To be completely honest, I expected Iguazu Falls to be at least slightly overrated. They just sounded too good to be true, especially considering the huge crowds that you would have to deal with.
But the reality is – Iguazu Falls are beyond epic. They are indescribable. Nowhere else can you feel such awesomely unyielding force of nature in such a stunningly beautiful setting. Iguazu Falls are not just a sight, they are an experience.
And there are a lot of ways to experience Iguazu Falls. You can view them from two countries – Brazil and Argentina, take a wild boat ride right under the veil of the falls, or take a helicopter for a bird’s eye view.
We have spent two days exploring the falls and this post sums up all the research we’ve done prior to the trip, fact-checked by our own experience. But first, some facts about the falls.
In this post
- 1 Iguazu Falls Facts
- 2 Iguazú Falls Brazil – Parque National du Iguaçu
- 3 Iguazu Falls Argentina – Parque Nacional Iguazu
Iguazu Falls Facts
- Iguazu Falls formed where Iguazu River plunges over the rim of the Paraná Plateau, that was blasted out by an enormous volcanic eruption more than 130 million years ago.
- Coming up to the falls, the Iguazu River is over a kilometre wide.
- Iguazu Falls straddle two countries: Argentina and Brazil
- Taller than the Niagara Falls and wider than Victoria Falls, Iguazu Falls are the biggest system of waterfalls in the world.
- Up to 300 separate waterfalls stretched over 2.7 kilometres make up Iguazu Falls
- The height of the falls varies between 60 and 82 meters.
- About half of Iguazu River flows through the narrow chasm of the Devil’s Throat that can be accessed from both Argentina and Brazil sides of the falls.
- Brazil can lay claim to about 20% of the falls, and Argentina to the other 80%. Which means that you get a bigger picture view of the falls from the Brazilian side, looking towards Argentina. But in Argentina you get closer to the falls, there is more area to explore.
Iguazú Falls Brazil – Parque National du Iguaçu
At a glance
- Nearest town and airport: Foz do Iguacu
- Time to explore: 1 day
- Opening hours: 9 am to 5pm
- Currency: 1 Brazilian Real (BR$) = 0.27 USD. Credit cards are accepted everywhere in the park.
- Costs: Park entrance BR$64, Buffet lunch (optional) BR$59, Speedboat ride: BR$215
- Perks: You can have the falls to yourself first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon.
Where to stay
We picked the National Inn hotel (check prices here) for its proximity to the falls and because we didn’t want to stay in town. Foz do Iguaçu has the reputation of a fairly uninteresting town and we were quite happy to skip it.
Tip: Book your accommodation well in advance. We booked our triple room for BR$250 per night and the walk-in rate at the hotel was exactly three times higher for the same room.
Uber is very easy to use in Brazil. Both Canadian and Australian apps worked from get-go, and most hotels, airports and attractions have free WiFi.
Our Uber ride from the airport was BR$9, same as the ride to the falls the following morning.
Visiting the Falls
The get the most out of visiting the falls in Brazil, you need to be on the first bus up to the falls from the visitor centre.
The Park National do Iguaçu ticketing office opens at 9am. And there is usually already a queue at this time.
Tip: The ticket selling machines to the left of the ticket windows open at 8.45am and there is no queue to use them. So, get your park entry tickets (BR$64) from the machine and go take your place in the queue for the bus. You could also pre-purchase you lunch buffet ticket for BR$59 with your entrance ticket to save yourself another queue later.
The points of interest inside the park are connected by a frequent tourist bus service. You can catch a free ride at any point in the day. Here are the stops:
- Park Administration
- Hiking trail (9km long)
- Macuco Safari – Speedboat ride
- Waterfall Trail
- The Restaurant
Official map of Iguazu Falls, Brazil
Devil’s Throat, Brazil
Stay on the bus until the final stop – the Restaurant. It is a quick 5 min walk back to the Devil’s Throat from here. And if you came on the first bus, there is a very good chance you will have the Devil’s Throat all to yourself!
The Devil’s Throat is the heart of Iguazu Falls. About have of the mighty river’s flow falls down the sheer walls of the Plateau here, plunging 80 meters to the bottom of the narrow canyon with a deafening noise.
You can explore the Devil’s Throat on two levels here – at the top of the falls, which is level with the road and at the bottom of the falls along a specially constructed walkway. Though at the lower level, you will be experiencing the falls more than seeing them – as the water hits the bottom of the canyon, it creates so much spray that visibility becomes quite low. And you get completely drenched.
Tip: Bring a poncho or buy one at the gift store for BR$15 before jumping on the bus. The lower level platform at the Devil’s Throat is the only spot you will get wet on the trail on the Brazilian side.
