Upon seeing Iguazu Falls for the first time, Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!”. John had a similarly dignified reaction: “Holy _____!”. Obviously, Eleanor and John have a lot in common.
We’re not knocking Niagara, it’s gorgeous – but Iguazu is other-worldly. It’s so beautiful, in fact, that it doesn’t feel quite real. Perhaps it’s our entertainment / media backgrounds, but we kept waiting to see someone from the Art Department moving a rock or adjusting the flow of water while a director yelled “Action!”.
Iguazu is the largest system of waterfalls in the world, with 275 individual falls over a distance of 2.7km. They are both taller than Niagara and nearly twice as wide. The falls sit on the border of Argentina and Brazil and both countries have national parks dedicated to them. We explored both sides thanks to a very inexpensive – but somewhat confusing – bus system that runs between the two countries (more on that below).
How to Get Here
We took an overnight, 14 hour bus from Florianópolis to Foz de Iguaçu (Brazil side), which was an experience in and of itself. We booked first class “lie flat” seats, and while this wasn’t as nice as flying Emirates business class, it was still pretty posh. We’ve gotta give Brazil props for knowing how to make the most of bus travel! Go Catarinense!
There are also two airports that service the falls – one on the Brazilian side and one on the Argentinian side, both of which host mainly domestic flights. It’s an easy jump from Rio, Sao Paulo, or Buenos Aires… so if you’re thinking about making the trip, DO IT!
Where to Stay
We stayed on the Brazilian side near the bus station which provided easy (and cheap) access to all of the tourist sights. We’d recommend our Pousada if you’re looking for a lower-budget option: Pousada Sonho Meu Foz. It was inexpensive, convenient, and had a great breakfast! (Scott was excited they had cake!). Lodging on the Argentinian side – in Puerto Iguazú Falls – is a bit less expensive, so check out both and decide what works best for you.
3 Things You’ve Gotta Do, Plus 1 Tourist Trap
Iguazú National Park (Argentina side of falls) – If you have limited time, this park should be your top priority. It provides an up-close view of the major falls plus kilometers of hiking trails that are just astounding. Plan to spend a full day here, as there’s lots to see and do. The entrance fee is $500 Argentinian Pesos ($30 US) and in true Argentinian fashion is only payable in cash. There’s an ATM near the entrance in case you need it – we did.
We’d recommend seeing as much of the park as you can, but these were our favorite sights, in priority order:
- Garganta del Diablo – This is the mouth of the biggest waterfall and it is truly must-see. There’s a free train that runs every 30 minutes or so and takes you to a 1km trail. Expect to get wet on the hike but it is SO WORTH IT. You’ll find lots of pushy tourists here trying to get the perfect selfie – and you’ll probably become one too.
- Isla San Martin – There’s a free ferry that takes you to this small island located in the middle of the river, very near one set of falls. The ferry is super short (like 3 minutes), and takes you to a steep, staired path on the island. The climb up is worth it for the views – just keep telling yourself that as you hike up :).
- Circuito Superior – This beautiful 1.75km trail takes you through an assortment of “hidden” falls as well as some pretty amazing jungle plants and bird life – we saw a toucan!
Parque Nacional Do Iguaçu (Brazil side of falls) – The falls mainly reside in Argentina, but Brazil has some of the best views. The entrance fee here is $60 Real or $20 US and it includes round-trip bus service (a 15 minute ride) from the main entrance of the park to the falls. Get off the bus at The Path of The Falls and take the 1.5km hike from there. It’s an easy, mostly paved path that provides gorgeous views as well as context for just how massive the system of falls is. There’s also a great area for you to walk over the lower part of the falls just below Garganta del Diablo.
Unfortunately, every other activity inside this park costs extra (like, a lot extra), so we just did this trail and took about a bajillion photos. Other things that looked like fun if you want to spend the time and money:
- Macuco Safari: A boat ride that takes you to the bottom of the falls (you’ll get really wet!)
- Poco Preto Tour: A guided 9km hike followed by a boat ride to an island with great views of the falls.
Parque Das Aves (Aviary) – John really wanted to go here to check out the toucans (he’s OBSESSED!) and Scott grudgingly came along; consensus – we both loved it. There are all sorts of amazing birds (flamingos, hawks, parrots, etc.) and some beautiful plant life too. The park allows you to get up-close-and-personal with the birds – sometimes a little too close: the macaws are freaking loud! 50% of the birds here are rescues and the other 43% are born in the park for conservation reasons. The aviary takes about an hour and a half and would be easy to pair with a day at the Parque Nacional de Iguaçu as they’re next door to each other.
Marco das Tres Fronteiras – Every city has it’s tourist traps, and that includes this spot in Foz de Iguaçu where you can stand in Brazil and look out at Argentina and Paraguay. It would be fine if it didn’t cost anything, but we’ll let you decide whether it’s worth the $20 Real ($7 US) fee per person for this view. We made the best of our $$ and had a fun photo shoot. Note: the Argentinian side has something similar and it’s free.
About that Bus (Getting Between Countries)
To do all of the above, you’ll have to cross the border at least once. You can do that in a taxi (which is fairly expensive but totally legit), a rental car, or by bus. A bus is the least expensive and most adventurous option and how we chose to approach it.
Here’s some information on how to take the bus from Foz de Iguaçu to Iguazú National Park. The process is a little time consuming, so go with that in mind. As with all buses in South America, it’s a bit of a sh*t show but somehow everything always seems to work out and you kinda just have to go with the flow. A few things to keep in mind:
- You need to stamp out of Brazil and into Argentina on the way to the park, and then on the way back stamp out of Argentina and into Brazil. The bus won’t wait for you at the Brazil checkpoints (locals don’t have to stamp out or back in), meaning you’ll have to wait and catch another bus once you get your stamp. Our bus driver didn’t stop for us to stamp out of Brazil, so we didn’t stamp back in either. Not stamping out/in is technically illegal, but if you’re reading this it means we aren’t in a Brazilian prison so I guess it all worked out okay!
- We couldn’t find a direct bus from Iguazú National Park back to Foz de Iguaçu. After waiting for more than an hour we decided to take a bus to the Iguazú Falls (Argentinian) downtown bus station and then transferred there to a Foz de Iguaçu bus. This was easy to do and we wish we’d done so an hour earlier as there are buses from a company called Rio Uruguay that make the trip every five minutes.
So make like Eleanor Roosevelt and get to Iguazu!
John and Scott
The Line Trek