“Poor Niagara” is what First lady Eleanor Roosevelt is rumoured to have exclaimed upon her first sight of the breathtaking Iguazú Waterfalls in South America. After wandering through tropical green rainforest, you are rewarded with a view made up of 275 cascades of waterfalls. Looking around, you also see colourful birds and lush vegetation. Niagara Falls on the Canada/US border is very impressive and beautiful, but looking back at my visits, it was a bit commercial (with paved roads and shops right beside the waterfall). Contrast that with Iguazú Falls: here you got that feeling that you could be an explorer discovering the Iguazú beauty for yourself!
Where is Iguazú Falls?
Iguazú falls divides Argentina and Brazil (even Paraguay), so…
Which side do you visit and which is better?
My answer, like many others, is that you need to do them both!
Brazil for the view, Argentina for the experience – together you get the full package.
(You’ll need to obtain a visa ahead of time to get into Brazil, the visa for Argentina can be paid for online in a relatively simple process – read more on planning here).
Both sides have impressive views
Panoramic views from Brazil and up close and personal with the Argentine side. Each has special walkways that enable you to get close to the falls and feel the mist on your face. From Argentina, however, you do get more extensive paths and walkways. Each side has it’s own exclusive hotel. Most visitors purchase a day pass which allows them entry for specific hours (approximately 8:00 am – 6:00 pm). The town centres are quite a ways from the park entrances and you still need to drive a fair distance to get to the actual falls (total travel time is easily over 20 mins). By staying directly in the park (at a premium price) you get exclusive access that regular visitors don’t get, and you get to be both the first and last visitor in the park so you don’t face as many crowds.
(Early in the morning on the Upper Falls path, Argentine side – before any other visitors had access to the park – photo above and several others in this post are courtesy of my sister, and her side-kick Sumi the bear)
Lastly, you are part of this magical experience where you’re totally removed from the city and having some one on one time with the majestic falls.
For photography buffs
If you’re interested in photography, like my sister and I, you are also afforded the advantage of taking shots early in the morning during sunrise or at dusk.
For these reasons, we stayed at both the Argentine and Brazilian hotels in the park.
I will now break this post down into
Argentina and Brazil : views, experiences and accommodations
Up close and personal
How much time is needed?
You need a full day and I would even suggest 2 full days to explore this side of the falls. If you’re staying inside the park, you only have to pay one fee 🙂
Otherwise, get your ticket stamped on the way out for a 50% discount the next day.
There are 3 main trails to take to view and experience the falls and another trek to the San Martin island in the middle of the falls. However, this island can only be accessed when the water conditions are at the right level.
Different view points and trails
Due to some heavy rain our first day, we only ventured to the closest view points (Upper Falls) and then hung out around the hotel. The cool thing about the rain though, was that no one else was around! And another bonus of staying in the park at the Sheraton, was that we could dry off and take hot showers immediately! On our second day (a full day) we woke up super early to take some sunrise photos (waited about 1.5 hours for the mist to clear!) then went back to the hotel for our complimentary breakfast. Afterwards, the real exploring began!
1) Devil’s Throat
We started at the trail that was the furthest out that would take us to the Devil’s Throat. We walked along a path to a small train station. While waiting, a group of school kids wanted to take my photo, so I took theirs too!
A short train ride later, we were at our destination at the far end of the park. From here, we did some more walking towards our destination – all part of the adventure!
- 1) Devil’s Throat – you take a train to the far edge of the park where the main mouth of the waterfall is located and then embark on a 10 min walk over platforms suspended over the water. These are great little paths! We stayed here for almost 30 minutes, mesmerized at the sheer volume of water (see the size of the birds for comparison!) It was so hypnotizing to watch the rushing water fall over the steep edges.
2) Upper trail
- Upper trail – again you have these suspended walkways that disrupt nature as little as possible. You walk along the top of several waterfalls and there are many different platforms and view points. I woke up early both mornings to try and get sunrise shots with my sister along the upper falls, but there was a lot of fog which meant a LOT of waiting.
3) Lower Trail
- Lower trail – There are lots of stairs involved as you make your way down to the falls but the journey is super fun! There were signs that advised visitors to be in good physical shape for this section of the trail 🙂 Because there was a lot of stairs, we didn’t come here for our morning shots in the dark. Along the lower trails, you get the famous viewpoint (well, one that I’ve seen a lot) of the waterfalls framed by 3 palm trees. There are also platforms that are directly beside the base of the waterfalls and makes for really spectacular views.
From the lower trail, you can continue down to the boats that ferry you over to the San Martin Island or the speed boats that will take you right under the falls!
