make sure you take an umbrella, as the mist from the falls becomes a torrential rain storm. It is also a good idea to pack a plastic bag for your camera. You do not want to miss those ‘Kodak Moments’ because of camera failure.
Iguaçu Falls is about an hour’s flight from Buenos Aires and two hours from Rio. It is the largest waterfall in the world and certainly the most impressive. Plan to spend at least two nights at this World Heritage site, for the view will leave you breathless and you will want to discover every corner of this magnificent spectacle. Iguaçu Falls: the journey of a lifetime.