One of the great natural wonders of the world, the Iguaçu Falls (Portuguese: Cataratas do Iguaçu, Spanish: Cataratas del Iguazú, Tupi: Y Ûasu "big water") are close to the triple border of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. The area is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Iguazú National Park is on the Argentinian side of the falls, and Iguaçu National Park is on the Brazilian side.
The first European to see the impressive falls was the conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541. Long before that, Guaraní people inhabited the area and given the falls a name, a variant of which is used nowadays. For a period during the colonial era it was known as Santa Maria falls. These lands once belonged to Paraguay; the borders were redrawn after the Paraguayan War of the 1860s.
A German expedition in the late 19th century "rediscovered" the falls, marking the beginning for tourism and more thorough scholarly studies of the falls. Back then, the region was still impenetrable jungle on the Argentinian side. The Argentinian part was declared a national park in 1934, the Brazilian five years later. Fifty years later, in 1984, the Argentinian part was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List followed by the Brazilian part two years later. Later on the falls were elected as one of the New7Wonders of Nature, and is indeed one of the topmost sights on a continent particularly famous for natural attractions.
The Iguaçu Falls are by some measures the largest in the world, and often compared to two other great waterfalls, the Niagara Falls and Victoria Falls. The former has a somewhat higher mean annual flow rate than Iguaçu and the latter is slightly higher at its highest point. What sets Iguaçu apart is its width of about 2,700 metres which is almost as much as Niagara and Victoria Falls combined. Moreover, the highest recorded flow of Iguaçu is far higher than both other falls.
Flora and fauna
With approximately 450 species of birds, there's a lot to see for birdwatchers. Highlights include the iconic great dusky swifts living on the rock faces behind the walls and five types of toucans including the big toucan. You can also spot herons, wild eagles, parrots and the threatened black-fronted piping guan.
Wild cats like jaguars, margays and ocelots live in the region. Other notable mammals include giant anteaters, tapirs, giant otters and coatis. Water life include yacare caimans, turtles and of course different fish species, and as you would expect of a tropical environment there's also a variety of insects around.
A highlight of the local flora is the ceibo (Cockspur coral tree), which blooms with Argentina's national flower.
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A little south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the climate is classified as humid subtropical. The daytime mean temperature varies between about +25°C in the summer and +15°C in the winter. For a place with dry and wet seasons, the difference between them is on the smaller side. On the average there are nine monthly rain days from October to February and six in May and July.
The falls are usually reached through one of the three cities in the tri-border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
The city on the Brazilian side is Foz do Iguaçu - big and reasonably safe by Brazilian standards.
The town on the Argentine side is called Puerto Iguazu and is small and pretty.
Although the falls are between Brazil and Argentina only, Ciudad del Este, the city on the Paraguayan side, is just across the bridge from Brazil. It's a hectic (but exciting) centre for contraband and cheap electronic goods, but some say it's not safe there.
Border formalities are enforced between the two parks. Crossing the border between these countries is fairly relaxed - authorities assume most people are on a day trip across the border. US passport holders require a visa (US$160) to visit the Brazilian side of the falls which is not issued at the border. European Union passport holders do not need a visa to enter Brazil for tourism, however do remember to get off the bus on the border to get your passport stamped. Some bus drivers will not tell you when to do this, so it is best to check with them.
There may be lines on either side of the border, depending on the time of the day and holidays.
Also check regarding immunization requirements. Australian residents, for example, require yellow fever shots if returning to Australia within 6 days following a visit to Brazil. Brazil also requires yellow fever immunization prior to entering if your passport shows that you have visited some specific South American countries (Guyana, for example). Yellow fever together with other mosquito-born diseases are endemic to the Iguaçu Falls region.
Both the Brazilian and Argentinian cities have nearby airports. From Puerto Iguazu airport there are several flights per day to Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina.
