Iguazú Falls

Any trip to Argentina should include the Iguazú Falls. They're the biggest falls in South America - half as high again as Niagara - and a spectacular experience. You can get right up close to the water as it gushes down, along paths which enable you to enjoy the natural splendour of their subtropical setting, filled with birdsong and vividly coloured butterflies. In all, there are 275 falls stretching over 2.7 km but the main attraction is the Garganta del Diablo (devil's throat), where walkways take you right above the falls to see the smooth river transformed in an instant into a seething torrent as the water crashes 74 m over a horseshoe-shaped precipice onto basalt rocks below, filling the air with bright spray and a deafening roar. The whole chasm is filled constantly with billowing clouds of mist in which great dusky swifts miraculously wheel and dart, and an occasional rainbow hovers. Then you can walk close to the bottom of the immensely wide Saltos Bossetti and Dos Hermanos, or take a boat trip, which speeds you beneath the falling water to get a total drenching. Viewed from below, the rush of water is unforgettably beautiful, falling through jungle filled with begonias, orchids, ferns, palms and toucans, flocks of parrots, cacique birds and myriad butterflies. There are some longer trails enabling you to enjoy the diverse flora and fauna in this national park, and several excellent guides on hand whose expertise will considerably add to your pleasure. The whole experience is uplifting, the park itself is clean and well organized, and the area is easily worth at least a couple of days of your itinerary.

Argentina shares the falls with Brazil and you can visit them from either side for two quite different experiences. The Brazilian side has a smaller, more restricted park, and offers a panoramic view from its limited trails but you're kept at a distance from the falls themselves. If you have to choose just one, go for the Argentine side, where you can get closer to the falls, walk in the jungle and explore the rainforest. Allow at least two days to see both sides, or to return to the park a second time in Argentina (half price if you keep your ticket). For information, see www.iguazuargentina.com (in English).

Getting there and around

The falls on both sides are contained within national parks, both of which charge entry fees and have well-organized free transport to take you to the waterfalls. If you find a brisk pace exhausting in the heat of summer, you can revisit the park the next day at half the price - make sure you keep your ticket. Just opposite the entrance, a free mini-train takes you from the visitor centre to Estación Garganta, where a 1-km long walkway leads to the Garganta del Diablo falls and then to Estación Cataratas, where two trails, taking at least an hour each, offer great views of the falls and a free boat crossing to Isla San Martín for even closer views.

On both sides there are optional extra boat trips right up to the falls themselves: Jungle Explorer www.iguazujunglexplorer.com, on the Argentine side is best, with a great trip that takes you rushing right underneath the falls. You will get wet. Both parks have visitor centres, though the Argentine centre is far superior.

When to visit

The falls can be visited all year round. There's officially no rainy season, though it tends to rain more in March and June and there can be heavy downfalls in summer. The average temperatures are 25°C in summer and 15°C in winter. The busiest times are the Argentine holiday periods - January, Easter week and July, and on Sundays when helicopter tours over the falls from the Brazilian side are particularly popular (and noisy). Remember that between October and March Argentina is one hour behind Brazil (daylight saving dates change each year) and, from December to March, one hour behind Paraguay.

Background

The first recorded European visitor to the falls was the Spaniard Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1542, on his search for a connection between the Brazilian coast and the Río de la Plata: he named them the Saltos de Santa María. Though the falls were well known to the Jesuit missionaries, they were unexplored until the area was covered by a Brazilian expedition sent out by the Paraguayan president, Solano López in 1863.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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