Iguaçu Falls in Brazil

Foz do Iguaçu, or Las Cataratas del Iguazú as they are known in Spanish, are the most overwhelming and spectacular waterfalls in the world. Situated on the Rio Iguaçu (meaning 'big water' in Guaraní), which forms the border between Argentina and Brazil, they are made up of no less than 275 separate waterfalls. The Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este is just a few kilometres away but Paraguay does not own territory at the falls themselves.

Viewed from below, the water tumbles and roars over the craggy brown cliffs, framed by verdant rainforest encrusted with bromeliads, orchids, begonias and dripping ferns. A seemingly perpetual rainbow hovers over the scene and toco toucans, flocks of parakeets, caciques and great dusky swifts dodge in and out of the vapour whilst a vast number of butterflies dance over the forest walkways and lookouts.

Ins and outs

The town nearest the falls is also, confusingly, called Iguaçu - or to give it its full name - Foz de Iguaçu. Around 80% of the falls lie in Argentina, which offers the most spectacular views and the best infrastructure. There are national parks protecting extensive rainforest on both sides. Transport between the two parks is via the Ponte Tancredo Neves, as there is no crossing at the falls themselves.

The Brazilian park offers a superb panoramic view of the whole falls and is best visited in the morning when the light is better for photography. The Argentine park is great value and includes a railway trip in the entrance fee as well as offering closer views of the individual falls. To fully appreciate the forest, with its wildlife and butterflies, you need to spend a full day and get well away from the visitor areas. Both parks can, if necessary, be visited in a day. However, in the heat, the brisk pace needed for a rapid tour is exhausting. Sunset is best from the Brazilian side.

The busiest times are holiday periods and on Sunday, when helicopter tours are particularly popular. Both parks have visitor centres, though the information provided by the Argentine centre is far superior to that in the Brazilian centre. Tourist facilities on both sides are constantly being improved.

There are many advantages to staying in Foz do Iguaçu town and commuting to the Argentine side; it has, for example a much bigger choice of hotels and restaurants. Whichever side you decide to stay on, most establishments will accept reais, pesos or dollars. Cross-border transport usually accepts guaraníes as well.

Getting to the falls from Brazil

Buses leave Foz do Iguaçu town from the
Rodoviária Terminal Urbana
. The grey or red
Transbalan
service runs to the falls every half an hour, past the airport and
Hotel Tropical das Cataratas
. Return buses run the bus terminates at the visitor centre, where you must pay the entrance fee and transfer to the free park shuttle bus. If driving, cars must be left in the visitor centre car park. Many hotels organize tours to the falls, which have been recommended in preference to taxi rides.

Clothing

In the rainy season when water levels are high, waterproof coats or swimming costumes are advisable for some of the lower catwalks and for boat trips. Cameras should be carried in a plastic bag. Wear shoes with good soles, as the rocks can be very slippery in places.

Background

The Caiagangue people originally inhabited the region, but the first European visitor to the falls was the Spaniard Alvaro Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541. He nearly fell off one of the waterfalls on his search for a connection between the Brazilian coast and the Río de la Plata, and named them the Saltos de Santa María (Santa Maria waterfalls). Though the falls were
well known to the Jesuit missionaries, they were largely forgotten until the area was explored by a Brazilian expedition sent out by the Paraguayan president, Solano López, in 1863.

Parque Nacional Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil)

The Brazilian national park was founded in 1939 and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The park covers 185,262 ha on the Brazilian side and 67,000 ha on the Argentinian side, extending along the north bank of the Rio Iguaçu, then sweeping northwards to Santa Tereza do Oeste on the BR-277. The subtropical rainforest benefits from the added humidity in the proximity of the falls, creating an environment rich in flora and fauna. Given the massive popularity of the falls, the national parks on either side of the frontier are surprisingly little visited.

Fauna

The parks on both sides of the falls are replete with wildlife and are a haven for birders. The most common mammals seen are coatis, which look like long-nosed racoons and squeakily demand food from visitors; do not be tempted as these small animals can be aggressive. There are other mammals here too, including jaguar, puma, ocelot and margay, which can occasionally be seen along the park roads just before and after dawn. They are wary of humans, although in 2003 a jaguar broke into the Parque das Aves and ate the zoo's prize caiman. Most frequently encountered are little and red brocket deer, white-eared opossum,
paca
(which look like large dappled guinea pigs) and a subspecies of the brown capuchin monkey. Other mammals include white-lipped peccary, bush dog and southern river otter. The endangered tegu lizard is common. Over 100 species of butterflies have been identified, among them the electric blue morpho, the poisonous red and black heliconius and species of papilionidae and pieridae.

The birdlife is especially rewarding. Five members of the toucan family can be seen: toco and red-breasted toucans, chestnut-eared araçari, saffron and spot-billed toucanets. From the bamboo stands you may see spotted bamboo wren, grey-bellied spinetail, several antshrikes and short-tailed ant-thrush. In the forest you might see rufous-thighed kite, black- and-white hawk-eagle, black-fronted piping-guan, blue ground dove, dark- billed cuckoo, black-capped screech-owl, surucua trogon, rufous-winged antwren, black- crowned tityra, red-ruffed fruitcrow, white-winged swallow, plush-crested jay, cream-bellied gnatcatcher, black-goggled and magpie tanagers, green-chinned euphonia, black- throated and utlra- marine grosbeaks, yellow-billed cardinal, red-crested finch.

The falls

All cars and public buses stop at the visitor centre, where there are souvenir shops, a
Banco do Brasil
ATM and
câmbio
, a small café and car park. If possible, visit on a weekday when the walks are less crowded. The centre is open daily and there is a car-parking fee, payable only in Brazilian currency. This includes a transfer to the free park shuttle bus.

The first stop on the shuttle bus is the Macuco Safari, bookable through most agencies, which may charge a premium for transfers. The safari takes one hour 45 minutes, and visits the forest near the falls, with an option to take a boat to the edge of the falls themselves.

The second stop is the Cataratas Trail (starting from the hotel of the same name, non-residents can eat at the hotel, midday and evening buffets). This 1.5-km paved walk runs part of the way down the cliff near the rim of the falls, giving a stupendous view of the whole Argentine side of the falls. It ends up almost under the powerful Floriano Falls; from here an elevator used to carry visitors to the top of the Floriano Falls but has not been functioning recently; a path adjacent to the elevator leads to Porto Canoa. A catwalk at the foot of the Floriano Falls gives a good view of the Garganta do Diabo.

The Porto Canoas complex, with its snack bar, toilets, souvenir shops and terraces with views of the falls, was completed in 2000 after some controversy. Its restaurant serves a US$12 buffet. Highly recommended for a memorable meal.

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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