1 Foz do Iguaçu International Airport is served by TAM Airlines, Gol Transportes Aéreos, Trip Airlines, Sol Linhas Aéreas and LAN with direct scheduled flights to and from Lima, Peru, São Paulo Guarulhos/Congonhas, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Recife, Salvador, Cascavel, Porto Alegre, Londrina, and some more. The airport is located just off the main road between the city of Foz do Iguaçu and the entrance to the Iguaçu National Park. A window on the airplane's left side will give you a gorgeous aerial view of the Falls upon landing here. Taxis are readily available - go to the taxi desk at the entrance to the terminal building and tell them your destination (they speak English) and they will arrange for a car and give you a price. You can either pay by card at the desk or pay the driver in cash. Expect the fare to Foz do Iguaçu to be around R$25-30. The fare to the park entrance in Brazil is closer and will be less. The airport is on the bus route between Foz do Iguaçu and the National Park entrance. The bus service line number 120 runs every half hour and is cheap (R$3.55), efficient and easy to use. The stop is right outside the terminal building - board the front of the bus and pay the person sat at the turnstile (change is given) before passing through. The bus passes many of the main hotels on the way into the city (stops are frequent) and ends up at the bus terminal on the far side of the city where there's a friendly tourist information office. In the other direction the bus will drop you off just outside the main visitor's centre at the entrance to the park.
If you arrive at Foz do Iguaçu airport and are staying at the Meliá Iguazu (on the Argentinian side), or just staying in Puerto Iguazu city on the Argentinian side, it is recommended to rent a car at the airport instead (make reservations in advance), so that you can travel from the hotel to the nearby town (which you will want to do if you want to eat there and do some sightseeing) and also to give you the flexibility to go to the Brazilian side of the falls and visit Itaipu dam. Otherwise, a one-way taxi from Foz do Iguaçu airport to the Meliá is R$100 (does not include AR$60/person entry fee for the park), and about AR$150 to go back to the airport from the hotel. A taxi from Foz do Iguazu International Airport (Brazil) to Puerto Iguazu (Argentina), will set you back US$40. You will have to arrange to go to the Brazilian side of the park for about AR$150 or so by taxi (be sure to negotiate down). To go to and from Puerto Iguazu, there is a bus that costs AR$5 and runs every half hour but the last one leaves at 20:00 so if you are dining later than that, you will need to hire a taxi for about AR$70. You can also rent a car from the hotel (they will bring the car to you) but book in advance (and check the rates) as there can be a shortage of cars and is usually more expensive (AR$300-450 per day).
2 Aeropuerto Internacional Cataratas del Iguazú is a dedicated airport for the falls, with mostly domestic flights.
There is a taxi stand at the baggage claim where you can book transfer to either Puerto Iguazú (if you're staying in town) or the Meliá if you're staying there. Consider renting a car (Hertz, Budget, ...) instead to give you more flexibility, esp. if you plan to spend a day in Brazil as well. It's about 15 minutes from the airport to the park/ Meliá and about 30-45 minutes to Puerto Iguazú.
Buses from all major cities in the country arrive in each of the three towns (see there for details).
From Puerto Iguazu there are buses from Gate 11 at the main bus station to the entrance of their side of the falls every 20 minutes for AR$85 each way (May 2018), run by Rio Uruguay. There are also buses that just cross the border which you can just jump onto on the day for a very low fare, but you must remind the bus driver to stop off for your visa for entry.
From Foz do Iguaçu buses run every half hour from the bus terminal to the visitor's centre at the national park entrance, passing many of the main hotels in the city along the way. The R$3.50 flat fare makes the bus a very cheap way to visit the falls and it's also easy to use. If you're starting your journey at the bus terminal you pay your fare on entering the terminal and board the bus through the rear door (the bus is No. 120 to 'Parque Nacional' - the tourist information office at the terminal will point you in the right direction if you have any trouble finding it). When boarding the bus anywhere else you use the front door and pay at the turnstile on board. The journey takes about 40 minutes. Schedules can be found at the Foz do Iguaçu city web site
It is not uncommon for policemen to check passports in the Argentinian side of the falls, even during domestic journeys. You should carry some documentation of citizenship. If you are coming from the Brazilian side, tell the bus driver you need to stop at the Brazilian border crossing to get your passport stamped. If you try to re-enter Brazil without having been stamped you may need to pay a substantial fine.
