Theres no way around it, if you are coming to Brazil you have to visit the spectacular Iguaçu Falls.At 82 meters Iguaçu falls has the second highest waterfall in the world with the after Victoria falls in Zimbabwe and without a doubt the most expansive, it is comprised of between 150 and 300 waterfalls depending on the amount of rain. The waterfalls sit on the border of Argentina and Brazil, with the majority of the waterfalls sitting on the Argentinian side of the Border. They say that Argentina “has” the falls, while Brazil merely “looks” at them and I can say in my experience that is definitely the case, the Argentinian side of the Igauçu falls is definitely a more all encompassing experience than a visit to the Brazilian side and should never be written off your list just because you have seen the Brazilian falls!
This region is also very interesting because it is situated on the meeting point of three borders, Brazil with Argentina and Brazil with Paraguay and there are three very different cities in close proximity: Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, Puerto Iguazu in Argentina For our trip we arrived and stayed in the town of Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazilian side of the border as this seemed like the most logical option to us been based in Brazil. It’s a pretty cool little tourist town and everything is reasonably priced by Brazilian Standards. There is bus that you can catch into town from the airport, no. 120 and this is the same bus you catch to visit the Brazilian side of the falls. It drives through the town and finishes it’s journey at the Rodoviária(bus station), where it reloads and does the whole round trip again. In general the region seems more backpacker and independent traveller friendly than many other places in Brazil and everything is well organized and easy. The town has a really interesting flavor due to it been situated right on the borders of Paraguay and Argentina and there are various Paraguayan traders passing through all the time, as well as Argentinian housewives with bags of shopping purchased across the border or in Paraguay. The concept of borders in this region is very loose and people just seem to circulate freely between the three countries day by day. Generally I found the area to be as safe as any other medium sized Brazilian city in spite of reading all sorts of warnings on other blogs about how dangerous it is. We walked around in the day and evening without incident and I would recommend to just use standard big city traveler precautions as you would in any other country but there is no need to worry or be overly paranoid. Avoid deserted,remote and run down areas and you should be fine.
To Cross from Brazil to Argentina the busses only stop at the border post on the Argentinian side. If you need to be stamped into or out of Brazil you need to request that the bus driver drops you at the Brazilian border post. You can then show your ticket to hop on the next bus to the Argentinian border control. At the Argentinian side the bus makes a mandatory stop and waits while everybody passes through the immigration control. This took about 15 minutes on a reasonably busy weekend in January.
The public bus does not stop at all to enter Paraguay from Brazil or vice versa at the Freedom bridge border. Most people do not go through the hassle of stopping to go through customs and immigration to visit for the day, but there are big signs up saying not to enter Paraguay illegally and that if caught you will be in trouble. Many locals also walk in and out on the Freedom Bridge.
Iguaçu Falls – Brazil
The Parque Nacional do Iguaçu (Iguaçu National Park) is where the Brazilian side of the falls is located. You reach the park with the same number 120 bus that passes the airport on the way. There is a bird park with some various exotic birds in big cages on the opposite side of the street from the National Park and many people do both on the same day. I personally did not find the bird park to be anything to amazing though and I have seen better bird parks, although many people might enjoy it.
The falls on the other hand are quite spectacular. The Brazilian side gives a panoramic view of the falls in the distance and the highlight is a walk way which takes you under the devils throat. The Parque Nacional is not a huge place and there are unfortunately no hikes or trails that you can do without paying a hefty fee and going on a guided tour. Once you enter the park there is a hop on hop off bus that gets you around, to be honest I found the whole place had a slightly theme park, Disney Land feel. I took the bus to the look out point for the falls, where you do a short walkway route that takes you down to below the Devils Throat and back up, ending at the restaurant.The Devils Throat, or “Garganta do Diablo”, is the largest and most impressive of all the falls and takes it’s name from is semicircular tubelike shape.Standing below the Devils Throat is awsome,to get there you walk along some wooden walkways over the river with waterfalls and cliffs. It’s very wet due to all the water spray and this spray creates amazing rainbows in the air, but makes it difficult to take photos….you will get soaked! It can be crowded here and everybody, his mother and his grandmother and photo bombing each other and struggling to get the perfect shot. The whole walk is fairly short, maybe just over a kilometer and can be done in 30 minutes, but you will want to take your time and spend at least an hour admiring the falls. The restaurant is also next to some impressive waterfalls and has some nice high viewpoints. Here you can also purchase various boat trips and adventure tours.
