Iguaçu Falls

4-5 July, 2012

The Devil's Throat. Photo by Eric.

Lonely Planet's Brazil describes the Iguaçu Falls as wider than Niagara, taller than Victoria and prettier than either. We missed the falls on our last trip to Brazil because we didn't know exactly what an attraction they were. While sitting on the plane leaving the country, we saw a video with pictures of the falls, and were sad they we didn't get to see them. We were determined not to make the same mistake again. The falls are also on the Argentinean border, giving us the opportunity to visit a new country.


Getting to Iguaçu requires a two-hour plane flight from Rio de Janeiro. From the plane, I took this picture of the Rio de Janeiro coast.

Our first view of the falls, from the air.

There are only a few hotels in the area of the falls, and none is particularly cheap. We chose the Hotel de Cataratas, because it was the only one inside the park, affording opportunities for visiting the falls after the park was closed to other visitors. Since we were only staying in the area for about 24 hours, this seemed like a major benefit. Sometimes it's nice to stay in a high-end place. Generally speaking, I was very impressed by the professionalism of the staff, even in e-mail before we arrived.

On checking in, we found that we had inadvertently picked a special time to come to Iguaçu. As the moon would be full, there would be an opportunity to go out and see a moonbow after dark. There was a tour at 22:15--for BR30, or about US$30 for the two of us. We decided we'd try to find the moonbow on our own.

Because we were there during the low season, we got a free upgrade to a nicer room. The bed was even reasonably comfortable for my back.

The hotel is literally right next to the falls. The views from the parking lot are tremendous.

But before we could see much, we had to get food. Since this is a remote area where there isn't anything but the hotels and the national park, we could only eat in the hotel. Even eating at the pool bar meant expensive, time-consuming table service. But it was very pretty.

While I had rejected the idea of booking any organized tours in advance, preferring to do everything on our own, it soon became obvious that this was rather difficult to do. The hote had sent me a list of activities, including helicopter tours. We decided that, as much as we would have loved to have seen the falls from a helicopter, the price was too prohibitive. There were many other activities, like rappelling down the side of the falls, that we rejected. We decided that we wanted to go under the falls in a boat, and to see the Argentinean side. We had planned to see the Argentinean side our first day and do the boat tour the second day, when we expected to be rushing for the airport and not have as much time.

However, it soon became apparent that getting to the Argentinean side without the assistance of the hotel would be virtually impossible. It was an hour's cab ride. And it would take several hours to see the Argentinean side effectively. If we got up really early in the morning, packed up our stuff, left the hotel, went to see it and then went directly to the airport from there, it would be possible--by hiring a personal driver arranged through the hotel for quite a bit of money. Maybe, given more time, we could have found a cheaper way to do this, but since time at this point was more limited than money, we agreed to have the hotel arrange it.

Furthermore, it was now after 15:00, and it would be dark around 17:30. Remember that it's summer here in the Southern Hemisphere. We were fairly close to the time the boats would stop running for the day, and it would be best to have the hotel arrange a cab ride to and from the boats. Surely, it turned out, we could have saved some money by taking the park bus, but given our time limitations, we let the hotel arrange it.

The boat ride was a perfect illustration of the differences between American and Brazilian culture. If you take a boat under Niagara Falls, it looks like the picture at this link.

If you take a "boat" under the Iguaçu Falls, it looks like this:

Eric says it's technically not a whitewater raft, because it has engines. BIG engines. They need a very high power-to-weight ratio to fight the strong currents under the falls. The "boat" ride under the falls was kind of fun. The views were great, but, because of all the water, we couldn't take any pictures.

When we got back to the hotel, there was still a little bit of light, so we walked along the path along the falls, heading, of course, for a geocache. Most of the water falls from the Argentinean side, so the views from the Brazilian side are better. At one end, though, there is a horseshoe where some water falls from the Brazilian side, too.

The views were fabulous.

We could see into the horseshoe, which they call the Devil's Throat.

It kept getting darker and darker, though, and eventually, the sun set over the falls.

Eventually, we came to a fork in the path. One way went down to the Devil's Throat, the other up to the main road. Since it was dark, we went up to the road. We poked around with a flashlight looking for our geocache, but didn't find it. A driver came over and said he was about to leave with the last bus for the night, would we like to come with him? We decided to give up and go back to the hotel. We had a nice little nap and availed ourselves of an exceedingly expensive dinner in the bar.

After dinner, we headed out for the moonbow, leaving at 22:05 in an attempt to stay ahead of the 22:15 tour group. When we got outside, we saw that there was significant cloud cover. But the nearly full moon was peeking out of the clouds frequently, so we decided to take a chance and go looking for the moonbow.

We headed down the same path as before, down many steps, about 1 km (more than half a mile). The path was dark and lonely. Eventually, we came to the fork, and took the fork down toward the Devil's Throat instead of up toward the road. Soon, we came to a large platform, with an elevator going back up to the road. No one was around, and we were right next to the falls. It was eerie and wonderful at the same time. We could not, however, see the moonbow, or even the moon, as it was behind the cliff.

The tour never showed up. Apparently the guide thought it was too cloudy. We saw one other person out looking for the moonbow, but no moonbow.

The platform had several levels, so we walked down to the lower one. We were very close to the falls, looking out at an area where the water pooled before cascading down further to the river. Still no moonbow. In the dark, I could just make out a structure out at the edge of the pooled area, where the next cascade started. What was it? It looked like some sort of fencing. I thought at first it was a barrier to keep people from falling off the edge, but it really looked too high above the water to be effective.

Eric looked at it, and thought that it was a walkway. He wanted to go down and check it out. I was anxious to get to bed, as it was already something like 22:45, and we needed to get up at 6:00 for our trip to Argentina in the morning. Reluctantly, I agreed to go down another level and try to see what was out there.