From Ciudad del Este you can walk or take a taxi across the border bridge to Foz do Iguaçu, and proceed to the falls as per above.
The main car rental companies have offices at the Brazilian Foz do Iguaçu airport. Make sure that you mention at the time of your reservation that you intend to cross into the Argentine side to visit the park. You need a special authorization from the rental car company for that. Insurance bought on the Brazilian rental car is not valid in Argentina. You need to buy a special "carta verde" while still on the Brazilian side. It is sold at lottery stands. A three-day pass costs R$45. If caught without a "carta verde" on the Argentine side you are liable to be charged very heavy fines.
Renting a car gives you a lot of flexibility in exploring both sides of the cataracts.
If you stay at either of the two hotels in the park (either on Argentinian or Brazilian side), you are within walking distance of the falls, so no need for taxis or buses. Consider this when planning your trip. See in "Stay" section for details.
Fees and permits
On the Argentine side the admission to the park depends on where you are from. US, European, and Asian visitors pay the top price of AR$600 (May 2018, FYI in 2012 it was AR$100, in 2016 AR$260). Residents of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela pay less. Credit cards will be accepted only with ID so have cash as backup - only Argentinean pesos to enter the park, with second day for half price if you get your ticket stamped before leaving on the first day. There is one ATM near the main entrance, but it is often empty. Most of the food and souvenir shops inside the park do accept credit cards, but insure you have enough pesos for the day. Subsequent days to the park are free if you tell them you are staying at the Meliá.
R$63 per person, cheaper for Brazilian, Argentinian, Paraguayan, Uruguayan and Venezuelan residents.
Both sides of the park are well served with foot trails.
On the Argentine side of the park there's a small train leaving about every 20 minutes from near the entrance going all the way to the beginning of the trail to the Garganta del Diablo.
On the Brazilian side, there's a bus service connecting the falls with other activities. That service runs from the entrance to the end of the park every 10 minutes in both directions.
Between the countries
From Foz do Iguaçu to Puerto Iguazu: there is a bus that leaves from just outside the bus terminal, at the corner of Rua Mem de Sá and Rua Tarobá. It costs R$4 or AR$8. The bus may or may not stop at the Brazilian border checkpoint but typically will stop at the Argentine border checkpoint, where your passport will be stamped. You can also exchange foreign currency at the Argentine border checkpoint, but be aware that the bus may leave without you if you take too long, leaving you to take a taxi (~AR$80) or wait for the next bus. This bus terminates at the Puerto Iguazu bus station where you can catch the bus to the National Park.
From Puerto Iguazu to the Brazilian Iguaçu Falls National Park: Rio Uruguay runs an hourly bus from the bus terminal that waits at the Argentinian and the Brazilian immigration. In fact, you don't even have to exit the bus for the Brazilian customs, the driver will collect your passport and have it stamped. First bus to the Brazilian falls: 08:30, last bus to return to Puerto Iguazu: 17:00. A return ticket cost AR$80 (May 2018). Conveniently there are large lockers that fit backpacks at the falls entrance (buy token in the shop - R$9). Which means you can see the falls and then take the bus back to town (or the airport) and get out. Too easy.
The 1 Falls are an awesome sight as tonnes of water throw themselves over cliffs and the mist rises amongst the jungle. They are taller than Niagara Falls, and more than twice as wide, for which Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on her first sight of the falls: "Poor Niagara!"
It is well worth spending a day on each side of the falls, especially if you plan to do any of the boat rides or other activities offered.
Don't just rush past the main viewpoints and leave. It's important to get a good perspective on the park overall to appreciate this awesome sight.
Whilst the majority of the falls are in Argentina, a better overview is had from the Brazilian side.
The park opens from 08:00 til 18:00.
Wear waterproofs and protect your camera as it can get quite wet on some viewpoints. Some people visit the waterfalls in swimsuits (recommended in summer).
