Incredible Iguazu

Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Garden Stone Hostel

Flag of Argentina  ,
Sunday, May 22, 2011

To travel overland from Cordoba to Iguaz˙ would have taken us 23 hours, and from Iguaz˙ onwards to Buenos Aires another 19 hours. Had we been still early in our travels its very likely we’d have hopped on these buses and loved the journeys, but time was ticking, the end of our Big Trip was only ten days away and we didn‘t want to spend that time sitting on a bus, plus we were getting tired of being on the move. Even still it was with some reluctance that we flew, but I must admit it was fabulous to see the landscape from the air. From Cordoba’s yellow and brown Central Sierras and checkerboard of fields to Iguaz˙’s dense green forests and jungle, glinting rivers and a thick, white plume of mist rising 30 metres up into the air, there couldn’t have been a greater contrast. As the plane coasted to a standstill at Aeropuerto de Cataratas del Iguaz˙ lots of butterflies, big, tropical butterflies, were swooping around and enjoying the heat rising off the concrete, sitting on the baggage-handlers’ shoulders and on the hot metal of the luggage conveyor belt. We couldn’t wait to get outside and feel the heat and humidity of tropical Iguaz˙.

We caught the Four Tourist shuttle (AR$20e) into Puerto Iguaz˙ and to our lodgings at Garden Stone Hostel and we were immediately pleased with our choice. In the centre of Puerto Iguazu (there are many lodgings on the outskirts) this peaceful family-run hostel had a lovely lush garden and great facilities including pool and hammocks. At AR$220 our double-ensuite was more expensive than other hostels we‘d stayed in, but we were happy to pay the price here. There was a nice crowd too. One evening we sat chatting with a German couple who‘d been travelling for 10 months and had followed a similar path to us, starting with the Trans-Mongolian train. And one breakfast we chatted with a Canadian couple who’d sold their house, packed in their jobs and were travelling for as long as their funds would allow. Initially I imagined these guys would be on the road for a good 18months or more, but they were headed for North America and there your money doesn’t last long at all! During our trip we’d been surprised to meet only a handful of people travelling for, more or less, a year. The most memorable was probably the sweet English couple we met in Moscow during their last week, our first week. They’d completed the same route as us but back to front and the lasting memory I have of them is that they had carried 14 Lonely Planet guides, one for every country they’d visited, all the way around the world. They were seriously fit and really skinny.

Most visitors to Puerto Iguaz˙ and the adjacent Foz do Iguacu in Brazil are there for one reason - waterfalls. Iguaz˙ Falls, designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, is located where the Iguaz˙ River tumbles over the edge of the basaltic Paranß Plateau. Numerous islands along the 1.7 mile long edge divide the falls into about 275 separate waterfalls and cataracts varying between 60 metres (200 ft) and 82 metres (269 ft) high. About half of the river's flow falls into a long and narrow chasm called the Garganta del Diablo or Devil's Throat. This spectacular waterfall is 82 meters high, 150 meters wide and 700 meters long, and is the source of the high mist seen from the aeroplane. Upon seeing Iguaz˙, the United States' First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed "Poor Niagara!"

Iguaz˙ National Park has really maximised on the human fascination with waterfalls and its UNESCO status by developing a big money-making tourist attraction, Disney-esque in some respects, with a AR$100 entry fee, the Rainforest Ecological Train to take you to the highlights and a series of rides on offer (safari truck jungle tour, nature river tour, 12-minute speed-boat tour), two pasarelas or boardwalks (Paseo Superior or high boardwalk across the top of the falls and Paseo Inferior down to the river) and a couple of short walks through the jungle for the wildlife enthusiasts. Visitor management is easy here; no visitor in their right mind would want to start trekking on their own through jungle that is home to coral snakes, anaconda, jaguars and cayman!

The next day was bright with a brilliant blue sky - the best conditions for rainbows and butterflies -
so we decided to make the most of the weather and with our walking shoes on and a hearty picnic we hopped on the local bus (AR$7 from Puerto Iguaz˙ bus terminal, leaving every 40 mins) into the park. We planned to do as many of the walking routes as possible in a day and, if the weather held, we’d come back the next day for some more. We paid our entry fee and headed off on the Sendura Macuco, a jungle walking track, to see if we could spot toucans and monkeys.  Sadly we saw neither, but we did spot an aguti snuffling in the undergrowth, lots of butterflies and enjoyed the panoramic view out over the Rio Iguaz˙ from the top of Salto Arrecha. We then hopped on the train to Estacion Cataratas to walk along the Paseo Inferior, the lower boardwalk. Our first sighting of the full grandeur of Iguaz˙’s waterfalls was breathtaking. Our eyes followed the Rio Iguaz˙, Brazil on one side, Argentina on the other, upstream to the massive Salto Union and Garganta del Diablo and its tall mist plume. A speedboat full of tourists zipped up river putting the scale of the scene into context and on the Brazil side tiny human figures could be seen at the view point up river. Across to the right was the large green Isla San Martin with its halo of circling Turkey Vultures, the horseshoe-shaped plateau edge with numerous white walls of water. Rainbows appeared and disappeared with the breezes. We were frequently drenched in fine mists and then sun-dried, and the noise was constant and terrific. Lonely Planet’s description is exactly right, ‘One of the planets most awe-inspiring sights, the Iguaz˙ Falls are simply astounding. A visit is a jaw-dropping, visceral experience, and the power and noise of the cascades live forever in the memory’ (Lonely Planet Argentina, Aug 2010).

