Nearshore Americas

Have a Devil of a Time at Iguazú Falls

La Garganta del Diablo, or The Devil’s Throat, might sound like a horror movie, but even though its mighty roar might scare some, it is one of the most beautiful and impressive parts of the Iguazú Falls. At 269 feet high, 490 feet wide and 2,300 feet long, the Devil’s Throat is imposing and awe inspiring, but it is only a fraction of the entirety that make up the estimated 275 falls, also known as Cataratas del Iguazú, Chororo Yguasu, Iguassu Falls or Iguaçu Falls, which are actually split 80/20 percent between the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Iguazú National Park in Argentina and the Iguaçu National Park in Brazil.

Enduring Legend

Iguazú, stemming from the Guarani words “y” for “water” and “ûasú” for “big,” was born from a legend of the Caingangues Indians who populated the Iguassu River region. One version recounts the story of the god Mboi, manifested in the form of a serpent, who desired Naipí, the beautiful daughter of the tribal chief. To placate Mboi, the chief pledged Naipí to him. On the ceremonial day, a young warrior called Tarobá stole Naipí away in a canoe, thus enraging Mboi.

The god, in turn, twisted his giant serpentine body deep into the earth and created a monstrous fissure, causing the river to crack apart and the waterfalls to burst forth. The doomed lovers Naipí and Tarobá plunged over the falls and the young girl became a rock destined to suffer constant pummeling from the punishing torrent of water above, and her beau was transformed into a palm tree on the river bank. Mboi, it is said, dwells within a cave to watch the lovers, the three of them locked in an eternal triangle.

In addition to the falls, the subtropical rainforest that surrounds them is rich in biodiversity and home to an array of impressive flora and fauna including over 2,000 species of vascular plants, giant anteaters, ocelots, caymans, tapirs and howler monkeys.

First “discovered” by the Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541, Iguazú Falls was designated on November 11, 2011 as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

Following are our tips on how to best experience the falls:

Getting There – For those who prefer to fly, there are two airports within five miles of the falls: Brazil’s Foz do Iguaçu Airport (IGU) and Argentina’s Cataratas del Iguazú (IGR).

If traveling by bus or car, the falls can be accessed through one of the tri-border cities:  Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil; Puerto Iguazú, Argentina; and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.

Crossing between Argentina and Brazil is generally easy. However, US passport holders must obtain a visa to visit the Brazilian side before arriving at the falls. It is best to obtain this before leaving the US. Visitors with a European Union passport do not usually need a visa to enter Brazil for tourism, however, it is highly recommended to check before leaving Europe.

Although US citizens do not need a visa to enter Argentina for up to 90 days for business or tourism, they are required to pay a reciprocity fee of $160.00 USD by credit card online at the Provincia Pagos website. After payment is made, the traveler must print and present the receipt to the Argentine immigration officer upon entry into the country. This fee is valid for ten years and multiple entries are permitted. NOTE: This fee is waived for cruise ship passengers.

Also check rules regarding immunization requirements. For example, Australians are required to get yellow fever shots if they are returning to Australia within six days following a visit to Brazil.

Since rules and regulations are subject to change, we recommend that you check with Argentine and Brazilian authorities before making your travel plans.

When to Go – Unless you enjoy heavy rain, and getting extremely water-logged, it is best to avoid the falls from May to July. December and January are the most popular times to visit for Brazilians and Argentines, and it gets very crowded during Easter Week, making September and October perhaps the most enjoyable months as the area tends to be less frantic.

What to Pack – Obviously things can get wetter than wet, but that is part of the fun. Comfortable hiking clothes, waterproof boots and rain gear are all recommended.  And don’t forget the sunscreen and insect repellant!

Where to Stay – Accommodation options are limited, but there are comfortable hotels on both sides:

Argentina: Sheraton Internacional Iguazú Resort, Iguazú 3370, (+54)3757-491800. Located in the Argentine National Park and a nice walk from the Argentine falls, with a rooftop observation deck. Ask about the available room options for views of the jungle and the falls.

Brazil: Hotel Das Cataratas, Iguaçu National Park, Parana. (+55)45-2102-7000. Located inside the Brazilian National Park and situated atop the falls. The Brazilian observation points and Porto Canoas are within walking distance.

Where to Eat – Be prepared to eat hamburgers and other fast food options from vendors as fine dining is not a priority. However, the restaurants at the above-listed hotels offer delicious selections.

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How Long to Stay – Since the perspective of the falls changes practically with every step, and the views are strikingly different from the Argentinian and Brazilian sides, it is recommended that visitors plan at least a day and a half to two days for the most complete exploration.

Enjoy the Views – From the Argentinean side visitors can see various panoramic views and the rushing water flow, and the surrounding area from atop the falls, whereas the most impressive panoramic views are enjoyed from Brazil. While in Argentina, take one or both of the trails that run alongside either the upper falls or the lower falls. It is best take these trails in the morning as the sun rising from Brazil illuminates the water and provides the most spectacular viewing opportunities. Think of it this way: View the falls from Brazil, but experience them in Argentina.

It is also a good idea to explore the Brazilian side in the morning. This side is shorter than the one in Argentina and most visitors can complete it in half a day or less. However, in order to get the best out of this unique experience, visitors are encouraged to give themselves as much time as possible to see how the falls change depending on the time of day and the weather.

When traveling to Argentina or Brazil, schedule some time to visit the falls and experience the wonder yourself!

Patrick Haller

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