With an amazing 275 cascades in an unspoiled tropical rain forest setting, Iguaçu Falls is a breathtaking alternative to its famous North American rival, Niagara
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Iguaçu Falls sits on the Brazil–Argentina border and is 660 miles (1,070 km) north of Buenos Aires and 730 miles (1,180 km) southwest of Rio
MAXIMUM HEIGHT 269 ft (82 m)
DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 79°F (26°C); Apr: 72°F (22°C); Jul: 61°F (16°C); Oct: 72°F (22°C)
“Poor Niagara!” exclaimed First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on first seeing Iguaçu Falls, and few subsequent visitors to one of South America’s most stunning natural marvels have found any reason to disagree with her.
Niagara is impressive, but Iguaçu is unforgettable. Widely considered to be the planet’s finest set of waterfalls, Iguaçu comprises a complex system of no less than 275 cascades spanning a 2-mile (3-km) stretch of the Iguaçu River, on the border between Brazil and Argentina.
While Niagara reaches a modest height of 174 ft (53 m), many of Iguaçu’s falls exceed 197 ft (60 m), with the highest cascade of all standing at a lofty 269 ft (82 m). And the sheer volume of water tumbling over the precipice at Iguaçu is usually about three times that of its North American rival.
But it’s not just the size of the cataracts at Iguaçu that is compelling. The sheer number of cascades means that a trip to the falls offers constantly varying vistas and dramatic perspectives on the great torrents of water. Nowhere is this more apparent than around the celebrated Garganta del Diablo, a staggering U-shaped formation measuring 765 yards (700 m) long and 492 ft (150 m) wide.
Standing beside this monumental cascade, the spectator is surrounded by roaring cataracts throwing plumes of spray up to almost twice the height of the waterfall, while boat trips to the lovely Isla San Martín, in the middle of the river, offer more majestic views.
The experience of the falls is immeasurably enhanced by the tropical rain forest that envelops them. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Parque Nacional Iguazú in Argentina and Parque Nacional do Iguaçu in Brazil provide refuge for a wealth of fauna, from woodpeckers, toucans, and caciques to capuchin monkeys and coatis, as well as more than 2,000 species of flora – it’s all a far cry from the high-rise hotels and casinos of Niagara.
THE BUILD-UP Ask someone to name a famous waterfall and nine times out of ten the answer will be Niagara. As one of America’s most celebrated natural wonders, Niagara has lodged firmly in the popular imagination. People have dived into the falls, ridden over them in barrels and walked tightropes across them, and they have appeared in countless television programs and Hollywood films. Each year the falls attract astonishing numbers of tourists.
THE LETDOWN Niagara might be spectacular, but it is far from being the world’s largest – or most memorable – waterfall. Although the falls are impressively wide, there are at least a dozen broader and more powerful cataracts elsewhere in America and Africa. What’s more, for those looking to commune with nature, Niagara is not the place to be. The recent rash of development has created such huge changes to the flow of air that many of the viewing areas are now obscured by mist.
GOING ANYWAY? Although you can’t escape the crowds at Niagara, you are at least guaranteed spectacular views by taking the famous “Maid of the Mist” boat trip to the base of the falls, which brings you as close to the cataracts as possible, short of actually diving over them. Just don’t forget to bring your raingear.
Getting There and Around
The main town in the area is the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu, which has regular air connections with Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Puerto Iguazú, on the Argentinian side, has air connections with Buenos Aires. Both towns are also served by bus from Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. Local buses make the 12-mile (20-km) trip from the two towns to the falls, and there are plenty of local tours available.
Where to Eat
The best restaurants are found on the Brazilian side. Try the Recanto Gaúcho (www. recantogaucho.com), near the park entrance, which serves up excellent cheap meat dishes under the direction of its charismatic gaucho owner.
Where to Stay
There are many hotels on both sides of the border. The most appealing option is the old- fashioned Hotel das Cataratas (www.hoteldascataratas.com), in Brazil’s Parque Nacional do Iguaçu.
When to Go
Visit from March to November, when temperatures are cooler and skies clearer.
Budget per Day for Two
US$200 including travel, accommodations, and food.