That time we saw Iguazu/Iguaçu from both sides of the border. For the nitty gritty info and logistics of how to get here, scroll to the bottom!
Where? Iguazu in Argentina and Iguaçu in Brazil.
When? July 2018
With whom? Martin
Iguazu is one of those places that you have to see in South America, and it claims it has been voted one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We had the BEST time checking out these monstrous falls and we did so from both sides of the border that the falls themselves straddle, first from Argentina, then from Brazil.
We booked ourselves onto an overnight bus from Buenos Aires, and having just arrived in Argentina we had missed the first half of the England quarter finals. We desperately looked for somewhere, anywhere, that would be showing the game after Argentina had been knocked out. Awkward. Success! We found a train station with a big screen so we sat on the floor to watch another England victory.
Our bus was far more comfortable than our plane with huge spacious seats, a ton of leg room and footrests! This will do for the night ride to Puerto Iguazu, the small border town closest to the falls, or Las Cataratas is you’re a local. 18 hours later we arrived at our destination and went on the hunt for accommodation. There are so many hostels and we went round each one asking for two beds for two nights. Many didn’t have the availability but a few did, and we chose the one next to the bus station.
We were now very hungry, as it was mid afternoon/early evening and all we had had was a cracker for breakfast. Luckily for us there was a dessert shop that also offered a pay what you weigh buffet. We walked around helping ourselves to meat, veg and more meat, then weighed our plate and paid according to how heavy our food was. Yum.
We skipped breakfast at the hostel because we wanted to make the 7.20am bus and breakfast didn’t start until 7.30am. We had made our own breakfast and lunch from the local market to save the pennies.
We were told you have to take the train, but I’m pretty sure you could walk up if you wanted to, however, the train is included in the price of the ticket. Like sheep, we followed orders and went to the mini train station inside the park. Arriving in time for the first train allowed us to see the employees hoist the Argentinian flag whilst singing the National Anthem. Then came the most pointless task ever. We had to walk up to a bloke handing out receipt paper train tickets, which were free, then we had to hand these pieces of paper to a bloke standing three yards behind the first man.
We fully intended to get off at the mid station but the trains take you all the way to the top. We didn’t actually realise this until we were standing at the top of the most powerful section of the falls, Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), looking down over the park.
It. Was. Awesome. The two of us were completely mesmerised by the sound of the thundering water and the sheer power of the water. Some parts of the falls stretched the whole way from the top to the bottom, and some parts cascaded over little ledges, making a terrific noise as they did. We stayed there for about 45 minutes and could have stayed longer had it not been for all of the people. It was hypnotic and drew us in to take hundreds of photos but also to simply stare at it all.
The walkway to get to and from the viewing platform was over the flat and calm water plane of the Panama River that is so tranquil before it turns into the waterfalls. We had booked ourselves into something called Pasaporte Verde which got us two experiences, the first of which was a soft boat through the clam waters to the midstation rather than taking the train with the plebs.
We were in a boat with a family of Japanese tourists who were super friendly. They had a little knowledge of English so our guide spoke to them in his little knowledge of English, but he spoke to me in Spanish. I translated what I understood to Martin, and even if I only got half of the information he told me it was so much more than the family got, so that is definitely the way forward! We saw a small caiman, which apparently doesn’t eat children (I asked) but can get up to 3 metres long and 80kgs, a white vulture which are very rare, and a frog that looked like mould on a tree so I almost didn’t see it.
We were dumped at the mid station where dozens of coatis ran around stealing food from unsuspecting tourists. These things bite, scratch and carry disease so don’t get too close to them. Potential rabies is probably not worth your empanada, however good it might smell. I also witnessed a mischief of coatis (totally guessing at the collective noun) steal a woman’s handbag, open it, and share out her things between them including her tampons!
There are two trails in the park; the inferior and the superior trails. These actually translate as upper and lower trails but I prefer the inferior/superior titles. We started on the superior trail which took us around the less powerful but equally stunning part of the falls that look like a thinning head of hair hanging down in clumps over the red earth. These stretched for miles, giving us a gorgeous view!
Next was the inferior trail, which in my opinion gave us the best views so far. We could see the panoramic view of the Diablo falls and the thinning hair falls (they’re not actually called thinning hair falls). We took our time walking this trail and our circuit had no shortage of “woah”s and “awh”s.
The final part of our day at the falls was the second part of our Pasaporte Verde, which got us a truck ride through the jungle to the boat dock where we jumped on a RIB with twin 512s (1024 horsepower). Basically, this boat could bloody move.
We were ushered onto a yellow truck by a man in a yellow coat with a microphone, explaining to us the history of the park in Spanish and in English. His voice blared over the speakers so any wildlife that might have been near the tracks had well and truly scarpered by the time we got there.
The RIB was hilarious! We powered upstream against the rapids, flying over any bumps from the current until our capitan slowed so that we had more panoramic views. There’s something completely different about seeing them from the water that captivated us all over again. Then came the best part: we were told to put all of our electronics away into the dry bag provided and then El Capitan drove the boat into the waterfall. Did we see Iguazu Falls? We were IN Iguazu Falls. This happened not once, but twice. As we approached the second waterfall, it was so powerful that I was thinking surely that would drag us under. Obviously it didn’t. We were utterly drenched but we didn’t care because that was epic!
Fun fact: once we climbed onto the boat, people around us took off their shoes and socks. I commented to Martin that it was such odd behaviour. When we were sodden it was our hiking boots that had the worst of it, I even poured out a small lake of water onto the floor. Not odd behaviour. Smart behaviour.
