Before I left Australia I neatly planned my South American itinerary to give me some direction during my year-long trip. The continent is beyond huge and it is necessary to put effort into you planning if you're going to make the most of your time.
It didn't take much researching or talking to people to realise that one of the absolute 'must see' sights is the majestic Iguazú Falls, which lie either side of the Argentine and Brazilian border, separated from Paraguay by the Rio Paraná. The falls are located where the Iguazú River tumbles over the side of the Parana Plateau. The river is divided into between 150-300 waterfalls, each between 60-82 metres high, depending on the water level. One entire half of the river flows into the Garganta Del Diablo, the largest and most impressive waterfall in the park, divided between Argentina and Brazil. Understandably, the huge number of waterfalls, islands and deep chasms make for a truly impressive spectacle. The falls were awarded the prestige of being one of The New Seven Natural Wonders of the World in 2011.
The remoteness of Puerto Iguazú (the town on the Argentine side of the border), the expense of Argentina and difficulty hitchhiking there, meant that I was forced to search for a cheap bus ticket to make the 22 hour journey north from Buenos Aires. The buses in Argentina have been a major expense, being anything between 5-10 times more costly than the few I took in Chile. By comparison, after speaking to every bus company at the station I finally nailed a fairly cheap deal of $530AR (~$106AUD). The upside of this kind of travel is the comfort of the lengthy bus trips here in Argentina, with most buses boasting hot food, complementary drinks and wifi!
Perhaps it was the great deal I got on my ticket, but my bus had none of these things. Instead, I was compensated with a great view from the top floor of the bus looking out of the front window. I quickly got chatting to a German girl, Merindah, who had spent a lot of time living in Perth, Australia. She probably won't forgive me for saying this, but her resulting accent sounded occasionally more like South African than the other two! We grabbed some pizza that evening, took a walk around the town and arranged to head to the falls together early the following morning. I checked in at the amazing Hostel Iguazu Falls, complete with swimming pool and stocked fridge, and grabbed an early night.
As I mentioned, the Iguazú Falls are spilt across the border of Brazil and Argentina. This makes things slightly confusing for people planning to visit both sides. Firstly, you have to cross the border into Brazil in order to visit the 'Cataratas' on their side. This means getting a visa for some people, and for everyone, withdrawing or changing money for Brazilian Reals. Obviously, for those coming from Argentina this process is reversed. Cross-border buses are often costly and I saved a lot of money by simply asking around on the local buses that could take me to the border so I could simply walk across and get a bus on the other side.
The two sides are totally different experiences, while Brazil offers a panoramic view of the park, Argentina is more up close and personal and includes more opportunities for boat trips under the falls. Because Argentina has more walking trails, excursions and gets you (much) closer to the falls, the majority of people I spoke to beforehand had recommended to visit the Brazilian side first to appreciate the vastness of them, before seeing them up close in Argentina. Merindah was only visiting the Argentinian side, so I opted to ignore this advice and simply visit the falls in the Argentina-Brazil order. Honestly, both sides were simply breathtaking. Although the Argentinian side is undoubtedly grander and more personal, the Brazilian side is also a spectacular panoramic vista. The order in which I visited took nothing away from the experience that I had.
Getting up early the next morning to avoid the big crowds was made easier by the beautiful sunshine, palm trees, glistening pool and steaming breakfast coffee. We made the early bus and were in the park in good time. Our plan was to head up to the Garganta Del Diablo (Devil's Throat) early. It is one of the parks major attractions, where the most water flows over the edges and reaches deeper than Niagara Falls. A small train inside the park takes people straight to the top, so we boarded and waited … and waited. It turned out that the super savvy tourists had walked to the next station, so that by the time we reached the top, our train was packed to bursting point.
Even the fact that our little plan had failed couldn't take anything away from the beauty of the first glimpse of the falls. After a short walk across footbridges over serene, slow-flowing rivers, the roar of millions of tons of water could be heard through the trees. Suddenly, we found ourselves on a raised platform above one of the most incredible things I have ever laid eyes upon. The volume of water pouring over the edges of the waterfalls is unfathomable close-up, as your eyes struggle to focus on what's before you. Never ending swelling tides of water kick up a constant mist, obscuring the bottom of the canyon. Each of these tiny droplets act as tiny prisms for the sun's rays as multiple rainbows are formed, sometimes in complete circles. Native birds dart in and out of their tiny homes behind the wall of water and circle playfully in the mist below. The entire spectacle is truly magical.
The purpose-built trails spider throughout the rest of the park, to the upper- and lower-side of the falls. Each individual waterfall is as impressive as the next, and every panoramic view is dotted with wildlife, national park forest, shimmering rainbows and curtains of white raging water. One of the highlights of the day was opting to take a boat trip underneath the falls themselves! Thankfully, I had been forewarned about just how wet the experience was. We placed our clothes and cameras into big dry bags and changed into swimwear with just our life jackets over the top. The boat headed out onto the river, paused for effect, and then roared into the falls on the right hand side. The power of the freezing cold water crashing onto you is indescribable, the unrelenting power of the waterfall soaked us from head to toe. The boat then turned around and did it all again on the other side. Merindah told me later that I squealed like a little girl, but I'm convinced that it was the people in front of us.
We dried off and ate some lunch, careful to keep our bags away from the Coatis, strange anteater-like animals who will do anything to get your lunch. Several of them waddle around the park, hugely overweight due to tourist presence and feeding despite signs advising otherwise. Finally, having covered all of the tracks (some of them twice) and taken hundreds of photos, we made our way back into town. Merindah was on a tight time frame and heading west to Salta that evening, so we said our goodbyes and I headed back to the hostal.
The next morning I was visiting the Brazilian side, so I prepared myself by staying up late and enjoying a few drinks with some newcomers at the hostal. Enjoy the photos from the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls (below) and keep an eye on the Facebook page for Part 2 of the post – my adventure to the Brazilian side of the falls and why I stayed another 5 days in amazing Puerto Iguazu!