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Complete Guide to Iguazu Falls
I’ve been to Iguazu twice now and it’s truly something you don’t tire of. I could (and likely will) go again, without a doubt. Eleanor Roosevelt supposedly uttered “Poor Niagara” upon seeing the waterfalls of Iguazu. I finally made it to Niagara in 2016 and I have to agree with Mrs. Roosevelt on this one. The falls in Iguazu are breathtaking and massive.
While you can see Niagara from pretty much one vantage point and have seen it all, Iguazu is made up of 150-300 smaller waterfalls (depending on water levels). You can easily spend a few days here walking the different trails and viewing it from both the Argentine and Brazilian sides.
Argentina or Brazil?
Both times I’ve visited from Argentina while living in Buenos Aires, so my point of view comes from using Argentina as a base. However, Brazil is just across the river. Both countries have national parks and offer completely different experiences for viewing the waterfalls. In Argentina, you really feel like you are IN the falls. There are multiple trails and paths to explore different angles and viewpoints. Iguazu Falls on the Brazil side offers a more panoramic view of the falls (just look below).
If you have the time, the budget and the visa (Americans need a visa to visit Brazil), I wholeheartedly recommend visiting both sides. If you don’t have the time for both, I’d choose the Argentine side of Iguazu. There’s just so much more to see here. With the upper circuit, lower circuit, devil’s throat and the wildlife, you won’t be disappointed.
No Two Visits will be Alike
I’ve been to Iguazu twice. Once in 2010 and again with my parents in 2015. In 2010, the water was INTENSE (see above). Flooding had carried away some of the catwalks, closing off parts of the park. We were always drenched by the mist and spray. It was impressive! My roommate had visited the year before me and the falls were bone dry. This must be very rare, but from looking at his photos he might as well have visited the Grand Canyon. And in 2015, we noticed a change in just the three days we were there. Thanks to heavy rains upriver, the falls were much stronger on our third day than the first. The photos below were taken from the same angle, one is just more zoomed in. You’ll have a unique visit, regardless of how much time you spend there. Enjoy that!
Important Details on Visiting Iguazú National Park
Iguazu National Park in Argentina is open every day of the year from 8 am. You can enter the park until 4:30 in the afternoon, but you need to be out by 6. The cost is 500 pesos for non-residents. If you validate your ticket at the ticket windows when leaving, you’ll receive a 50% discount on your second visit (must be next consecutive day). Pay in cash and in pesos (obviously). Your ticket includes everything. It includes access to all paths to the falls (upper circuit, lower circuit, Devil’s Throat). It also includes the free ferry to cross over to San Martin Island (which is absolutely worth doing) and use of the Tren de la Selva. There are restaurants and facilities within the park. There are buses from the Puerto Iguazu bus station that will take you to the park or you can take a taxi. You won’t need a rental car here.
How long do you need? Budget for at least 6 hours in the park, minimum. If you can spend two days there, do it. If you want to go to the Brazilian side, that will also need its own day. I’ve actually seen tourists ask, “Can I do an Iguazu day trip from Buenos Aires?” NO! You absolutely cannot. Nothing in Argentina is a day trip, this country is massive. You have to fly here for goodness sakes! Give the area at least a few days if you can.
When to Visit Iguazu
Ideally, you want to be in Iguazu when it isn’t the rainy season with clear skies, the temperature is mild, and the falls are at their fullest. It can be difficult to get all three to match up at once. December-February means high temperatures, humidity, and rain (but also powerful waterfalls). April-June is the dry season. August and September are dryer and cooler. Regardless of when you visit, you’ll have a great visit. Iguazu is a great destination year round. Good times to avoid may depend less on rainfall and more on local holidays (and this goes for all of Argentina, not just Iguazu). If you can, avoid January and mid-July. This is peak travel season due to summer and winter break. Easter week is also a busy travel week for locals. There will be crowds and higher prices during these Argentine peak seasons.
What to do in Iguazu National Park?
Upper & Lower Circuits
There are 2 main circuits: the Upper Circuit and the Lower Circuit. After entering the park, you can take the Tren de la Selva (or Jungle Train) to the Upper and Lower Circuits. The Upper Circuit is shorter and just half a mile and will take around an hour. It has catwalks leading you on top of the falls with views over the nearly 200 foot high waterfalls. It’s very impressive. The Lower Circuit can take 2-3 hours to explore, with multiple viewpoints and paths. This is where you can catch the free ferry to San Martin Island (depending on water levels). You can also pay for a speedboat ride right up to and under one of the falls.
