The Cataratas do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Falls) are one of the natural wonders of the world, a place where you stand in awe of the power of nature. They are high on the list of places in Brazil that most visitors want to see.
The Cataratas do Iguaçu are a powerful and extraordinary sight. “Poor Niagara!” exclaimed Eleanor Roosevelt on first setting eyes on them. Indeed, the statistics are confounding: 275 individual falls – some of which are more than 80 meters (260ft) high – plunge over a 3km (2-mile) precipice in an unending wall of spray, discharging, at the peak, a cascade of more than 6.5 million litres (1.7 million gallons) of water per second.
The falls are located on the Iguaçu river within a subtropical national park (a Unesco World Heritage Site) on the Brazilian/Argentine border, and can be reached from both countries. A half-day on the Brazilian side and a full day on the Argentine side are recommended if you have the time.
Entrance to the Brazilian park is through a modern visitor center with a museum, shop, and ATM. From here, shuttle buses run to the falls (no cars are allowed in the park).
The park shuttle buses running to the falls make an initial stop at the Macuco Safari – an unmissable experience. Aboard sturdy, 20-seater inflatable boats you can see up close the incredible power of the water from the base of these majestic falls. You will inevitably get thoroughly drenched, so it’s advisable to wear a swimsuit, and take a plastic bag for your camera.
At the heart of this unforgettable scene is the Devil's Throat, where 14 separate falls join forces, pounding down the 90-meter (295ft) cliffs in a deafening crescendo of sound and spray, crowned by a perpetual rainbow. The final stop on the shuttle bus takes you to the start of a 1-km (0.5-mile) wooden walkway from where there's a fantastic view of the Devil’s Throat. When you reach the viewpoint at the end of the trail, you find yourself surrounded by the roaring water, the mist, and white foam that boils up around the green of the jungle, plus that 180-degree rainbow. It is an overwhelming (and extremely wet) experience.
Most hotels in the town of Foz do Iguaçu can organise excursions or transport to and from the falls. Foz underwent a boom during the construction of the Itaipú dam and, because of its proximity to the falls, has a thriving tourist industry. The town is modern and uninspiring but has a good selection of medium-priced hotels and restaurants.
Built between 1970 and 1984, the Itaipú dam was a joint construction project shared between Brazil and Paraguay, and is currently the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. The dam itself is 8km (5 miles) in length and produces in the region of 27 billion kWh each year, thus providing a quarter of Brazil’s electricity (and 80 percent of Paraguay’s). There are a number of different tours of the dam, the most comprehensive of which takes two-and-a-half hours. There is also a special light show every Friday and Saturday evening. More than 15 million people have visited the dam since 1977.
In order to cross to the Argentine side – which you should certainly do – you must pass border control at Ponte Tancredo Neves (no visas required – passports compulsory). Over 80 percent of the falls belong to Argentina, and the tourist infrastructure there is more advanced. Trains leave every 15 minutes for two trailheads, both of which offer extraordinary close-up views of the falls. From the Lower Circuit – steeper and slightly longer than the Upper Circuit – you can take a boat to Isla San Martín, where a steep trail winds among some lesser-visited falls and pools. A second train continues to the Devil’s Throat walkway for a look down into the pounding waters.
Iguaçu National Park
tel: 45-2102 7000
If you want to spoil yourself, go to the refurbished Hotel das Cataratas, a Colonial-style building totally refurbished since being taken over by Orient-Express group. Located in front of the falls, it's the only hotel actually in the park, giving access to the falls when the park is closed. If you can’t afford to stay here, you might want to try the restaurant or bar while visiting the falls.
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