One thing that I’ve still not cleared up is what to actually refer to “the falls” as; since it seems to be determined by which side of the Brazil / Argentina border you are standing. It’s “Iguacu Falls” in Brazil, “Iguazú Falls” in Argentina, and they can also be called “Iguassu Falls” in dumbed down English. For the purpose of this blog I’m going to side with the Brazilians.
One thing that is agreed upon, is the origin of the word “Iguacu”; which comes from the indigenous Guaraní language and, in an understated way, simply means “great water”. The Guaraní’s clearly weren’t ones for over-sentiment because the Iguacu Falls aren’t just ‘great’, they are surely the most spectacular cascade of water on the planet.
In terms of scale, only Victoria Falls (which separate Zimbabwe and Zambia in Southern Africa) come close. Victoria Falls would win the contest if it was judged on the size of a single wall of water, but what makes Iguacu so unique is the number of separate cascades spread out across a vast, 3Km horseshoe-shaped cliff. This creates the opportunity for an immersive panorama, where you can literally be surrounded by any number of the 275 cascades, as they dramatically crash 80 meters down to the river below.
There are very few views on earth that render you virtually speechless; where “wow” is the only word in the English language that you can find to try and describe how you are feeling. Iguacu Falls is definitely one of these places and I’ll long remember the feeling of catching my first glimpses of them. But which side is best to visit them and does it warrant a trip to each side of the border?
Brazil vs Argentina – beauty and the beast
We decided to visit the Brazilian side first, not for any discernible reason, it was just that this order happened to work best for our itinerary; but, by chance, this turned out to be the perfect way of doing things.
When you get off the bus at the entrance to the falls on the Brazilian side, the first thing that hits you is a deep rumbling noise that you can almost feel, as well as hear. Walking around the corner, you come down some stairs that lead to the viewing platform, where you are greeted by what I can only describe as one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.
On the Argentinian cliffs opposite, terracotta coloured water pours out of any gap it can find in the dense green jungle. Brown water turns to white, as it cascades over the precipice; before seemingly turning to smoke as vast clouds of mist rise up. The bright sunlight rebounds off the spray creating stunning rainbows. Finally, the water returns to normality, as it settles in the vast red-brown river below and continues meandering its way towards the coast. We spent ages at that spot, taking photos and breathing in the vista and I would have been happy to have left it there and headed for home. But we were only looking at the tip of the iceberg.
A 1.2km cliffside trail runs along the Brazilian border parallel to the waterfalls, which are predominantly in Argentina. Walking along this path allows you to slowly discover the beauty and scale off the falls as you enjoy seemingly endless sweeping panoramic views. Every time you come to a clearing in the forest you get a glimpse of a new set of falls that seem to be bigger and more impressive than the last. This eventually culminates in dramatic fashion, when you can get within a few feet of one of the cascades, feeling it’s full force. There is also a walkway that leads out to the middle of the river below the falls. From here you are literally surrounded by the cascades, the noise is deafening and you get absolutely soaked!
Our experience in Brazil was so incredible that I couldn’t imagine how visiting Iguacu in Argentina could add anything more. But I was wrong. There is no denying that the views from Brazil are better than the equivalent from Argentina, but if you want to feel the full power of Iguacu you have to visit them from the Argentinean side too.
There are three different walking trails on the Argentinian side of the falls: Paseo Inferior, Paseo Superior and the trail that takes you to the notorious ‘Garganta del Diablo’ (or ‘Devils Throat’ to you and me); each offering a different perspective of these amazing waterfalls.
Both Paseo Inferior and Superior are jungle treks that take you on a journey through the forest until you get incredibly close to different cascades. The difference between them is that inferior is lower down on the cliff whereas the superior goes along the top. The ‘inferior path’ focuses more on the natural element of the forest and it is more scenic, this path also takes you very close to the foot of one of the waterfalls and so I think it is quite comparable to the walk in Brazil in many ways. In contrast, the ‘superior path’ takes you along the top of the waterfalls getting you perilously close to the edge. This gives a completely different view and understanding of the brute force of these falls.
As if that isn’t enough of an adrenaline rush, you can also get front row seats at the pinnacle of Iguacu Falls – Devils Throat. This is the central point in the U-shaped waterfalls where 14 separate cascades combine, making the most powerful waterfall on the planet. The noise as you approach is deafening and when you get to the end of the walkway you are within just a few meters of what looks like a giant hole in the earth. The water tumbles in to the abyss making huge clouds of mist and it sounds like constant thunder. Feeling the power of mother nature as up-close as this is a truly astonishing experience.
Iguacu Falls way surpassed my expectations and I couldn’t recommend a visit here any more highly. There is no ‘best side’ to the falls as each offer something so different. To really do them justice, In my opinion, you have to visit from both sides. If you have the option, I would suggest visiting the Brazilian side first so that you can see the scale and beauty of the falls; and then the Argentinian side second, to feel their brute strength.