We arrived in Puerto Iguazu after a very tremulous plane ride that had Ethan and I both praying to survive and clutching eachother and our armrests for dear life. Luckily, we did land in this humid little town on the border of Brazil and Paraguay in one piece.
Thank god for that, because Iguazu Falls is one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. It is something other-worldly and definitely worth the $1,000 I spent for the two of us to fly there and back from Buenos Aires plus hotel and tour. This small town of only 55,000 people formed around the national park of Iguazú that sits between Argentina and Brazil.
We arrived around 5pm on our first day due to a delayed flight and the air still hung heavy around us. Our tour through organizer, Caracol, provided pickup at the airport and a nice 4 star hotel. We got in with just enough time to check-in, eat dinner at one of the local per kilo buffets, and walk a mile to the end of the main road, Tres Fronteras, to catch the tail end of the sunset over the convergence of the Paraná and Iguazú Rivers.
We could see the bright orange sun slipping quickly behind the trees, and by time we reached the viewpoint it had disappeared. All it left behind was a few electric pink clouds. The two large rivers separated the three borders of Paraguay, Brazil, and where we stood in Argentina. There were three levels to the overlook and the bottom level was covered in tables and blankets of handmade souvenirs. There were also a few tourist shops at the top. You could tell that this community depends on tourism.
We stood maybe a half hour watching boats zip along the deep rivers. The sunset began to fade so we caught the local bus back to our hotel, Arami Hotel and Lodge (there was no lodge).
We awoke to our buzzing alarms at 6:30am for our 7:20am pickup. The skies were dark and rumbling as the cold air front and warm air front battled for attention. This of course led to a very wet and boisterous day full of thunder and lightning.
There were 45 people on our tour and only 4 of us spoke English. The rest of the group were Latin American tourists. Our guide, Hector, would first speak to everyone in Spanish then to us and the Australian couple in English.
The tour lasted a full day from 8am to 5pm. We started the tour on a little green train, the type that kids take around a zoo, with all the sides open. The rain splashed inside. The sky grumbled loudly. I wore a silly blue poncho over my entire body. Luckily, I didn’t stand out as we were a sea of white, blue, pink and green ponchos with pointy hoods. The tour guides erected large colorful umbrellas to lead the tours.
We started the tour by filing across a slippery metal bridge, walking over the rivers that cascaded into waterfalls. After 3/4 of a mile, everyone reached a lookout point that stared down the top of the “devil’s throat,” the largest and most forceful of the Iguazú waterfalls. In Spanish this park is called las cataratas.
Between the heavy gray rain clouds and the extreme force of the four cascades dropping off the edge of the mossy green cliff, a puff of white mist formed at the base. The colorful ponchos descended upon the lookout with their cameras and various apparatuses to capture this gorgeous phenomenon.
We squeezed in where we could to snap pictures and stare in awe at this natural creation. Water is so powerful. It always mesmerizes me to watch it pour down with such force and yet at the same time be so peaceful.
Across from us stood Brazil. We could practically jump the border. Instead our tour guide waved us back to take another train. I almost slipped multiple times on the slick metal walkway, so I walked slowly back.
The next stop took us along the upper trail to various viewpoints of the other waterfalls in Iguazú park. Here we thought Devil’s Throat was it, but it was just the beginning. The rain couldn’t make up its mind. First it poured then it drizzled then spit then back to pouring and so on for most of the day. The poncho kept me dry, but not attractive enough for photos.
We stayed with the Australian couple and walked the metal pathways to view the Falls. Ethan mentioned that this place reminded him of the movie Avatar with the floating islands that had lush green mountain cliffs and cascading waterfalls. I couldn’t have agreed more. This place was something out of a dream or science fiction movie.
Iguazú was not just the waterfalls, but the lush green forests that surrounded them. Bright purple flowers that looked like mini fireworks popped out of the trees. Little vicious raccoon creatures, named coatis, scurried along tree branches and scrappled over garbage. Kids thought they were puppies, but their parents cautioned them to not pet these rough creatures that bite and scratch. Black vultures hung out in groups on branches overlooking the waterfalls and took flight in large swoops together.