Some of the view points were plagued by coatimundi (coatis), a member of the racoon family. Cute they might look with their flexible snouts and long ringed tails but they are vicious and they like to attack peoples lunch bags for a pastime. Despite the numerous boards saying ‘don‘t feed or stroke the coatis’ the First Aid post is really busy treating tourists with coatis-inflicted wounds. To escape from our furry friends we took a boat over to Isla San Martin and had lunch on the golden beach watching the speed boats zipping about and the many butterflies. Apparently people do swim there but the khaki-coloured water, the currents just off-shore and the photos of cayman and snapping turtles in our wildlife book did not inspire us to take a dip!

Refreshed we then followed the Paseo Superior across the top of Salto Bernabe, Salto Mendez and Salto Mbigua and stood mesmerised as around 1,750 cubic metres of water per second tumbled over the crest in front of us. An interpretation board informed us that ‘In 1982/3 and 1992 the normal volume .…became a raging 39,000 (cubic metres of water per second) and washed away whole islands and walkways, while the drought of 1978 almost dried up the falls.’  Plush-Crested Jays perched in the trees watching us hungrily as we snacked on some fruit and biscuits. The train then dropped us at Estacion Gargantua. Butterflies had gathered here in their hundreds, outside the toilet block and around handrails, attracted by the salts from the sweat and urine of thousands of tourists. It was here we saw a girl, determined to see the falls, but having a complete nightmare battling with a butterfly phobia. We walked the 1100m metal boardwalk across the Rio Iguaz˙ to the look-out platform at top of the Gargantua del Diabolo where the sight made us gasp. Standing on the edge of the falls, seeing and hearing the power of the water pouring over that ledge and watching it disappear down into the mist-filled chasm was utterly captivating and awe-inspiring.

At the end of the day we caught the train back to Estacion Central and just as we were disembarking a toucan flew over our heads and away into a palm tree. We had our ticket stamped at the exit to give us a half-price ticket for the next day should we want to return, and headed back to Puerto Iguaz˙ on the bus, our heads full of images of torrents and curtains of water and exotic wildlife. We both had really strange dreams that night.

The next two days were overcast so we relaxed around the hostel pool and garden, explored Puerto Iguaz˙ and started to get organised for our imminent return to the UK. During our time in the garden we were regularly distracted by hummingbirds (picaflores in Spanish) flitting around the flowers, so fast that they were blurs in our photos. I loved these tiny birds and persuaded Phil to come with me to the Jardin de los Picaflores up the road in Puerto Iguaz˙. Sadly the garden was shut but through the gate we could see hummingbirds aplenty zipping about, feeding on the many flowers inside, resting momentarily in the trees and chasing each other around the tree tops at warp speed. What a beautiful place. Clearly many years of care and attention had gone into this garden. I would have loved to have met the owners and sat inside for a while.

Early one evening we walked through Puerto Iguaz˙ to Tres Fronteres, the confluence of the Rio Iguaz˙ and Rio Parana where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay converge. The swirling, green water of the Rio Iguaz˙ was lined with dense jungle, a few scars of industry, agriculture and shipping immediately visible; a tranquil scene until we looked to the horizon to the tall skyscrapers of a large Paraguayan city and the thick plumes of smoke rising up from the jungle and remembered a discussion we’d had with an Irish traveller about cross-border drug smuggling, black-market trade, kidnappings and executions. Read the local papers and you become so aware that as travellers often we hardly scratch the surface of some of the places we visit. The saying ‘the more we see the less we know’ is especially true when, as in our case, you can barely speak or read the language. Our own ignorance was a regular source of frustration for us during our travels. But, back in pleasant surroundings near the Argentina obelisk and the memorial to Las Malvinas couples sat on the grass sharing mate and watching the sunset. A bus-load of Latino tourists arrived and made a fuss of the grubby children who were singing off key to an out of tune guitar, and visitors browsed the market stalls all stocking the same carved toucans and coatis, packets of mate, gourds and bombadillos, seed-pod necklaces and mobiles of colourful stone.

The next day we bid farewell to Iguaz˙’s winter warmth, its red earth, its waterfalls, hummingbirds and butterflies and boarded our plane, our last LAN flight, to Argentina’s ‘big smoke’, Buenos Aires.

Best wishes
Nickie & Phil 

Iguazu Vida y Color, Guia de Flora y Fauna, Maria Luisa Petraglia de Bolzon
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