There are three major waterfalls in the World: Niagara, Victoria Falls, and Iguazu.
Niagara Falls (pronounced nahy-ag-ruh) is the biggest of them all, draining from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario with a whopping 2.8 million litres of water per second and falling 50 metres below. It sits on the border between the United States and Canada, and it’s within an hour’s drive from Toronto or Buffalo.
There’s a little debate about which side of the falls is more spectacular – the American or the Canadian – but not much. Simply because there’s not much comparison – the Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side of the border is a truly awe-inspiring sight not to be missed in summer or winter, when ice and snow covers a big chunk of the River. The American side – not so much. Having been raised in Mississauga, a stone’s throw away from Niagara, I checked that box off my bucket list early in life.
It was about time to check off another one and with our travels taking us to both Africa and South America, all we had to do was pick which curtain of water to visit – Victoria Falls or Iguazu. It wasn’t an easy choice. Both falls are spectacular in their own right.
Victoria Falls is neither the highest nor widest waterfall in the world, but it spans a fantastic 1700 metres wide and falls a total distance of 108 metres. It’s claim to fame is that it’s comprised of the largest continuous falling sheet of water in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mosi-oa-Tunya or the Smoke That Thunders (as it’s called by the locals), is situated on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, a fair distance away from our hub in South Africa. So, as much as I wanted to hear the thunderous sound of all that water, we decided it was a better idea to skip it on this trip and leave it for another time, when we’re older and richer and can really do it right.
That left us with the Cataratas del Iguazú in South America, considered by many to be the most picturesque falls in the world. A series of 275 individual falls spanning over 2.7 kilometres with tropical rainforest as the background, it presents a jaw dropping scenery that’s difficult to top. “Poor Niagara” is what the American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said when she first encountered the sight of them.
Having been wowed by Niagara early in life, I was eager to see just how Iguazu would measure up.
Sitting on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and basically in the middle of the rainforest, getting there was a day’s journey by bus from the nearest metropolis in any of the 3 countries…not the simplest journey to make.
It wasn’t until we found ourselves in Cafayate in northwestern Argentina that we were able to get ourselves to Iguazu. After a disastrous few days of travel, where we missed our first bus, had to pay for a second set of tickets ($250!) and got our iPod stolen, we arrived in Puerto Iguazu, the little Argentinian town that sprang to life to host the myriads of tourists that visit the Falls.
After our full 24 hours on the bus, we were completely exhausted, so we decided to spend the day relaxing and exploring Puerto Iguazu. It didn’t take long. Made up of restaurants, coffee shops and tour companies geared towards tourists, we were able to cover the red roads of the town on foot pretty quickly.
After a good night’s rest, it was time to see what we’d traveled so far to see. A quick 30 minute local bus ride from town and we were finally at the entrance of the Iguazu Falls Visitor’s Centre.
Iguazu is actually a national park, with the falls surrounded by beautiful rainforest lush with green, tropical trees. Walking through the trails, it’s possible to see birds of all sorts, parrots, blue dacnis, toucans, eagles and many other predatory ones. You also see unusual land animals you didn’t know existed – the funny looking coati being a very common one, the jaguar a less common one, and thank goodness for that.
From the Centre, the Rainforest Ecological Train takes you to the various falls in the Park, with the star attraction being the enormous Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat. We decide to wow ourselves with the Diablo last (a mistake), and begin with a walk through the Sendero Verde and a boat ride over to Isla San Martin.
Tree after tree, and trail to trail, we venture deeper and deeper into the rainforest until we catch our first sight of the falls. WOW. Wow. One of those words rarely spoken but that in three letters captures the feeling of beauty and amazement. Wow. Roaring sheets of water draping entire cliffs, surrounded by beautiful rainbows. Crazy.
We take our time shooting pictures and literally soaking in the majesty of the falls, as we are misted by it’s spray. It’s 4pm by the time we make it back to train stop, and despite the fact that the Park doesn’t close until 6pm, the train has stopped running up to the Garganta. And no, despite the fact that there’s a trail, you’re not allowed to walk there either. ARGH! Would’ve been nice if that information was posted somewhere. Anywhere!
Though we’d originally planned to visit the Brazilian side of the Falls the next day, we now have no choice but to return to the Cataratas del Iguazu, just to see the Garganta.
We’re glad we didn’t miss it, because as we stand atop the highest and biggest fall in Iguazu, I am hypnotized by the sheer beauty before us. The energy of the falls is astounding, deafening and mesmerizing, as if it has a life of it’s own. The power of Mother Nature, raw beautiful nature, right in front of our eyes. Wow.
Getting to Iguazu (Argentina) / Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil):
On the Argentinian side, the closest airport is the Cataratas del Iguazu International Airport (IGR). On the Brazilian side, the airport is called Foz do Iguaçu International Airport (IGU).
If you plan on flying, book as early as possible. This is one of South America’s premier tourist destinations and flights sell out quickly. If you aren’t lucky enough to get a flight, you’ll be stuck on a very long and expensive bus ride, like we were (minimum 12 hours, and probably more like 24 hours).
Where to Stay:
In Argentina, Puerto Iguazu is the closest town to Iguazu National Park. It’s possible to simply show up, wander the streets and find somewhere to stay. We found a reasonably priced room close to the centre of town for just 120 Argentinian pesos (about $28).
Visiting the Falls:
From Puerto Iguazu, it’s a 30 minute, 10 peso, bus ride from the central terminal to the falls. Admission to Iguazu National Park for non-Argentine residents is ARS $130 per day. If you make the mistake of missing the last train to Garganta del Diablo like we did, you can re-enter the park the next day for ARS $65, provided you get your ticket stamped before leaving the Park on the first day. Hours are from 8AM to 6PM between April and September, and 7:30AM to 6:30PM between October and March.