It did turn out to be a walkway. And what an unbelievable walkway! It was practically right out at the edge of the cascade! Americans would never build such a thing--they would deem it too dangerous. We went out on the walkway, amazed at how close we were to the edge. The walkway curved around so that you had a great view looking back at the upper falls. It was too dark to take any pictures, and we lamented that we had not come down here during the day. We felt we had wasted the afternoon on the boat trip when we could have seen something much more amazing.

The walkway went right into the spray of the waterfall. We were getting wetter and wetter, and I was more and more anxious to get back to the hotel, when suddenly I looked out over the edge of the lower cascade.

"The moonbow!"

There it was, shining in the mist! About 180 degrees of arc, with one side a bit brighter than the other. Eric had seen a picture of what it could look like under ideal circumstances and found the actual instance rather faint, but to me it was pretty impressive. We saw the moonbow! There was no way it would show up in a picture, though. We would just have the memories.

Drenched and exhausted, but very excited, we made our way back up the path to the hotel.

We got up early in the morning, packed up our stuff, and had a lovely (complimentary) breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The Brazilian fruits, especially the melons, are fabulous. We had been so entranced by the Devil's Throat that we decided to have the driver take us back there first so we could see it during the day. It would make the Argentina part of the trip rushed, but we really, really wanted to see it by daylight.

At 7:30, we went to look for the cab driver, and there was no one. The concierge's office, which had arranged the trip, was not yet open. Apparently, the concierge's office made a mistake and did not actually schedule our Argentina trip! That was the one flaw in the hotel's otherwise impeccable service. But the front desk staff managed to arrange for a cab to show up by 7:55. We lost almost half an hour, but we did get to go to Argentina.

Our cab driver was named Cleiton. He had brought us to the hotel from the airport the day before. He apologized for his English, but it was actually very good. Cleiton was really wonderful in every way and gave us a fabulous tour. He made sure that, even though our time was limited, we saw everything we wanted to see and still made it to the airport in plenty of time. We did not feel that we missed out on anything.

Cleiton loved the Devil's Throat and came down to see it with us. We had plastic ponchos that we had bought for the boat, but Cleiton got very wet!

The Devil's Throat was definitely worth the time it took! View of the falls from the upper platform.

Here is the walkway. See how close to the edge it is?

A very wet Cleiton took our picture in front of the falls. The picture at the top of this page was also taken from this vantage point.


Next, we were on to Argentina, a brand-new country for us! There is a bridge that goes over the Rio Iguaçu separating the two countries. The Jersey barriers are painted the flag colors of the respective countries so that you know exactly when you go from one country to the other. Eric took a picture of the barriers.

Cleiton stopped on the shoulder in the middle of the bridge (yes, you can do things like that there) so that we could see the meeting of not two but three countries. The photo looks north. On the right is Brazil, on the left, Argentina, and, in the distance, Paraguay. Unfortunately, it is not recommended that tourists visit this particular part of Paraguay, which is mostly dedicated to illegal activities.

Cleiton took our passports and dealt with the border crossing, which was no problem. We made it to Argentina! Eric took my picture in front of a park sign.

There are four areas you can visit on the Argentinean side of the Iguaçu Falls. First, there is another spot called the Devil's Throat, and you have to take a little train to get there. Next, there are two trails, upper and lower. There is also an island between two major sections of the falls. This was the one thing we couldn't go to, because you need a whole day for it.

Eric took a picture of the train. I read a web site that said that the noise from the train was controversial because it scared wildlife, but that it may have been a benefit to the jungle because it replaced a lot of vehicle traffic. However, the contract to operate it was awarded to a private company, which was also controversial. Things are the same all over.

In order to get to the Devil's Throat, you had to cross a 1-km section of the river on these walkways. It would have been amazingly pretty except that it was mostly a prelude to something more exciting.

This lovely tropical bird is a Plush-Crested Jay. Eric got better pictures of him than I did, so I'll use his.

Eric got a picture of two of the jays together.

Then, we saw an alligator!

Then we came to the edge of the Argentinean Devil's Throat.

Looking right into the Throat.

Looking across the Throat. While the path afforded great views of the falls, it only came up to the edge on one side. I'm sure it would have been amazingly exciting if it weren't for the fact that the Brazilians had put in an even more exciting path. It was a sight to see, but not quite as much of a sight as we had seen earlier.

We found a Spanish-speaking woman to take our picture. It was so strange to try to communicate in Spanish again after several days of Portuguese.

On the way back, we got a nice view of this Cocoi Heron.

Then we saw these Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers.

We went on the lower trail first, because the upper trail was more crowded and we were worried about getting back in time for the plane. We got some nice close-up views of the falls.

Someone took our picture all wrapped up in our raincoats. This spot was very wet, but it was a point for an earth cache. We got an Argentinean cache!

Another view from the lower trail. There were lots of little side waterfalls.

It was difficult to get a good picture of these Great Dusky Swifts, but they are interesting birds. They nest behind the waterfall. In order to get to their nests, they fly up and then dive down until they match the speed of the falling water. Then they fly through the water to their nests.

This coati, a raccoon relative, was everywhere. Clearly people were feeding them.

Quickly we hurried along the upper trail for another great falls view.

Looking right down at it.

Leaning over to look even further down. Below, you can see people on the lower trail.

Cleiton took our picture. Up here, you didn't even have to get wet.

We did not, unfortunately, get to see any toucans, but we had one more bird surprise on our way back to the car. These are Southern Lapwings. They are called "Quero Quero" in Portuguese, which means, "I want, I want."

On to Praia Leme (Leme Beach).

Last updated: 05/07/2012 by Eric and Beth Zuckerman