If you’re thinking of waterfalls it’s probably Niagara and Victoria Falls that come to mind, rather than Iguassu Falls on the border between Argentina and Brazil. Yet this is the biggest waterfall system in the world and definitely up there with the most spectacular. Anybody travelling to South America would be doing themselves an injustice if they failed to visit Iguassu.
My time at Iguassu came about as part of a longer group trip taking in other parts of Argentina and Brazil, and Iguassu Falls made for a perfect crossover point, bringing into context the natural beauty of South America alongside the hectic city life I experienced. Physically dividing Brazil and Argentina, the Iguazu River forms the divide from which the falls are born, and either country offers its own unique perspective.
Iguassu from Brazil
Brazilian Iguacu (as they spell it) is all about the vistas, the place to get the perfect panoramic shot. Flying into Puerto Iguazu (technically Argentina, but our initial entry point for the Brazilian approach) provided the first glimpse of what all the fuss was about. Our charming pilot took a moment to slowly circle directly over the falls, evoking groans of nausea in some of my fellow travellers, but mostly encouraging us to press our faces against the windows to get that first glimpse.
Once we had made the land crossing into Brazil, watching the painted curb sides change from the blue and white of Argentina to green and yellow, marking our official entry, I seized the opportunity to take a helicopter ride and get that little bit closer to the falls.
A short flight over the national park entrance was all it took to begin to understand just how vast and significant the falls really are; in my naivety prior to visiting, I had little appreciation for how big this system really was, and although that bird’s eye view was essentially a tiny fragment of this natural wonder, it was truly one of the most amazing sights I have seen, bringing the four of us hovering above to silence. The only thing left was to get up close on foot.
Before leaving for my trip a friend had advised me to get the famous ‘rainbow shot’ and recommended being prepared at all times with camera in hand. It paid off; whilst I may have over a hundred photos of the falls, the few I managed to capture with a rainbow formed over the edge, bouncing off the watery mist as it plunges over the rocks were absolutely worth it, and really showcase the beauty of the trip.
That evening we visited a local family in their home and got involved in a traditional Brazilian barbecue. Both Brazilian and Argentinian cultures are keen on shared dining meat feasts, and it was a great opportunity to sample some delicious dishes.
Iguassu from Argentina
A new day, and a new perspective on the falls, this time in Argentinian Iguazu. We would be seeing a little more of the tropical South America by taking a jeep safari tour.
The tour began by entering the jungle from the ‘Sendero Yacaratia’ trail and immersed us almost immediately into that awesome, intimate habitat. This was the place to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the jungle surroundings in case of a fortunate spotting of the elusive jaguar. Whilst a sighting is somewhat rare, and needless to say didn’t happen in my case, we didn’t miss out completely on the wildlife front: the gorgeous sound of the jungle birds and monkeys echoed around, and I had the almost surreal pleasure of seeing Toucans with my own eyes.
The next leg of the tour was by speedboat, to get as close as possible to the falls. We stored our belongings in the provided waterproof bags, ready to get wet. What started as a gentle glide over the lower river, calmly floating away from the island in an eerie quiet, soon saw the boat pick up speed and the water get decidedly angrier as we drew closer to the pools at the bottom of the immense falls.
We were brought face-to-face with the Devil’s Throat canyon, the monstrous fall that carries half of the river’s flow, and the sound and scale of what was falling from above me was truly awe-inspiring. The force of the water surrounding me really made me want to sit back, stop and properly look, grateful for the distance and feeling of relative safety between the boat and the intense power of the water.
That was until the boat was steered directly into one of the surrounding falls, filling the air with screams of exhilaration and laughter, whilst I could feel my teeth-chattering in the shock of the chilling temperature. It was absolutely worth every minute, but certainly not for the faint hearted!
The only way back up the crest of the falls was to climb the hundred odd stairs, and whilst we were all eager to get back to dry(ish) land and warm clothes, walking along the waterways felt almost unearthly at times and, of course, provided plentiful photo opportunities. A well deserved Argentinian barbecue was gratefully devoured at one of the restaurants within the park, the perfect ending to what was an unforgettable, multicultural and jaw-droppingly beautiful introduction to South America.