Iguazu Falls

Parana State, Brazil

April 24th - 25th, 2019

Iguazu Falls is one of those places I have been looking forward to visiting for a long time. It is truly one of the great natural wonders on earth, and my high expectations have even been exceeded. It is an absolutely spectacular sight, and my photos do not even get close to conveying the sheer magnificence of it all.

I met up with my wonderful friend Crystal in Sao Paulo the night before and we took an early morning flight to the small Foz do IguaƧu International Airport, which is a short hop of just over an hour. We nearly did not make it to the falls, since the airline I had booked initially (Avianca Brazil) went bankrupt a couple of days earlier - a minor detail I only discovered when trying to check-in online. Luckily I was able to book a new flight last minute on LatAm Airlines. We were picked up at the airport by a driver from the hotel for the 20 minute ride and got our first glimpse of the falls right when we arrived in front of the hotel.

While this view was impressive enough, little did we know that it was only a small part of the whole system. After checking into the hotel we started walking upriver following a wooden walkway built right along the cliff edge. There are viewing platforms every couple of hundred meters or so, with each of them providing a new and increasingly breathtaking sight of different parts of the falls.

The walkway is about a kilometer long and the cascades became larger and larger the further we went, until it culminated in the overwhelming final section, which is called the 'Devil's Throat'. This is where the largest and most powerful falls are arranged in a narrow horseshoe formation.

There is a small viewing platform right underneath the first level, where you are surrounded by an amphitheater of giant waterfalls in every direction. The spray is so strong that we got soaking wet standing here for only a few minutes. It is just an unbelievable sight and the sound of the crashing water is so loud that you have to shout at each other.

Since we had the sun in our backs, the spray from the falls created perfect half circle rainbows, which made the whole scene look unreal.

Made up of nearly 300 separate cascades Iguazu Falls constitute the largest waterfall system in the world. The total drop is just over 80 meters, but in most sections the water falls over two or three levels in a staircase-like arrangement. The falls are formed by the Iguazu River, which originates more than 1,000 kilometers to the East and merges with the Parana River only a short distance further downriver. The Iguazu River also marks the border between Brazil and Argentina here. The area around the falls is covered in dense tropical rain forests, which were established as national parks by both countries in the 1930's. Since most of the falls are located on the Argentinian side, you get the best overview from the Brazilian shore.

We stayed at the only hotel inside the National Park on the Brazilian side, the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, which is a beautiful pink colonial style building situated right in front of the first set of cascades. The hotel is stunning, luxurious and seriously expensive. However, you don't just pay for the 5 star luxury but more importantly for the privilege to stay in the park outside of the official opening times. Since the park gates are only open to visitors between 7:00 am and 6:00 pm, staying in the hotel is the only way to see the falls at sunrise and sunset, before and after the buses carry in hordes of tourists.

After a nice lunch by the pool we had an afternoon boat trip booked. We were driven a few kilometers downriver along the main road and then through dense forests and down the steep river bank, where we boarded an inflatable speed boat. It wasn't quite the leisurely sightseeing trip we had expected. Although seeing the river in its narrow gorge and the falls from below was definitely worth it, the main purpose of the boat trip seemed to be to get everyone dripping wet. Once we got close to the falls the boat steered right underneath one of the cascades, and we emerged completely soaked, which only some people on the boat found hilarious.

We got back to the hotel just in time to see the falls in the light of the setting sun, which culminated in this stunning bright orange sky.

Having seen the falls in sunset, we obviously had to get up before dawn the next morning to see them during sunrise as well. The morning light presented a scenery in very different colors, and it was beautiful to hear the early morning sounds emanating from the forest.

Watching humongous amounts of water rushing down these vertical drops was completely mesmerizing. (The total amount of water flow averages 1,800 cubic meters per second.) I could have stood here for hours without getting bored.

After watching one of the falls closely for a while, we noticed something rather incredible. There were small birds that flew straight into the center of the falls without being swept to their deaths. We later learned that they are a type of swift, which nests right behind the falls. This has to be one of the most protected spots from predators anywhere in the world.

There is various other interesting wildlife around here. Large numbers of Black Vultures are circling over the falls particularly in the evenings. We also saw the beautiful bright orange beaks of several tukans sitting in the trees above us.

Although nearly impossible to see, we were warned not to go hiking by ourselves since there are jaguars roaming the forests. And in the afternoon the area around the hotel was swarming with these little mammals. They are so-called Coatis, which is a type of raccoon. They were in no way shy of humans and appeared to be living largely from stealing food from tourists.

A one night trip to Iguazu is enough time to see the falls from the Brazilian side. In order to experience the view from the Argentinian shore, you would need a second night, since it is a full day trip by bus to get to the other side. We left the hotel in the early afternoon for our flight to Rio de Janeiro. It was a short but magical trip to one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.

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