Iguazu Falls – Argentina
The Argentinian side of the falls was definitely the highlight of the trip. The national park on this side is called Parque Nacional Iguazú, it also means Iguazu National park, but in Spanish this time. This park was amazing, it is much bigger than the Brazilian side and there are many different trails you can walk along the falls. The me this felt more like a true national park where you can explore and walk a bit more freely. The transport in this park is a cool eco- friendly steam train which also adds to the vide of the whole experience. To get here you have to take a bus to Puerto Iguazú, the town on the Argentinian side of the border. It seems like a quaint little village and is a much more picturesque than Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazilian side, with lots of wood used in the architecture and furnishings, a stark contrast to the concrete and plastic that you in Foz. There is only one bus from the Puerto Iguazú bus station to the park. Our bus driver dropped us off at a bus stop half way to town, which made the journey much shorter. There were a lot of taxi drivers hanging out there and at first we thought we might have gotten caught up in a taxi scam where we now have to pay for an expensive ride. However after questioning some locals and some park workers at the bus stop, they confirmed that the price per person that the taxi drivers were offering was actually cheaper than the bus fare. So we hopped into an Argentinian taxi and headed for the national park. Due to the economic troubles in Argentina, all the infrastructure is a bit more run down than in Brazil. The taxis all look a bit beaten up compared to the new shiny Brazilian ones and sure enough our taxi started smoking and came to a halt on a deserted country road on the way to the park. At first I was weary thinking is this a scam and my second thought was “now we are going to spend our morning sitting here in the hot sun on this road and probably have to pay some high fare to get out of here”. But our taxi driver was an honest man, and looking very sad and dejected he flagged down another taxi, gave him the money and organised for us to be delivered to the Parque Nacional Iguazú.
Luckily we came prepared with Argentinian pesos in cash that we had already exchanged in Foz, as the ATM at the park was out of money….apparently it is famous for having problems which is why we came prepared and one of the people with us was struggling to get cash, luckily someone we met along the way was able to lend her some money. They do not accept credit/bank cards for payment to enter the park , only cash. Also, at both of the national parks in Brazil and Argentina, you get a good discount if you are a citizen or resident of a Mercosul country. The park itself is much larger than the Brazilian park with three main trails, The upper circuit with the Devils Throat , the lower circuit and the Macuco trail. There is also a little forest walk called the Green Trail , which allows you to bypass the first train station where all of the crowds amass and arrive at the main station after a short 15 minute walk, I highly recommend doing this as it’s beautiful and allows you to beat the crowds.
The Macuco trail is a 7km trail that leads to a waterfall away from the main falls and I think it requires a whole separate day in order do this hike. The main trails which everyone does are the Upper Circuit with the Devils Throat and the Lower circuit. Both of these trails are pretty spectacular. The Upper Circuit takes you along the top of the falls on a series of walkways are built right on top of the river system and you actually get to walk along the edge of the water falls and finish above the Devils Throat where you can really see, hear and feel the true power of Iguazu falls and marvel at the amazing rainbow formations in the air. You will get totally soaked with water here but it’s all part of the experience and for us it was a nice relief from the heat! At the end of the day we were caught up in a sudden red dust storm at the top of one of the walkways, which signaled to us it was probably time to leave and start heading back to the front of the park.
Cidade del Este
If you want to see something different you can check out the infamous Cidade del Este just across the border in Paraguay. Essentially it’s a giant duty free and counterfeit market.It’s interesting to see just for novelty value but it’s really just a dirty slum environment with a few large glitzy malls. None of the prices seemed a particularly good deal here and all the goods in the lower class markets seemed fake, or stolen and refurbished. The area can also be dangerous if you wander off the beaten track and is said to be riddled with drugs and illegal activity. You get here by riding the run down looking white bus marked Cidade del Este from the Foz do Igauzu bus station. Not a place I’d highly recommend unless you looking for some cheap fake item. Watch your back and your wallet around here. Another trick is the traders here over charge your credit card due to the bizarre exchange rate,$1 to almost 6000 PYG.