Also, make sure not to wait for the scenic elevator to open. You can access the lower walkway by a set of stairs.
Back on the upper level, keep an eye out for the birds that appear to be flying right into the sheer wall of water and disappearing on the other side. They are the Great dusky swifts and they like to nest next to the waterfalls and rocky cliffs.
The Waterfall Trail
Sadly, by the time you finish exploring the Devil’s Throat, the walking trail for exploring the rest of the falls starts turning into a bit of a zoo. You can avoid some of the crowds by walking along the road, instead of following the trail. But you will still have to queue up for the viewpoints.
The last lookout on the trail, opposite Belmond Hotel das Cataratas is not as crowded and there is a short walking trail runs into the jungle here. We had quite a bit of luck spotting wildlife on this trail: Azara’s agouti, Capuchins and some very cool birds including the brilliantly-coloured Green-headed tanager. It is a good spot to see wild animals being wild, rather than waiting for handouts along the park’s trails.
The remnants of an abandoned zip line attraction give the area a spooky Lost World feeling.
The Belmond is the only hotel located inside Parque National du Iguaçu, right across the road from the falls. So, if you feel like a splurge (check prices here), spend a night at the hotel and you will be able to have the falls to yourself by visiting outside of the park’s visiting hours.
Macuco Safari Boat ride
If there is one attraction not to be missed on the Brazilian side of the falls, it is the Macuco Safari speedboat ride (stop 3 on the bus). The experience starts with a bit of an unnecessary educational ride in a very slow train through the jungle. The guide provides a commentary in three languages consecutively: Portuguese, Spanish and English, and it would have been faster to walk up to the boat landing!
After the train ride, there is an optional walking safari on offer as well, though most people choose to continue to the boat ‘landing’.
Tip: Purchase your tickets online (BR$215) to avoid queueing up for them in the park
Dry boat vs Wet boat
From the ‘landing’ that contains a gift shop and lockers for your bags, you are taken down to the water’s edge, where you choose whether you want a ‘dry’ boat or ‘wet’ boat.
You will get wet on any boat, even if only from sitting in a wet seat.
The dry boat gets quite close to the falls – it actually disappears out of view behind the mist for a few seconds. So, you will still get wet, unless you are happy to cover up in a poncho.
The wet boat goes directly underneath the thundering falls and you get a proper dunking. The force of the falls is so strong that it is almost impossible to keep your eyes open from the water hitting you from all directions. It is an absolutely exhilarating experience. The boat goes under the falls 4 times before riding the rapids back to the landing.
Some visitors comment that the boat operators are too intrusive taking the GoPro videos of the ride and then selling them to the passengers. We didn’t find the filming to be intrusive and no one actually tried to sell it to us. We had to look for the counter that sold the video (BR$179) afterwards.
The video itself is not that great – it takes the entire boat, so you’ll end up with a dozen of strangers in your clip. Unless you seat on the front seat of the boat. But you can pre-view the video first and decide if it is something you might like to purchase.
Here’s a video we took on a waterproof mobile phone
The buffet lunch at the restaurant is absolutely worth the BR$59. After a day of baking in the blistering sun and getting drenched on the boat, the abundance of food available at the restaurant feels like heaven.
The restaurant sits on the bank of Iguazu River, just before the river reaches the Devil’s Throat and the view from the open-air terrace is quite spectacular. It is also a nice escape from the brazen coatis that scrape to get into your bag anywhere where food is sold.
The lawns around the restaurant and the gift shops are a good place to see the Red-rumped caciques, the medium-sized black birds with red rumps. They are abundant throughout the park, but here you can watch them build their elaborate hanging nests in the branches of the trees.
It is also a good place for spotting Toco Toucans and other birds.
We had our lunch quite late, about 3pm, so by the time we emerged the sun was moving lower in the sky and the crowds have thinned out significantly. We took a leisurely stroll past the falls and explored the little trail near the last lookout again, before catching the last bus to the park’s entrance around 4.45pm.
The park has open wifi (you don’t need a password), so it is easy to call an Uber for the ride back.
Helicopter scenic flight
Another opportunity to splurge on the Brazilian side of the falls is to take a 10-minute helicopter flight over the falls. The flights are only operated on the Brazilian side, even though the company that offers the flights is based in Argentina. The flight costs US$220 and unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee a window seat.
Iguazu Falls Argentina – Parque Nacional Iguazu
At a glance (visiting from Brazil)
- Time to explore: 1 day
- Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm
- Currency: 1 Argentinian Peso (ARS $) = 0.027 USD. Credit cards are accepted everywhere in the park.
