The best goddamn thing I’ve ever seen. That is all…
Made up of a grand total of 275 gushing waterfalls, it’s only natural that this massive waterfall system (the largest in the world) needs to sprawl over two countries and straddle a border.
There’s no easy answer if you’re trying to pick between seeing the falls on the Argentinian side, or the Brazilian side, and I can only answer the greedy option: both. They’re so vastly different on each side, and while you’ll get the sweeping views from the Argentinian side, you’ll get way closer on the Brazilian.
The Argentinian Side
First of all, you need to get yourself to Puerto Iguazu, the small border town near Iguazu Falls. For more on exactly how to do that, where to stay and where to eat, check here: Puerto Iguazu – there’s more to it than just the falls.
The main points of the Argentinian side:
– It’s cheaper. It probably goes without saying, that Argentina is a lot cheaper than Brazil. You’ll pay less for entrance into the park, and for all the amenities inside.
– It’s bigger. Not necessarily the size of the waterfalls (because they’re obviously the same size from wherever you’re looking at them), but the area you can cover. There’s plenty of trails and areas to traverse through the wilderness here, so you can get an overarching view of the whole waterfall system, or head down below to the water level and look upwards to see the sheer force of the water. We spent the best part of an entire day here wandering the tracks.
– It’s (much) less built up. Think of this side as a bit more makeshift, a bit more DIY – and, honestly, a bit more fun. There’s less tourist amenities and touts about; instead, the park guides seem to want people to just set off and see things in their own time and pace.
– It’s better. A controversial call, but from our point-of-view, this is where we could more easily get a good view of the entire waterfall system, rather than fragments of it.
DON’T MISS: The jet ride through the rapids and underneath some of the waterfalls. Sure, it’s a touristy gimmick, but it’s also heaps of fun.
The Brazilian side
– It’s more expensive. Entrance to the park is higher, but that also means the facilities are better. There are good lockers for you to leave your bags, there’s a wide variety of (expensive) restaurants, and there’s a good transport system to the town.
– It’s way more touristy and built up. The above point leads us to this point – the fact that more money brings in more to spend on infrastructure. This means platforms out over the waterfalls, and podiums that allow you to basically stand halfway up the waterfall – feeling the spray on your face. However, this also means things like elevators instead of stairs in places (which we are all for in regards to access issues for the elderly or disabled, but cringe when it’s mostly used by overweight tourists), lots of people trying to sell you things you simply don’t need, and forking out a small fortune for a sammy and bottle of water. Instead, bring in some pastries from Argentina and just plain don’t make eye contact with anyone trying to sell you a keyring.
– You get a lot more up close and personal. This side is great for getting closer to the big waterfalls, and taking in the parts you can’t see on the Argentinian side. Look out for the islands within the river and the falls.
– Devils Throat. This is the granddaddy of gushing water spectacles. This long chasm is 82 metres high, 150 metres wide, and 700 metres long, and is one of the biggest draw-cards of the Brazilian side. This is where the largest proportion of water is thrown down, and is renown for its distinguishing U-shape. When we visited, this was closed off to the public because, ironically, there had been too much rain, meaning too much water was being thrust down the chasm, but you can still see it from afar. You can also do a boat trip to Devil’s Throat, from both sides – though it’s obviously cheaper from the Argentine side.
– You won’t take as much time here. Because of the extra infrastructure and the ease of access, and generally less things to see, you’ll probably be done here within a couple of hours.
– It’s easily connected with the rest of Brazil. We took and overnight bus from here to Sao Paulo (home to the biggest bus station in the Southern Hemisphere, which is none too fun in the early hours of the morning).
Getting between the Argentinian side to the Brazilian side
There’s regular local buses that go between the two, which take about an hour, including the border crossing. You’ll trudge off the bus for a quick stamp at the border, and continue on your merry way, before you’re stopped by police about five minutes later and the bus searched. There’s not much to Foz do Iguazu – much less than the Argentinian side – so I wouldn’t bother looking around here.
How to get there (Puerto Iguazu)
While Puerto Iguazu is largely unremarkable, it’s a good base for a night before checking out the falls. Especially after a long bus ride from Buenos Aires.
The bus will take you a whopping 16 to 18 hours, and all cost about the same. Just do us a favour and make sure you get ‘cama’ or ‘semicama’ level – where your seats recline all the way and you’ll get food and movies. From experience traveling in Argentina, go wtih Via Bariloche, Crucero Del Norte or Andesmar for comfort levels.
Hostel Inn Iguazu
Complete with large pool, spacious rooms and a decent breakfast, you can’t really go wrong with this one. It is slightly further out of town than many of the others, but that’s why you’re paying a cheaper price. We got a double room for the equivalent of $60 NZD.
Nondescript parilla in the middle of town
Filet mignon the size of your head? You got it. Puerto Iguazu hasn’t yet succumbed to the tourist drive that’s overwhelmed some of its international counterparts, mostly because people usually come for the falls and don’t bother with the surrounding town or scenery. That means that there’s still plenty of places to eat, stay and socialise. Wander the streets and just pick restaurants at will, we didn’t experience a single bad meal here. And if it’s your birthday, your waiters might just bring you out a flan with a candle lodged in the middle. And that my friends, is how to earn a tip.