The waterfalls of Iguaçu have been credited with all kinds of superlatives: the best, the highest, the largest, the most spectacular, the deepest, the most impressive. They create expectations and because Coen and I like to get what we expect, we had no problem waiting two days for the weather to clear before we bought our ticket, walked through the gate and stepped on the bus that drove us to the catwalks.
Iguaçu Falls are 257, tiered waterfalls surrounded by subtropical rainforest and are spread out over three kilometers in the Iguaçu River before plunging into the Paraná River. Truth be said, I do wonder how anybody came up with that number of 257. It is one impressive mass of water, which must also have been the image the Guaraní had. These indigenous people named the site Iguaçu, meaning ‘great water’.
Iguaçu Falls in Brazil or Iguazu Falls in Argentina?
Like Niagara Falls, the falls border two countries: Argentina and Brazil. They can be visited in both countries, each having a national park around the water mass. After having visited both sides I would say there is not one ‘best’ side.
The general argument, with which I agree, is that the panoramic view of the Brazil falls invokes a feeling of being overwhelmed by the size of the waterfalls, while in Argentina you’ll have more angles from which to view the cataracts, some in close up. I would suggest that if time permits, visit both sides and allow a full day on either side to do the waterfalls justice. Read about Argentina’s Iguazu Falls here.
Visiting Iguaçu National Park
Double-decker buses plied between the entrance and the visitors’ center/food&beverage plaza at the far end, following a 1200-meter long catwalk, the Trilha das Cataratas. Since we wanted to see it all we got off at the first stop and our expectations came true. The falls were fantastic, overwhelming and stunning at the same time.
This is one of those places where I concluded once more that photos of nature hardly ever do justice to a place, no matter how many you take (Coen took 200). In the end they are just that: images of waterfalls. They can’t convey the emotion I felt, as no doubt any visitor walking here does. Feeling the force of nature, hearing the deafening noise of roaring water, getting soaked due to the billowing mist, realizing that no matter where I looked around me, there was water. Altogether it gave me a feeling of the grandeur of the universe, of being one and at peace with where I was.
How many waterfalls you see depends on the time of year. During the Brazilian summer, from December to March, the water level is at its highest and the falls give their best performance. However, it is also the hottest and most humid season. The climate is more agreeable during the Brazilian winter, July and August, but this may result in the falls having little water. Some will argue that the months in between, May and September, are therefore the best – not too humid, not too hot.
A 360-degree Waterfall
At the end of the catwalk is a side catwalk reaching out to the middle of the river, ending at the Garganta do Diablo: Devil’s Throat. From this horseshoe cliff, 15 waterfalls come crashing down at an amazing speed, creating a continuous sound of thunder and with a drop of 90 meters. This is Iguaçu’s highest waterfall. Make sure to bring waterproofs and protection for your camera as the mist of the falls is sure to soak everything.
We didn’t bring those waterproofs and thus had a problem with the camera. As Coen stayed on the main catwalk I walked as far as possible, and indeed got soaking wet. I didn’t mind. As I moved closer I saw more and more rainbows in the clouds of spray and then I blinked: was this really what I thought I was seeing?
A 360-degree rainbow circle hung right in front of the waterfalls; no beginning nor end. It was the most unusual, extraordinary thing I have ever seen in my life. I called Coen to come and share this with me but waterfalls are not only beautiful to watch but also deafening. He didn’t hear me. The image stayed for a minute or so and with a new ray of sun dissolved in the air.
- The nearby town of Foz do Iguaçu has an extensive tourist infrastructure with restaurants and hotels for each type of traveler and budget. There is a campsite across from Iguaçu National Park
- Information about excursions, entrance fees, opening hours and such is available at all hotels and information points at the airport, bus station and downtown at Rua Baro do Rio Branco.
- The town is connected by plane with all major cities in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
- Early morning is arguably the best time to photograph the Brazilian waterfalls – contrary to the Argentinean falls, where late afternoon provides the best light.
- Activities in the park include hikes, a boat trip, a helicopter flight and rappelling.