In early June I ventured down to South America once again. This time I was chasing waterfalls (yes a few ladies in the 90s will tell you otherwise, but in this case its worth it). I headed for Iguazu Falls (Foz do Iguacu/ Cataratas del Iguazu). It is the largest waterfall system in the world and straddles the border between Brazil and Argentina. It is one of the modern 7 wonders of the world. And boy is it a sight to behold. It is also featured in many films including “The Mission” as well as “Black Panther.”
While I will offer my usual itinerary, I will start the post with some tips on how to do the falls as I realized not much information exists on the internet (surprisingly). The end of the tips section is where I answer which side you should visit as well as tips for each side (the real answer is both if your schedule will allow).
Thing to keep in mind
- Both sides have a downtown area that are about 20-30 minutes drive from the visitor’s center of the falls on each side.
- The visitor’s center and falls are within national park territory in both countries.
- You have to buy separate entry tickets for each side. Brazil: R$63.60 (USD$17), Argentina: AR$600 (USD$22) Have some cash prepared as the credit card machines sometimes dont work and you’ll need cash to pay for storage lockers (~USD$4). Argentine Pesos and Brazilian Real accepted on either side, but you will receive change in local currency.
- Many citizens, including U.S. need a visa to access the Brazilian side, you can now do online e-visa.
- Crossing the border between the two countries is not hard at all, you just clear customs and immigration on either end of the bridge.
- The buses are the cheapest option to get around and between each side, but can be confusing for non-Spanish or Portuguese speakers and can take a long time.
- If you already have the visa, one can consider visiting Paraguay as well. There is one point where all three countries border each other, on either Brazil or Argentina you can see all three countries at once.
- BEWARE of Coatis, they are native animals that roam both sides of the falls, and while are mostly gentle, they have been known to heavily injure humans who try to pet or feed them. Also do not eat your snacks around them.
- People on either side speak both Spanish and Portuguese, though I found that more spoke Spanish, even on the Brazil side.
It is not terribly hard to reach either. You can access it on either the Argentina side (airport code: IGR) or Brazil side (airport code: IGU), both sides have airports that have domestic flights for their respective country and LAN operates flights from Lima to the Brazil side as well. GOL, Azul, LATAM and Avianca Brazil all offer flights on the Brazil side. Aerolineas Argentinas, LAN, and Andes Air offer flights on the Argentina side.
If flights are too expensive, there are buses that run from major cities in both countries to the falls. From what I read in my research, you should opt to take the overnight bus to maximize your time.
Getting Around Town
The easiest but more expensive way to get around the area is by Taxi. The 5 minute taxi ride from the Brazil Airport to the entrance of the Brazil falls was R$17 (USD$4), I had my hotel arrange for a private taxi from the hotel (inside the Brazil falls) to the Argentina entrance, a total journey of about 40-50 minutes including immigration and that was R$185 (USD$47). Finally, the taxi drivers waiting outside the visitor’s centers on either side will likely not go by the meter and will definitely overcharge you, the 15 minute ride from Argentina side to the Argentina Airport was around AR$600 (USD$21).
The cheapest way is to go by local bus. While I did not experience this myself, my friends did this and said it was not terrible but just confusing at time if you dont speak a word of Spanish or Portuguese. From either side’s airport you need to take one bus to the downtown bus station and transfer to another bus that takes you across the border, the bus will wait for all passengers to complete their customs and immigration formalities at either end. But given that this is a major tourist spot for both countries, I am sure you wont get terribly lost and you will definitely find fellow travelers as well.
Another way I would recommend, especially if you are with a group of people, is to rent a car. The roads are well paved enough and the drive to and from the falls and between the two countries is fairly straight forward.
Where to stay
Both cities Foz do Iguacu (Brazil) and Puerto Iguazu (Argentina) and even Ciudad de Este (Paraguay) offer plenty of accommodation options. AirBnBs, hostels, bed and breakfasts, hotels of all budget ranges. I would say if you wanted to stay in a downtown area where majority of affordable options are, I would stay on the Argentina side as it is a bit closer to either side’s entrances (there are a few options on Brazil side close to the visitor’s center but they are not downtown).
