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Legend has it that when former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, first set eyes upon Iguazú Falls, she was so wowed that her immediate reaction was to exclaim “Poor Niagara!”
I’m yet to pay Niagara Falls a visit, but I can easily believe that any other waterfall pales in comparison to the sheer size and power of Iguazú. Consisting of 275 different falls, and spanning a distance of nearly 3km along both sides of the Argentine-Brazilian border, it’s easy to see why this aquatic phenomenon has been crowned one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.
But planning a visit to Iguazú Falls can be confusing – not least because you’re dealing with two separate countries, currencies and languages, with a land border crossing thrown in for good measure. We visited for 2 nights back in May and learned a few tricks, which I hope will help you to make the most of your visit to one of the world’s most breath-taking natural attractions.
Getting to Iguazú Falls:
Flying is the quickest and easiest way to reach Iguazú Falls from most major destinations in South America. There are two airports serving Iguazú Falls with VERY similar names to confuse things: Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport (IGU) on the Brazilian side of the border and Cataratas del Iguazú (IGR) on the Argentinian side.
It’s generally cheaper and easier to fly domestic, rather than international, as you will avoid customs and border control at the airport. So if you’re travelling from within Argentina, you should fly to Cataratas del Iguazú on the Argentinian side, whereas if you’re entering from Brazil, then book your tickets to Foz do Iguaçu. You can still visit both sides of the Falls, making the border crossing by bus – I’ll explain how in this article.
We flew direct from Salta, Argentina with Aerolineas Argentinas to Cataratas del Iguazú. The journey took just under 2 hours and cost £98 for an advance, one-way ticket. Alternatively, overnight bus services are available from major cities, including Buenos Aires and São Paulo, and will cost you half the price but take around 18 hours. With just one month to spend in South America, we didn’t want to waste a full day travelling, but this is an option to consider if you’re on a tight budget or travelling longer-term.
Where to stay:
There are two main towns serving the Falls – Puerto Iguazú on the Argentinian side and Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazilian side. Both have a wide range of accommodation, restaurants and easy access to the Falls by public transport.
Assuming you want to visit both sides of the Falls (which you absolutely should!), you may wish to spend a night on either side. I prefer not to do 1-night stays, if I can help it, so we decided to spend our 2 nights at Hotel Jardin de Iguazu in Puerto Iguazú. This meant we could arrive in the evening, spend a full day and night exploring the Argentinian side of the Falls, and then transfer across the border by bus the following morning, before continuing our onward journey to Rio de Janeiro .
Puerto Iguazú is a nice enough little town but there’s not much to see other than the Falls, so use as a base for sleeping and eating (and laundry! There’s an excellent little place right next to the bus terminal).
We stumbled across one of our favourite food places here – La Mamma Pastas and Salsas – a no-fuss, authentic Italian diner, serving up the most delicious fresh pasta dishes. Seriously, I’m Sicilian and this was some of the best pasta I’ve ever had. And in true Italian style, the portions are HUGE! We loved it so much that we ended up defying my #1 travel rule and eating here 2 nights in a row!
Getting to the Falls:
The Falls are easily accessed by public transport – we made the journey on both days from Puerto Iguazú but from what I’ve read, it’s just as simple from Foz do Iguaçu.
There is a bus terminal in the centre of Puerto Iguazú (Terminal de Omnibus) serving both sides of the Falls. Public buses run regularly and are a much cheaper option than taxis.
Getting to the Argentinian side:
To visit the Argentinian side of the Falls, head to the Rio Uruguay ticket booth within Terminal de Omnibus and ask for a round-trip ticket to “Cataratas” (this literally translates as “waterfalls”).
You will easily spot your bus when it pulls in, as it will have a sign for “Cataratas” in the front window. Buses run every 20 minutes and the drive to the Falls takes about 25 minutes in total. A return bus trip cost $130 (ARS) each in May (approximately £2.50)
Getting to the Brazilian side:
You can buy tickets to the Brazilian side of the Falls from the same ticket booth within the bus terminal. Just ask for a ticket to “Foz” – a one-way ticket should cost around $40 (ARS). Buses depart every hour on the half past, and the journey takes about 45 minutes, including the border crossing.
Be warned that most people on your bus will likely be locals, so the bus will not necessarily stop at border control. Be sure to tell the driver when you board and keep your eyes peeled for the border control crossing. When the bus stops, don’t be surprised if you’re the only one getting off!