The park is fairly well organized: they have a train line so you can get from the entrance to the main circuits (Circuito Superior, Garganta del Diablo, etc. See below). They also have food stands inside the park close to the train stations, but food and drinks are very expensive there. It is a good idea to bring some food and water if you are going to spend the day on the park. Luggage storage is available at the entrance to the park for AR$100/150 for a medium/large bag.
There are five main tracks all of which are paved and well marked with the exception of Sendero Macuco:
- 2 Circuito Superior - is a short walk to some nice viewpoints along the upper rim of the waterfalls
- 3 Circuito Inferior - is a longer walk on the bottom end of the falls with the main attraction being the lookout to watch Salto Bossetti and Dos Hermanas. This pathway leads also to the free ferry service to Isla San Martin (that may or not be closed), and the tour operators.
- 4 Isla San Martin - has two main lookouts to different sides of the falls. There are also a lot of birds. Access by boat only (free). This may be closed when the river level is high, but it will also be closed when it is not high at all, it seems to be an eternal excuse. There is a paper sign at the ticket counter showing "san martin cerrado".
- 5 Garganta del Diablo - The main attraction of the Argentine side, translating to the "Devil's Throat". There is a free train running up to a 1 km-long walkway across the river to stand just back from the main horseshoe of falls where the roar and spray are most tremendous.
- 6 Sendero Macuco - is the trail through the rainforest to the Arrechea waterfall and is a good way to get away from the crowds. It's about 7 km return on an unpaved but easy path starting at the Estacion Central. Swimming is possible beneath the fall, so consider bringing a bathing suit and towel. An informative brochure for the trail is available from the park information desk. It is recommended to do it in daylight, so don't start it if it's 15:00 or 16:00. In May 2018 it is closed and no staff can answer why.
Garganta del Diablo is the main attraction on the Argentine side - do not leave without having seen it. Occasionally trails will be closed to access because of puma sightings.
Whereas the Argentinian side features an elaborate system of paths and a small archipelago of islands and viewpoints, the Brazilian side just consists of one 7 river bank, appoximately 2 km in length with several view points placed along it. From the Brazilian side you get an excellent 8 overview of Garganta del Diablo (from afar) and the rest of the falls. Tickets can be bought through the official park website.
While this might seem less preferential to the Argentinian side, the Brazilian side is equally impressive and does not provide shortage of experience. Indeed, standing in the middle of the waterfalls and lower than the Argentinian platform, is very impressive and full of experience. So neither side is actually better, they are just different.
- 9 Parque das Aves. A bird park (not limited to small birds; ostriches are a highlight), across the street from the Brazilian Iguaçu National Park. R$40.
Spectacular boat trips can be made under the falls.
- Iguazu Jungle Explorer, e-mail: email@example.com. Offers trips, including boat rides (recommended) and rides on 4WD trucks through the park (not so interesting). To be booked near the entrance or on the circuito inferior before going down to the ferry. If you do one of the boat rides (AR$100 for a short one, AR$200 for a long one which also takes you some way down the river), prepare to get soaked to the skin (you'll receive a dry bag for your camera).
- Macuco Safari. Offers boat trips up to the base of the Iguaçu Falls in 20-person zodiac boats. Your tour starts at the roadside entrance gate where you board the truck that will take you through the jungle towards the drop-off point. A narrator will describe the fauna that along the way. At the end of the ride, you have an easy hike down to the dock where you should put on your raincoat, a life preserver and place your valuables/dry things into plastic bags. The ride up the river to the falls is quite fun as the boats are powered by the two large motors that are needed to navigate the rapids. During the ride, the journey is video captured for your later purchase. The captains know the rapids well which means that every chance they have to dip the boat and soak the passengers is done. The first pause is at the beginning of the falls near the launch point for the Argentinian boat tours. There is time for photos and then to re-wrap your camera and up the river towards the Devils Throat. You cannot get that close the large falls as it gets exceedingly rocky in the river which prevents them from going all the way to the base of the falls. However, the captain will get you very close to going under the falls whenever he can. You will get wet -- a raincoat is not enough. If at all possible, bring dry clothes and put them into the lockers provided at the starting point.