4) San Martin (Island)
- San Martin – It’s so hard for me to narrow down a favourite section of the falls, but I think this trail had my favourite view point: you trek up and there are a few glimpses of waterfall that you get along the way until finally, you’re at the large platform right up and close to the waterfalls. Everything is so lush, vibrant and green.
Boat ride adventure excursion
At the same dock to get the boat ride to San Martin, you can also embark on the Grand Nautica aka the Boat adventure! It’s $120 Argentine Pesos for the boat ride. We did it and got completely soaked! They provide waterproof bags and tell you when you need to put your cameras away. The crew on board will also film a video which you can purchase afterwards too.
There is also an option to purchase the Grand Adventura package which includes the Boat Ride and a Jeep Ride through the jungle. We opted out because we were only really interested in the boat ride.
The only accommodation in the Park, The Sheraton Iguazú Resort & Spa
Well, the obvious reason to be here is that you’re right in the park which is extremely cool and convenient! Given the high price of staying here, I felt the hotel was a bit tired-looking from the outside. Rooms though, are clean and have been renovated recently. A funny comment: we were advised not to leave balcony doors unattended as monkeys may sneak into your room and steal your belongings! I never saw one, to be honest 🙂 The location of the Sheraton puts you farther from the falls than the hotel on the Brazilian side and because the park area here is larger, they actually have signs that close off the entrance outside of the official hours. (In Brazil, you are free to roam around!)
The food was good and I loved the breakfast buffet that was included! All kinds of fruit smoothies and tropical food, different types of pastries, meat and eggs. Lots of dulce leche! I wish I had taken photos of the satisfying spread. This was easily the best food we had on the trip … until we went to Brazil 😉
Wi-fi was an extra cost which was pretty annoying when you’re already paying premium prices to be staying here. The weather was erratic for a few hours during our stay with bursts of rain and fog so it was nice to retreat into our hotel or at the covered patio to seek shelter. Then, as soon as the rain stopped, we were immediately back outside to explore the park.
Having some rainy periods but also really sunny extended moments resulted in a well-rounded experience of Argentina’s side of the Iguazú Falls!
Next: The Brazilian side – The town of Foz do Iguaçu! Only a short drive across the border…
Less trails, but great panoramas
You only need 1 day to explore this side of the falls. Unlike the Argentine side, with several different pathways, there really is only one path that you take. It is very straight-forward: you walk along a line, taking occasional stairs down along the way.
(More racoon-like creatures! Making friends with Olympic Mascot and Adventure Bear Sumi – Read all about his adventures at his blog:sumibear.me)
You can finish this path in about an hour, which includes several stops for photos.
The walkway over the waterfall offers views of gorge that are really spectacular!
There’s an elevator at the end which you can take to see the falls more from above.
Hotel in the park – Brazil: Hotel das Cataratas, (part of the Orient-Express/Belmond collection of luxury hotels)
I can not say enough good things about this hotel! I think I’ll have to make a separate post just for them. In short, it’s a beautiful building full of character, history and charm. The entire staff was very friendly and welcoming. We were given a free upgrade to a deluxe suite upon arrival which put us in an even better mood – way to go Orient-Express – you are winning me over! They had complimentary lemon/lime water (I believe the Westin would call this an exotic elixir 😉 in the lobby which was so refreshing. Complimentary wi-fi was made available around the entire grounds. Complimentary havaiana sandals ($25 CAD value back home!) to use and keep was laid out for us in our room. Everything I’m listing here are things that the Sheraton on the Argentine side didn’t include, by the way 😉 More points for Brazil! (* I should add a disclaimer that the Orient-Express group has a higher price point than the Sheraton, so this probably accounts for the extra touches)
Oh and the breakfast buffet that was included was amazing! Best meal so far! My full International Food Spotlight on Brazil can be found here. We took some time to lounge by the pool and we were brought water and fresh fruit skewers.
Other activities on the Brazilian side of the falls:
There’s a Bird Park just outside of the Park Entrance to the Brazilian Falls– Parque das Aves. If you have a couple of hours, I highly recommend visiting! There are areas you wander around where birds are flying freely in an open space and the whole thing feels very free (even though they are in cages).
And that covers 4 days, 3 nights at the Iguazú Falls, spanning both Argentina and Brazil, and one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World!
Next stop for me: Rio de Janeiro!
Just before arriving to the Iguazú Falls, I spent several days in Mendoza, Argentina (Wine Country), which could be a fun stop after the falls if you are heading in the opposite direction 🙂
Want more information on planning a trip to Argentina, Brazil (and Chile!) (flights, travel preparations, immunizations..).
Read more on how to plan your own trip to South America (my Trip Planning post)
All my South America – related blog posts can be found here