On my trip to South America last year I was blown away by the grandeur of Iguazu Falls, the subject of this week’s “Snapshot.” Located on the border of the Brazilian state of Paraná and the Argentine province of Misiones, Iguazu Falls is actually 275 separate, spectacular waterfalls. Set in the subtropical rainforest along 1.6 miles of the Iguazu River, they are known as Cataratas do Iguaçu in Brazil and Cataratas del Iguazú in Argentina and Paraguay, which is just a short trip downstream. You may recognize it from such films as “The Mission” with Robert DeNiro and more recently, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
To say Iguazu Falls is enormous is an understatement. I spent two days there and wish that I’d had another to take it all in. A guide told us that by comparison, (the much more famous) Niagara Falls is like the mist from opening a can of 7UP.
We split our visit into two parts: Brazil on day 1 and Argentina on day 2. Since we already had visas for Brazil it was easy for our taxi to take us across the border. From the entrance of the national park, we took a colorful glass-roofed bus deep into the jungle to the visitors’ center. From this point, it was a relatively undemanding hike (despite the unbelievable humidity) down switchbacks to the base of the cliff. Along the way there were lots of places to stop and gaze at the stunning vistas as the water rushed all around us. At the end of the trail, we rode a glass elevator back to the top (past the souvenir shop and café, of course.)
Another must-see place on the Brazilian side is the Parque das Aves, a wild bird sanctuary just outside the National Park’s entrance. We encountered hundreds of vibrantly colored birds such as toucans, flamingoes, parrots, macaws, and ones I couldn’t even name.
From the Brazilian side you get a better overall panoramic view of everything; by comparison, the Argentina side lets you get up close and personal with the falls. On our second day, we opted for an admission package that included a small train through the rainforest, an ecological jeep tour, and the most exciting part—a speedboat ride beneath the falls. After trekking through the dense foliage, and then along a 1-kilometer long metal catwalk directly over the river, we reached the Devil’s Throat, or Garganta del Diablo, a 269-foot high horseshoe-shaped waterfall. (That’s roughly
the equivalent of a 25-story building.) Shrouded in mist, with the Iguazu River flowing swiftly beneath us, we could barely hear ourselves think over the deafening roar of the cascades crashing below. It was thrilling to stand on the edge, looking straight down into the void, with only a slippery metal railing preventing a quick and sudden death!
We definitely saved the best for last.
After hiking down the cliff to the water’s edge, we boarded a bright orange speedboat for an exhilarating ride under the falls. It was definitely a cool and refreshing respite from the summer heat. I learned my lesson though and would highly recommend bringing a swimsuit along so you aren’t stuck in soaking wet clothes afterwards.
Iguazu Falls is currently a finalist for “The New 7 Wonders of the Natural World.” It would really be a shame if they didn’t make the cut. If you are already in South America, or are planning a vacation there, it’s certainly worth the extra trip. Everyone should see this magnificent natural wonder in his or her lifetime.