Iguazu Falls, Argentina / Brazil

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Dec 16, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  , Litoral,
Friday, September 26, 2008

Upon seeing Iguazu, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed "Poor Niagara..." 

I was a little less eloquent.  I think I said "Holy Crap!!!" the first time I came in sight of the Devil's Throat - where the river shoots over a horseshoe cliff. 

Iguazu falls is the widest waterfall system in the world, stretching 1.7 miles and separates Brazil from Argentina. 

The falls are so massive that you can't actually see the total system except from the air.  In fact, even if you go section by section, you can't even see all the falls from one country - you have to go to Brazil to see the other half  - which makes things difficult since Brazil requires a $145 visa for US Citizens to enter.  But more on how I snuck into Brazil for the day a little later.   

Iquazu is actually 275 individual falls between 200 and 280 feet high. Victoria Falls in South Africa and Zimbabwe is technically the largest with a wider curtain and a slighly higher volume of water, but Iguazu can claim to be the widest waterfall system since it covers more area.

Either way, it is extremely impressive.

Compared to Niagara, I'd say that the Devil's throat (the main cataract of Iguazu) is about the same size and magnitude - however the Devil's throat is just one of the falls.  Iguazu has 274 more!  And these falls are in a rain forest, so between the falls are dense vegetation loaded with toucans, orchids, and crazy raccoon-like critters who beg for oreos.   

On the first day, I explored the Argentine side - which is one of the better designed National Parks I've visited.  They constructed a metal mesh catwalk that meanders through the rain forest and visits the top, middle, and bottom of many of the falls.  

At the tops, you can look down between your feet to see the water tumble into nothingness below.  In the middle and bottom points you can get properly soaked by the spray.  And the walkways are almost invisible and blend into the scenery except the tourists in the brightly colored rain jackets. It's a great way to get up close and personal to the power of all that water.

If you want to get even closer, they have 500hp(!) zodiacs that take you right under the falls to get soaked- and helicopters stand by to give you the full view.

On the second day, I wanted to try and see the other half of the falls from Brazil.  My guide book said the border agents will allow US citizens visit for the day without paying for the $145 visa fee as long as they promise to come back that afternoon and don't have any luggage or backpacks - but the people at the travel agency where I stayed said security tightened last year. So I took a local bus to the border to see for myself.

After getting stamped out of Argentina, the bus stopped on the Brazilian side.

"If you need a visa for Brazil, you need to get off the bus here" the bus driver announced.

"I'm only going to Iguazu for the day"  I said.

"Oh - you're fine.  You can stay on the bus."

I figured my bus driver is obviously an expert on Brazilian immigration and US visa situations so I sat back down.  The door closed and I was in Brazil without a visa. 

The only remaining challenge was getting back out of Brazil after spending the day at the falls.  The bus dropped me off near the boarder and I walked up to the immigration station. 

"Where does the bus to Argentina pick up?" I asked one of the border patrol officers.

"Just on the other side of the border" he pointed to a green bus stop about 100 feet beyond the bright yellow line that demarks the Brazilian border.

"Thank you!" I said and started walking to the big yellow line that marked the border.

"Wait!"  the border patrol shouted. 

My heart skipped a beat as I turned around.  "Si?" I asked with a big smile on my face

"Do you have one of these?" he asked, holding up a piece of paper that looked like an immigration or customs form.

 "No - I just went to Iguazu for the day." I said sheepishly.

"Oh.  Ok.  Next time, make sure you get one of these."

"Sorry - next time I will definitely get one of those.  Have a nice day!" I said over my shoulder as I crossed the border out of Brazil. 


Next up: Spending a day by the pool at my resort, then heading to Buenos Aires, the NYC of South America.

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