The air carried the aroma of floral perfume and fresh raindrops. Being the last few weeks of winter below the equator, the waterfalls carried heavy rains from the rivers down the cliffs. There were over a dozen or more individual falls or saltos and many others that spread 100 feet across the cliff side like strands of spaghetti.
Pictures barely do this place justice as the white rushing waters look like a blur on your screen. So, instead of always snapping pictures in a frenzy, we would stop and stare in meditation at the forces of nature humming loudly and crashing like the thunder overhead.
The third part of the tour directed us to a lower path with more panoramic views of the falls. Here from various distances we could view the entire panorama of Devil’s throat and on the other side of a jutting cliff the line of 8 or so falls that twisted and intertwined before crashing at the waters edge. A billow of mist floated up at the base of each waterfall. Finally, the end of the trail brought us face to face with one of the waterfalls that fanned out wide across the red rock face. We pushed ahead to snap a picture and feel the cool mist on our cheeks just after the rain had stopped.
The sun pushed through the clouds just like us through the heavy poncho-clad crowds and finally it was ready for its own selfie in front of the waterfalls. As an added treat the sun and the mist combined to create two vibrant arching rainbows.
Thankfully, the rain subsided just in time for our boat ride along the rivers. After watching from above as another boat careened with the heavy cloud of mist beneath the waterfall and reemerged full of water and wet tourists, I wasn’t so excited for the ride. Ethan, on the other hand, was ecstatic!
We darted down the slippery rock steps to catch our boat. They put on our bright orange life vests, and we took our already wet seats on the speed boat.
The guide suited up in black fisherman pants and a heavy yellow rain coat and rubber hat. People removed their shoes and valuables and put them in their provided dry bags. Within seconds our boat zipped off towards “Devil’s Throat,” so we could snap pictures from the water. Then it drove to the other side of the jutting cliff to the twisted waterfall pouring down the crook of the bent cliff.
This time, following pictures, the boat went full force towards the base of the waterfall crashing up against the heavy cloud of mist. We disappeared from view like a plane at the Bermuda Triangle, but luckily we reemerged only soaking wet and not dead. Then the driver made an abrupt u-turn sending us right back into the mouth of the waterfall. Water cascaded down my shirt. Puddles formed in my lap. The gush of air as we entered the waterfall lifted my poncho on both sides so it couldn’t protect me.
Ethan laughed with glee, filming my reaction on his GoPro. I shrieked from the cold. The boat returned to the other side to soak us again under two other waterfalls. At this point I felt sufficiently clean and drenched. After several showers, the boat flew across the top of the water and tipped and bowed in the rapids as we headed down the river.
The driver got in a few more splashes from rapids before slowing the engines and stopping at a wooden platform. We made it safely and dripping wet to land. As we climbed the steep staircase, butterflies of every size and color greeted our arrival. Their wings flapped rapidly revealing splotches of blue and black, bright yellow, orange, and hot pink. They mingled with yellow jacket bees as we dried off at the bathrooms.
An open air monster truck with 5 foot wheels and green seats sitting in rows of 5 across its bed, picked us up and drove us back to the start. Along the ride a different guide taught us about the Iguazú forest. It has 250 species of birds including toucans. There are 100s of varieties of butterflies. Years ago the entire forest was cut down by settlers and the current forest is a secondary growth. Only two of the old growth trees remain and one of them is 800 years old. A native culture lives in this area, named the Guaraní or Huarani. They work in the town selling handmade goods to make a living, but are very shy.
We reached their village and purchased handmade bracelets. The tour ended at 5pm like promised and we arrived at the hotel exhausted and already ready for bed.
The last day in Iguazu, included a short early morning tour, where we learned how to rappel down a 20 meter rock face and zipline in the canopy of the forest. We are sad to leave this spectacular place, but we will never forget Iguazu Falls!