After walking the circuits you can make your way back to the jungle train station to continue on to Devil’s Throat. There are bathrooms and restaurants here as well.
Garganta del Diablo
Devil’s Throat is absolutely worth the time involved. This is the highlight of the park. From the station, take the catwalk pathway leading you to the falls for a little over a kilometer (round trip will be about 2.4 km). Garganta del Diablo is massive. While walking keep your eye open for crocodiles and turtles in the water.
Enjoy & Respect the Wildlife
The jungle of Iguazu is FULL of life. If you keep your eyes open you’ll see a rainbow’s worth of colorful birds, including toucans and the yellow-eyed bluebird (above). The coatis are the most noticeable as they are everywhere and not afraid of people in the slightest. Beware, this cute cousin of the raccoon can inflict painful bites and scratches, don’t pet them. Watch your food, they’ll steal it. In just seconds, before we knew it one had jumped onto our table, grabbed my mom’s ice cream and was back in the grass eating her raspberry sorbet. Throw your food away in the bins. It broke my heart at night to watch the monkeys eat mayonnaise packets for dinner.
One night, when the park closed we were surprised by a troupe of monkeys and herd of coatis that seemed to come out of nowhere. They ran along the path, playing with each other as if we weren’t even there. I just sat on the sidewalk and enjoyed the show until they decided to run back into the jungle.
Where to Stay in Iguazu
If you’re wondering where to splurge on your trip to Argentina, save it for Iguazu and stay inside the park. The Melia (previously the Sheraton) is located inside the Iguazu National Park grounds. You cannot beat that. You have direct access to the park and the falls by just walking along the path past the swimming pool. We were in the park at 8 am when it opened and had the park all to ourselves, enjoying views of the falls with no other tourists blocking our views, it was priceless. Wildlife was more active before the heat of the day set in and they disappeared into the forest. We could easily walk back to the hotel for lunch and lie by the pool before going back in for the afternoon. From our balcony we watched the morning fog lift with a direct view of the falls. If it’s within your budget, don’t think twice about staying at the Melia.
Another gorgeous property in town is the Mercure Iguazu Hotel Iru. It’s a beautiful property and great for a couple looking for a romantic getaway. If you’re a backpacker or on a tight budget, there are great hostels in the town of Puerto Iguazu. Check out the Hostel Iguazu Falls or the Butterly Hostel.
What to Pack for Iguazu
With the kilometers and kilometers of paths within the park, pack comfortable shoes. But you’re going to get wet, it’s inevitable, so bring shoes and clothes that can wet. Teva Sandals are always a great option because they’ll also give you good grip and traction. The catwalks can get slippery. KEEN and Chaco are also good choices. Consider bringing some plastic ponchos to toss over you if the spray gets really bad. It can really depend. I needed a poncho on my first trip but didn’t use one at all on my second. Bring a water bottle, the jungle days get hot. I really like S’well bottles and never leave home without one. It keeps your water cold for 24 hours so it’s always fresh, and the insulation also prevents condensation (keeping the rest of your bag dry). Aside from that, bring protection from the sun: sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses. And obviously, your camera to capture the amazing views of the waterfalls!
What to do in Iguazu Besides the Falls?
Hito 3 Fronteras: In the town of Puerto Iguazu, the Paraná and Iguazu rivers join and the three coastlines each form the border of a different country. Stand in Argentina and look across the water at Brazil and Paraguay. There’s a small monument with the flags of the three countries that makes a fun photo op.
La Casa de las Botellas: Just outside of town, there’s a house built entirely of plastic bottles. This perfectly livable house is built to promote a more eco-friendly way of life. Could be interesting if you’re nearby, I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
Biocentro Iguazu: I have heard great things about this park! The Atlantic Rainforest is one of the most threatened and diverse ecosystems in the world. Only 7% of the original forest remains. Visit this park that’s working to conserve the ecosystem and its at risk species. You’ll see animals here you may never see anywhere else (like a tapir!). You’ll definitely see a wide variety of birds, butterflies, and fauna. There’s a restaurant on the property to try local cuisine.
San Ignacio Miní: Visit this Jesuit mission, founded in 1632. It is one of the most preserved of the Jesuit missions and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. This is quite a trek from Iguazu and would need an entire day. If you’re traveling through the rest of Misiones as well, it’s very close to Posadas. Pretty much all organized tours also stop at Wanda to see the semi-precious stone mines along the way (for example, this tour on Lonely Planet).
I hope you enjoy your visit to Iguazu! If you have any questions, please ask below in the comments! Did I miss something? Let me know.
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