Remember, you will first need to get your exit stamp from the Argentinian border control before you pass through Brazilian customs. The whole experience was incredibly quick and efficient for us and our bus was waiting for us when we came back out, ready to take us to the entrance of the park.
Once you arrive at the park and have purchased your ticket, you will be given a boarding time for another bus that will take you directly to the Falls itself. There are large lockers near the ticket booths where you can stow backpacks for a small fee (tokens can be purchased with your tickets).
Exploring the Falls:
There’s a lot to see and do at Iguazú Falls and you should aim to spend 1.5 to 2 days to properly explore. I’d recommend one full day on the Argentinian side and half a day on the Brazilian side, as a general guide.
So what can you expect on each side of the Falls?
The Argentinian side:
Opening hours: 8:00-16:30
Entrance price: $500 (ARS) per person (be sure to bring your passports with you – we were asked to show them when purchasing our tickets).
There is a lot more to see and do on the Argentinian side of the Falls, which is why I’d recommend you give yourself at least a day to explore. I personally preferred the experience on this side of the border – it’s far less busy and you are able to get up close and personal with the Falls – spray and all.
There are 3 main walking trails that will take you to different viewpoints of the Falls – the Upper Circuit Trail, Lower Circuit Trail and Garganta Del Diablo Trail. You’ll want to allow about 1.5-2 hours for each, stopping for photos and general gawping along the way. Your entrance fee includes unlimited travel on the park train, which runs regularly and takes you to the different trail-heads.
I’d recommend completing the trails in this order, so that you experience Garganta Del Diablo or ‘The Devil’s Throat’ as it’s aptly known, as the grand finale of your tour. This is the most powerful and impressive section of the Falls and no words can do the noise and grandeur of this place justice. Be prepared to get soaked from the spray, so bring waterproofs!
You can easily pass a whole day hiking along the trails, but if you fancy something a bit more adventurous, there are a number of boat rides available that will take you right underneath the powerful Falls – tickets are available at the entrance to the Park.
There’s also a more relaxed ferry ride, which takes you across to San Martin Beach for a unique view of the Falls – this is a completely free attraction but ferries only run when the water is high enough.
I was amazed at how much wildlife we spotted whilst walking along the trails. This is a natural rain forest, after all, and we saw everything from raccoon-like coatis to howler monkeys. Spotting the colourful beak of a wild toucan in the trees was one of my highlights of the day.
We had a rather humiliating incident, after buying an empanada and making the rookie mistake of placing it down for two seconds on a picnic bench… before we knew it, a monkey had swooped down and snatched away our over-priced cheesy snack. The real insult came when he threw the paper wrapper back down at us to dispose of, once he’d finished!!
I found the whole thing hilarious but my other half was less than amused (and also hangry by this point, having missed out on his empanada). Still, I maintain it was all worth it to be able to tell the tale of how we were once mugged by a monkey at Iguazú Falls…
The Brazilian side:
Opening hours: 9:00-17:00
Entrance fee: R$63 (Brazilian Real)
In contrast to the Argentinian side, the Brazilian perspective gives you incredible panoramic views of the Falls. It’s only from this side of the border that you can appreciate just how HUGE this place really is.
There’s one main walking trail, which takes you down several flights of steps to a viewing platform, right in front of the Falls.
A couple of hours is more than enough time to explore – we actually got a bit fed up by this point because of all the tourists taking forever to take their selfies (a complete contrast to our experience the day before, when we felt we had the Falls all to ourselves at times).
To make the most of your day, I’d highly recommend combining your visit with a trip to Parque das Aves; an internationally recognised bird conservation and rescue centre, located right next to the entrance to the Falls.
Set within rain-forest trails, the bird park is home to a whole range of beautiful and exotic birds, including toucans, parrots, flamingos – not to mention hundreds of colourful butterflies. It’s the perfect place to relax and spend a couple of hours before catching your onward flight, or returning to town for the night.
However you choose to explore Iguazú Falls, this is one world wonder that will not disappoint. Visiting both sides of the border is so worth it to see the different perspectives of the Falls and to appreciate its sheer size and grandeur.
Travelling elsewhere in South America? Check out my top tips and itineraries for exploring the continent here.