If you are willing to stretch your budget, then the place I highly recommend staying at The Belmond das Cataratas hotel right in the middle of the Brazilian falls. Not only is it the only hotel within the Brazil national park grounds, guests have unlimited access to the Brazil falls before and after park hours. This mean basically private uninterrupted experiences along the path of the Brazil side. Furthermore the hotel is incredible. It has amazing food, service, and rooms. Not to mention select rooms and restaurants with views of the falls.
Like I mentioned, if your time allows, definitely do both.
Brazil: The Brazil falls offers the panoramic views and has the shorter path. It also faces the sunset so on a clear day it would offer spectacular sunset views. But at sunrise it also has incredible views and glows bright orange/ yellow. The Brazil side also offers views of the massive Devil’s Throat from below. Takes the least amount of time, you can do it within one hour or spend up to 4 hours (depending on if you choose to do a boat ride or go off on some side hikes).
Note: public transport and private cars (unless staying at Belmond) can only access up to the visitor’s center. From there you board a bus that transports you along multiple stops including the start and finish of the main Brazil Falls path. You will get very wet in multiple areas, so either bring your own gear or use the rain coats provided in the park.
Argentina: The Argentina side is massive. It can easily take upwards of 6 hours to do this side justice. There are multiple paths that traverse the falls from above and below and take you deep into the rainforest. While the Argentina side does not offer you as great of panoramic views compared to Brazil, you get to get much closer to the various falls. The highlight on the Argentina side is the viewing deck perched atop Devil’s Throat.
Note: on the Argentina side it is mostly done by foot, and some areas are slippery. You dont get as wet on this side. Further there is a forest train system within the park; one route takes you from the entrance to Estacion Cataratas. The other route takes you from Estacion Cataratas and the Estacion Garganta (Devil’s Throat pathway start and end point). I recommend you walk to Estacion Cataratas and not waste your time by getting off one train then waiting for the next, as you have to get a numbered ticket and board your numbered train. If you have time and want to take in the surroundings you can also choose to walk the whole distance. I would prioritize Devil’s Throat first, and then depending on your time and interest prioritize the other pathways within the park (yellow goes through rainforest and takes you to the foot of a few falls; Blue takes you above the falls and marshlands). If you are lucky and water levels permit take the boat to San Martin Island and do the short red path there (I was not so lucky). The paths have signs that say one-way, but I was in a hurry and could only do portions of them and when I walked out back along the way I came, no one stopped me.
- Arrived Saturday morning in Sao Paulo, transferred on to a 1.5 hour GOL flight to Foz do Iguacu (IGU).
- Arrive in Foz do Iguazu around noon. Take a 5 minute taxi to Brazil side visitor’s center.
- Purchase my entry ticket and lined up to board the shuttle bus.
- About 15 minutes later, arrive at the entrance to the main pathway and the Belmond das Cataratas Hotel.
- Began my walk through the Brazilian falls pathway (unfortunately I did not get a map so I am not able to name the various view points). The path itself is straight forward with signs in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
- Spent many a moments awing and soaking in (both literally and figuratively) the falls. They really are something you have to see for yourself as no picture, video or description could ever do this place justice. You feel the power of mother nature and realize how insignificant human beings really are.
- I finally arrived at the Devil’s Throat view point, and boy do you get wet or what. But it is worth it all. Even though it was packed and you basically have to line up to take your selfie or photos of the spectacular falls (featured image on left).
- I was starving by this point as I hadnt eaten since the morning and it was approaching 2PM. I decided I would have lunch at the Belmond das Cataratas hotel. I had some Caipirinha, fried tapioca, and club sandwich. I was so in love with the falls and hotel I decided to book a night then and there and cancel my original booking for a cheap hotel on the Argentina side. For me, this decision was so worth the ~$350 price. But if you do not want to stay here, I really do recommend at least a drink or a meal, its delicious, relaxing and you can see and hear the falls. The food and beverage is not expensive for a Belmond (I have stayed at other Belmonds and it can be quite pricey).
- After checking-in to my room with a balcony and views of the rainforest (even saw many monkeys jumping about) as well as a bit of the falls. I explored the hotel grounds including climbing up the hotel’s bell tower for stunning views of the falls. I wanted to book a seat at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant Itaipu but it was full.