- Costs: Park entrance $600 pesos.
- Perks: You can walk a number of different trails and get many different views of the falls.
Since we were based on the Brazilian side of the falls, we had to do a border crossing to visit the falls in Argentina. To speed things up and to avoid changing and waiting for the public buses, we decided to splurge on a return taxi service for BR$250, which divided between the three of us, wasn’t really that much of a splurge.
Tip: check the visa requirements for Argentina from your country. Australian and Canadian citizens do not require a visa to enter Argentina. But we did have to ensure that our Brazilian visas were multi entry.
The driver picked us up at the hotel and took us to the immigration where all of us cruised through the passport stamping procedure (thankfully Australian and Canadian citizens no longer have to pay the $600 reciprocity fee to enter Argentina). Then he took us to the park entrance, arriving before the 8 am opening time.
The Parque Nacional Iguazu ticketing office opens around 7 am, so quickly bought our tickets ( 600 pesos each) and lined up at the front gate.
In Argentina, instead of the buses, you are carted between the different trails on a slow train. The train is free, but unlike with the Brazilian buses, you need to get a ticket, which determines which train (what time) you can ride.
Once the gate opens, it is about a 10-minute walk to the train and it gets a little chaotic with the tour guides rushing ahead to get spots at the front of the line for their groups.
Tip: Don’t miss the train ticket sellers – a few meters before the gate to the train station. Without a ticket, you will not be able to board the train.
The train has only 3 stops: Central at the park’s entrance; Cataratas for both the Upper and the Lower Circuits, and the Devil’s Throat.
Map of Iguazu Falls – Argentina
Devil’s Throat, Argentina
The first train leaves for the Devil’s Throat at 8.30am and then every 15 minutes. Encouraged by our tranquil morning experience on the Brazilian side, we decided to start at the Devil’s Throat again (last train stop). Though in hindsight, we should’ve left it until the late afternoon (more on this later).
On the Argentina side, Devil’s Throat is trickier to access than in Brazil because it lies on the other side of the Iguazu River, which at this point is about a kilometre wide. To make the river crossing possible, an elevated wooden walkway has been constructed that leads all the way to the drop.
Tip: You will need your poncho again at the Devil’s Throat.
Very much unlike the Brazilian side, there are no quiet periods here. Even if you arrive on the first train, you’ll be sharing the experience with about a hundred people. And at 9am the sun is in your face, which makes photography very difficult.
But nonetheless, the sight of millions of litres of water plunging down vertical cliffs underneath your feet is awe inspiring. The water falls with so much force that every few minutes large clouds of spray shoot into the air and empty onto the viewing platform.
There is only one way to view Devil’s Throat on the Argentina side – from the very top of the falls.
The Upper Circuit
The best part about the Argentina side of the falls is the extensive walking trails, divided into the Upper and Lower Circuits. And since there are so many trails here, the crowds are dispersed among them and the experience of viewing the falls is nowhere near as chaotic as on the Brazilian side.
The Upper Circuit of the falls is the most paradisiacal area in the park. I was often reminded of the Lord of the Rings scenery as the veils of the falls came into view along the trail. Depending on how much you linger, you could complete the circuit in 1 hour or spend half a day exploring the different viewpoints.
The Lower Circuit
The Lower Circuit is much steeper and you get to feel the spray of the falls again at some of the viewpoints.
The two circuits are where you are most likely to come face to face with the park’s less shy wildlife. Coatis and Capuchins boldly sit by the sides of the trails waiting for handouts. Please resist the urge to feed them and keep in mind that both species have a nasty bite.
If you have enough time left and feel like you’ve had just about as much crowd as you can handle, spend an hour walking the Macuco trail and explore one of the last remaining tracts of the Atlantic Rainforest. The entire trail is quite long, but you can walk as much of it as you like or have time for.
There are two food courts: at the Cataratas train station and at the start of the Lower Circuit. Fortin Cataratas Restaurant is a good option for a buffet lunch in the coati-free environment.
Late in the afternoon, we decided to return to the Devil’s Throat and with the sun behind our backs, it was a much more picturesque experience than our morning visit.
As agreed, the driver was waiting for us at the front just as the park closed.
Full moon walk
If you are visiting during the full moon you can visit the park after dark to see the Devil’s Throat under the light of the full moon. There are three departures for the walk: 7.45pm, 8.30pm and 9.15pm. The cost is 1100 pesos per person.
You will need to make your own way back to your hotel. Alternatively, you can splurge and stay at the Melia Iguazu Hotel (formerly the Sheraton) – the only hotel within the National Park (check availability here).
Have you visited Iguazu Falls in either Argentina or Brazil? Share your tips in the comments