Rather than get the early bus like yesterday, we thought we’d take advantage of the included breakfast at the hostel. We were offered tea or coffee and given bread and butter. We were sure there was more to come but it didn’t. We were so glad we stayed for breakfast.
Our bus took us to the border, waited while we went through passport control, then took us straight to the falls. We used an automated ticket machine and paid by card as we only ARS on us which would do us no good here. There were lockers but the queue for them was really long, so we were those dickheads who took all of our stuff for two months up with us.
You have to get the bus up and it stops off in various places, telling you in Portuguese and in English as it stops. Most people do the 1.5km hiking trail that gives you more spectacular views of the thinning hair falls, ending up on a walkway to see the Diablo falls.
Obviously we wanted all of the views so got off at the start of the trail and penultimate bus stop. The last stop was the disabled access to the walkway. The trail was wide enough for two people, or three Koren-sized people and the viewing platforms were small. This coupled with the whole of Brazil choosing to come on the same day made for a completely rammed trail and moving forwards at a snail’s pace. There were plenty of amazing views of all of the falls from the path and the teeny tiny viewing platforms.
On our way onto the walkway to the ultimate viewing platform, the trail became a two way street, slowing us down to roughly the speed of a glacier. The other views were stunning but nothing beat the final view of the Diablo falls. The sun formed rainbows (yes, plural) in the mist and water came gushing towards us from all directions. It was breathtaking and hands down the best view of the falls! Once we found a spot at the edge we took our time to revel at this incredible sight.
On our way off the walkway we were tugged at, barged at, and grabbed. Well that set a precedent for the etiquette here so I put my elbows together in front of me and bulldozed my way through. Move or be moved. Small but mighty.
The views were 100% better from the Brazilian side but the whole experience was better from Argentina. I would recommend doing both as they are fairly inexpensive and you can spend at least a day on each side.
I’ve put tons of info below so if this is a trip you are considering then definitely read on!
Tip of the week: go EARLY! We did this on the Argentinian side and had fewer people at the top viewing platform for Diablo Falls, but we should have skipped our bread and butter breakfast to do the same on the Brazilian side.
Product of the week: DuoLingo. It’s an app through which you can learn many languages. I have been trying to learn Spanish since February in preparation for this trip and even my little knowledge has served us well so far. Even now that we are in Brazil and the language is Portuguese, I am finding Spanish gets me a lot further than English.
Lots of info: South Americans love buses. It is their main mode of transport, and as far as we can work out, their cheapest too. Puerto Iguazu, the town outside the National Park, is a massive destination for both tourists and locals, so if you are near a big bus station then you will be able to find a bus that will take you there. We have taken to overnight buses because it means we save on the cost of accommodation. Most buses have reclining seats to 160 degrees to imitate a bed, some buses feed you and some even have charging ports between the seats. You will have to ask which facilities are available when you book, and in doing so a little bit of Spanish goes a long way. Those buses that don’t provide food will stop somewhere so you can buy food, but often this is expensive so bring your own!
We couldn’t find WiFi, nor did we want to spend some ludicrous amount on data, so we turned up with nowhere to stay. We wondered around a few hostels until we found one with availability. It had great location but was overpriced (at a whopping £9 per person per night) so I would recommend booking if you have the capacity to do so.
From the Puerto Iguazu bus station, buses leave to the Falls every 20 mins from 6.40am to 8pm, but the first train in the park is 8.30am so the earliest bus I would get is the 7.20 so you’re not waiting around. The journey is approximately half an hour form the bus station to the entrance of the national park. Make sure you buy any bus tickets from the stalls in front of the gates or ardens. The ones opposite will charge extra to take a commission despite being 20 yards away from the cheaper stands!
Entry at time of writing cost 600ARS (which we have taken to calling arses but the correct term is pesos), about £15. This includes the train.
Buying extra packages is sensible to do before you enter the park, particularly the RIB experience because it is very popular. Many tour operators offer it and they all charge the same price: 1500 ARS for the RIB and 400 ARS for the soft boat, or 1800 ARS if you do both on the pasaporte verde. You get given a voucher which needs exchanging once in the park but if you keep the receipt then you can get a full refund from your travel rep if for any reason you are unable to use it.
I would recommend NOT getting a guide to take you around the park. We saw a few groups doing this and they all looked so stressed. In getting a guide you have to share the trails and viewing platforms with 30 other people, whereas often we would come to one and it would be empty.
Getting across the border was super easy. As well as buses to Las Cataratas, there are buses to Las Cataratas Foz. Foz do Iguaçu is the Brazilian small border town closest to the falls. The bus takes you to the border and waits while you do all the passport stuff, then drops you at the bird park or the falls. Brits don’t need a visa but other countries might so check on your foreign office website.
Entry to Iguaçu Falls was 60 Reals (approx £12) and that price includes the bus that you take up to the starting point of the trail. It’s a 1.5km trail that ends on the walkway.
There is a cash point at the entrance to the park, and there’s also one at the pink hotel you pass on the bus (it’s very pink, you can’t miss is). I suggest you try the one at the entrance before you enter the park and then use the pink one if needed. There are also lockers to store your bags.
From here there are lots of taxis and buses that you can take to wherever is next on your hit list. There’s also a tourist information centre to tell you which bus to take. Spanish got me a lot further than English here.