If you go all the way to the "Las Cateratas" station, you will be offered, e.g. wildwater rafting & abseiling activities at better rates. When you arrive shortly before the activities close for the day or they're just not busy you can easily bargain about the price and get a really good rate!
The Meliá hotel (see #Sleep below) right in the park provides a good alternative to the junk food stalls located throughout the park. There's a nice terrace you can rest from which you can see the mist coming out of the falls and also generally see toucans and other birds flying around.
It is unexpectedly hard to get breakfast in town before 9:30 am, everything is still closed so prepare some at your accommodation.
On the Brazil side, there's a 1 buffet that stands right next to the throat at the Porto Canoas station at the end of the walking trail. The food is not good but the view of the river makes for a surreal sight as you know the falls are really close by but you can't really see them other than the mist and the noise.It's a nice place to eat. In addition to the buffet at R$40 you can grab a (burger) combo meal at one of the outlets right in front of the buffet restaurant for around R$10.
On both sides of the falls there are enough opportunities to buy a drink.
There are only two options to stay inside the park within walking distance of the falls: Meliá in Argentina and Hotel das Cataratas in Brazil. Both are a bit pricey and take advantage of their position. Most people prefer to stay in either Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazilian side or in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina, where a large number and range of accommodation options can be found. Transport to the falls during the daytime is a 20-min bus ride.
- 1 Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, Rodovia Br 469, Km 32, Iguassu National Park, Foz do Iguassu, ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Stunning location inside the Brazilian National Park, perched atop the falls. Walk to Brazilian observation points and Porto Canoas. Traditional luxury hotel with upscale appointments, gourmet dining rooms, outdoor swimming pool and tennis. Observation deck on the roof. 203 guest rooms. An unforgettable hotel. From R$1,200.
See the Puerto Iguazú article for a good number of accommodation options in this area.
- 2 Meliá Iguazú (formerly Sheraton Internacional Iguazú Resort), toll-free: . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Amazing location within the Argentinian National Park, walk to the Argentinian falls. Newly remodelled pool/gym/spa area. Otherwise the place feels a bit rundown, but you didn't come here to lounge around inside the hotel anyway. Observation deck on the roof. English speaking. 180 rooms. Double jungle view/falls view US$305/US$365 per night. If you stay there, pay the extra US$50/night for "falls view" and ask for a 3rd floor room where the view is best. Be sure to keep your patio door closed in the early morning, or the monkeys may steal things. Breakfast is included.
Wear waterproofs and protect your camera as it can get quite wet on some viewpoints. Some people visit the waterfalls in swimsuits (recommended in summer). The park itself is fairly well organized, they have a train line so you can get from the entrance to the main circuits (Circuito Superior, Garganta del Diablo, etc. See bellow). They also have food stands inside the park close to the train stations, but food and drinks are very expensive there. It is a good idea to bring some food and water if you are going to spend the day on the park. Luggage storage is available at the entrance to the park for AR$100/150 for a medium/large bag respectively.
Other than visiting the falls, the activities offered by tour operators on both sides of the park and having a drink or dinner at either Puerto Iguazú or Foz do Iguaçu there isn't much else to do in this area. So don't plan on staying your entire holiday here, 2 or 3 days should do it. For the Brazil side you need no more than 4 hours total. It's often cheaper to fly out of the Brazilian side to São Paulo for example, than to take the bus (not to mention quicker).
- If you want to visit yet another country, there are buses to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay from both sides. From there, you can head onwards to the rest of Paraguay or go see the Itaipú Dam, the second biggest dam in the world, some 10 km north of the city. For citizens of some countries, you need a visa to go past the border area, and visas cannot be obtained on arrival in Ciudad del Este.
- The World Heritage-listed ruins of Jesuit missions in Misiones Province, Argentina and Trinidad, Paraguay.
- Encarnación (Paraguay) and Posadas (Argentina), border cities a few hours southwest of the falls. Posadas makes a nice stop on the way between Iguazú and Buenos Aires.