After two days in Buenos Aires, we hopped a 1.5 hour flight on Aerolineas Argentina, the country’s airline, for Puerto Iguazu, which is located in the northern part of Argentina on the border with Brazil and Paraguay. (Very decent airline, BTW). Iguazu Falls, which by many counts is the world’s largest waterfall (depending on whether you are counting in terms of water volume or width), acts as the border between Argentina and Brazil. This province of Argentina is called Misiones as there are the ruins of many old Spanish missions located in the area. It’s also situated in the middle of the Atlantic Rain forest, which is a subtropical rain forest that is separate from and unconnected to the Amazon.
We stayed at the newest hotel in the area, Awasi Iguazu (separate review on this amazing hotel to come). As part of staying at Awasi, you get many perks, including your own private guide and vehicle during your entire stay and early access to the national park to see the falls before it opens to the general public. The second day of our stay at Awasi was spent touring this incredible natural wonder.
Iguazu Falls is made up of over 250 individual water falls and it’s spread out over 2.7 km along the Iguazu River. The highest fall is approximately 84 meters high (275 feet). 80% of the falls are located on the Argentine side of the border and 20% are on the Brazilian side. I think the best side to visit is the Argentine side as you have more of the falls available, there are more trails and you can get up close and personal to the falls. If you want to feel the spray, stay on the Argentine side. Brazil supposedly has the best panoramic view but I felt we had plenty of that in Argentina as well. You can cross the border to Brazil if you have time but it does require a visa.
The largest and tallest part of the falls is a semi-circular section called the Garganta del Diablo, or the Devil’s Throat, which is also on the Argentine side. Within the National Park, there are three sets of trails – the lower trails where you are near the bottom of the falls looking up, the upper trails where you are at the top of the falls watching the water cascade down and the Devil’s Throat which takes you right into the heart of the semi-circular section of the largest part of the falls via a series of metal walkways.
We got up early and left Awasi around 6:45am so we could enter the park (with our own dedicated national park guide and Awasi guide) before it’s official opening time at 8am. We started with the lower falls trail. There is one hotel within the park on the Argentine side and that is the Melia Hotel, which looks nice but rather crowded and VERY family friendly (Awasi is adults only). You can pick up the lower trail right out back of the hotel.
The trails all consist of metal walkways that often span small gorges and other waterfalls along the way. It winds its way down and around various falls but also provides several spots for panoramic views such as the one above.
You will also likely encounter some wildlife along the way, especially the curious and greedy coatimundis, which I call “jungle raccoons.” They are a species of raccoon and they love garbage and human food. They are all over the park, especially by the food stands and picnic spots and they have no qualms about stealing people’s bags and taking them up a tree if they smell food inside. They are used to people but they do bite so no petting!
The highlight at the end of the lower falls trail is you get up close and personal to one of the bigger section of the falls. As you can see by the pictures below, you are literally right at the base of the waterfall and you will get very wet here. I think the best clothes for visiting the falls are quick drying athletic or hiking gear, closed toed shoes with rubber soles as the walkways can be slick (I wore Keens, which are ugly as sin but practical) and a very lightweight rain slicker to stay dry but it is humid and warm here so no lining is needed. A hat to keep the sun off your face is a good idea as well.
When we got to this section of the falls, our guides pulled out some flower leis and a sign saying “Happy Birthday” in Spanish because it was my birthday this day and I guess they had a note of that from our travel agent. It was very cute and sweet and we got some fun photos at the base of the falls.
You can continue on the lower trails to visit a few other scenic sections of the falls, including the Twin Sisters Falls and some other nice views looking down the river valley. The size and breadth of the falls is just incredible. I expected it to be beautiful but I really didn’t expect them to be as large and as powerful as they were in person. Many of the falls cascade down a series of steps so it’s like the entire area is just crawling with waterfalls and rainbows everywhere you look.
After you complete the lower falls, it’s a bit of a climb up a series of steps and switchbacks to reach the upper falls trails. These go along the top of the falls so now you are looking down into the valley and watching the water go over the edge. You also get some better panoramic views from up above as you can see below.
I have to give a huge shout-out to our amazing guides. Carolina was our dedicated Awasi guide that we spent 3 days with during our stay. She was a wealth of knowledge about flora, fauna and the falls and was super sweet as well. Sarto was our extra guide for just this day and he was a hoot. He actually works for the national park but Awasi contracts with the park guides in order to get their guests into the park early. Sarto was still learning English and had lots of funny questions for us about idiomatic expressions that he was still unsure how to use properly. He was always watching out for me to make sure I didn’t slip and offering me waters or an umbrella to keep the sun off me. He was a giant teddy bear of a guy.
We did the upper and lower falls trails in the early morning before it got too hot. We then left the park and headed back to Awasi to have lunch and take a little break. Following that, we went back to the park around 3pm for the final hike out to see the Devil’s Throat, the highest and largest part of the falls. Awasi recommends this because you have to take a mini-train out to the start of the Devil’s Throat trail (and it is the world’s slowest moving train). Most tour groups, which come on HUGE buses, usually start with the Devil’s Throat so they are there early in the morning. There really is no way to see the Devil’s Throat without anyone around but the last train is at 5pm so if you go late in the afternoon, the biggest crowds have thinned out. We loved seeing the falls this way.
Once you get off the train, it’s a 15-20 minute walk across the metal walkways over the Iguazu River to the Devil’s Throat. And it is impressive. The water here is absolutely thundering and you can feel the walkway slightly shaking. The walkway goes right to the edge so you get amazing views. People often leave here soaked from the spray so bring the slicker again.
As we were walking around snapping pictures, Carolina and Sarto had another birthday surprise for me. They brought a small bottle of champagne in a cooler backpack and two flutes. We were hot and sweaty from the train ride and hike so it was lovely to have a flute of cold champagne in this amazing spot. We were the only people walking around sipping bubbly so we got a few stares but we loved it! We had one glass and finished the rest of it on the drive back to the hotel. Awasi treats its guests so well.
I was truly blown away by Iguazu Falls and it really exceeded my expectations. I know these things can look pretty amazing on Instagram but are disappointing in person when you realize those photos were curated or photoshopped but Iguazu Falls really is as amazing in person. It was definitely worth the visit and there is much more to do in Misiones so be sure to give yourself at least 2 to 3 days in this area. We stayed 3 days and felt it was just right. The falls really do take a full day to see it from all the best angles as well. I’ll post next about our amazing stay at Awasi and our other jungle excursions during our stay. Hope you enjoyed the pictures of this natural wonder!