- Following a bit of rest and blogging, it was time to explore the falls at sunset as the final tourists began to leave The experience was night and day. The entire path and park to myself basically except for a few stragglers. I walked and took in the views with just me and mother nature. It was magical and surreal and the best part was being virtually alone at the Devil’s Throat viewpoint without being pushed around or feeling guilty for hogging the best photo spots as a line of people wait behind you. Unfortunately it was overcast and raining so there was no sunset to be seen this night.
- I returned to the hotel along the path and was stopped by park groundsman (the path is technically one-way and it was already after park hours) but I said I was a hotel guest and that was it, he let me through.
- I then headed to the complimentary sauna and relaxation room to rejuvenate a little before dinner.
- I ate at the bar again. Ordering Prawn Pasteis, the delicious and juicy house burger, with the signature cocktail Devil’s Throat, another house reserve Caipirinha, and ending the night with a Brazilian gin and tonic.
- I then asked the concierge to arrange a taxi for me to take me from the entrance of Brazil side to Argentina side. Belmond offers guests free shuttles from the hotel to the entryway, you flash you keycard to gain entry. I chose to spend on a taxi because I wanted to maximize my time on either side and at the hotel (who doesnt like a delicious hotel breakfast buffet) rather than take the bus.
- I woke up at sunrise the next morning and was excited to see clear blue skies.
- In the early hours the only people walking along the path were Belmond hotel guests. Once again an amazingly surreal experience without the crowds. As the sun rose the falls and skies kept changing colors with various hues of orange, gold, red and even purple.
- There were also multiple rainbows that formed and the most exciting one was one that formed in front of the Devil’s Throat viewing platform. Needless to say, a wonderful way to start the day and end my time on the Brazil side.
- I returned to Belmond and had my delicious breakfast buffet before checking out and heading to the park entrance to catch my taxi.
- We got to the Brazil immigration, I cleared immigration easily, then we drove to the other side of the bridge where I entered Argentina, again with ease.
- I arrived at the Argentina side around 10AM, purchased my entry, purchased my locker for my belongings and entered the park.
- I made the mistake of taking the train from the entry area to Estacion Cataratas thinking that it was the train that would take me to Devil’s Throat. I was not paying attention and didnt read the signs. I had to then get off the train and get another numbered ticket and wait for two more trains before I got on the Cataratas to Garganta train, which meant I wasted a few precious minutes. But I finally made it to the start of the Garganta path. The train ride takes around 10 minutes. and depart every 30 minutes (from each station). Because I ended up having an additional 30 minutes before my next train, I quickly hit a small portion of the blue trail which takes you above some waterfalls and through the marshlands.
- The walk from the start of the path to the Devil’s Throat viewing platform takes around 20-30 minutes (without much stopping and at a steady pace). The views from the Argentina side are just as spectacular but it is also a lot more powerful here because you are right by the falls themselves and can see just how much water if going down and hearing the loud roar is just incredible. While just as crowded as Brazil, there are so many great vantage points that you dont get as many lines of people waiting, plus one of the best vantage points is occupied by park photographers who take your souvenir shot and that has a long line.
- I then walked back to catch a train to Cataratas Station.
- With the little time I had left, I decided to walk a portion of the yellow path. This path takes you through rainforest and to the bottom or mid-point of a handful of falls. It was incredible when one of the falls had a full rainbow coming right out of it. Another surreal and mystical moment.
- Soon it was fast approaching 1:30PM and I had to begin my 20-30 minute walk back to the entrance to catch a taxi to the Puerto Iguazu (IGR) airport for my 3:35PM departure to Buenos Aires Aeroparque city airport (AEP). Note: I did not eat lunch at the park, I just ate a banana I got from breakfast and made sure to have a large breakfast since park food is expensive and not great.
- I arrived at a messy airport that is currently being reconstructed. Departed on time and arrived early in Buenos Aires. From there I took a taxi (uber and taxi around same price, cheapest option is shuttle) from Aeroparque airport to Buenos Aires Eziza International Airport (EZE; 40 minutes without traffic).
- 8PM departure from Buenos Aires back to the United States.
So, there you have my tips and recs for doing Iguazu Falls and my itinerary for a weekend trip. This is truly a worthwhile journey. The falls are just magical, stunning, mystical and surreal. It is a site that you have to see to believe.