Iguazu Falls, a majestic cross-border experience
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Snuck inside what feels like a forest hideaway, La Cantera Hotel was perfect after a week in manic-energy-eating Buenos Aires, the Argentinian capital city where regular visits to a psychologist is an obsession.
La Cantera is more of a lodge than a hotel and it is built at the end of a dirt road, off the main thoroughfare towards the small town Puerto Iguazu, where countless tourists visiting the famous Iguazu Falls find a base.
Not much happens in Puerto Iguazu, which makes it an ideal tranquility trip. The entertainment highlight on offer each night during one’s stay there is a selection of restaurants in the town’s main street.
Anyway, it felt too good to be true to wake up each morning in a wooden cabin, surrounded by towering trees, and then finding one’s way along an elevated path to a poolside where a life without newspaper deadlines was real.
And fortunately Iguazu Falls is just a short escape – an hour and forty-five minutes with a local airline – from entangled, sweaty Buenos Aires.
It is best to visit Iguazu Falls in Argentina and neighbouring Brazil, a relatively short taxi drive from Puerto Iguazu, to know its beauty.
South Africans do not need to apply for visas before traveling to either country and crossing the border from either side into the other is hassle-free.
With a private taxi costing R300, one can travel from Argentina, cross the border, visit the park and move on to other parts of Brazil, or return to Puerto Iguaza within the same afternoon.
The Iguazu National Park, run on both sides by the respective governments, was set up during the 1930s.
By the mid-1980s, the park was declared a World Heritage Site with the intention of protecting it and making it “known to the world”. On both side, the park is pleasantly organised and easy to navigate.
On the Argentinian side, Iguazu Falls can be explored with better close-up views of flowing arteries into the Iguazu River as well as powerful gushes. It is an experience as epic as – here’s a might fine cheesy reference – those Enya songs.
In the local Guarani language Iguazu means ‘great water’ but at some points during one’s encounter with this force that feels like an understatement.
One is left speechless and feeling insignificant, even overwhelmed, moving between viewpoints that seem to get better with each next step.
On the Brazilian side, Iguazu Falls offers less close-up shots but greater panoramic views. It is easy to spend more than an hour at the lookout bridge, literally soaking up nature’s spoils.
In total, there are 275 waterfalls and the highest of these is 97 metres. These waterfalls are viewed from the Iguazu River’s banks along trails and bridges in both countries.
In Argentina, a speedboat also offers views inside Garganta del Diablo or The Devil’s Throat.
This speedboat pushes into the waterfall where it meets the river. Helicopter rides are on offer for those seeking a bird’s eye view.
The park on the Argentinian side, where most of the waterfall is located, is a hiker’s dream. It runs along a horse-shoe cliff for 2,7km.
Hiking paths off the main stretch lead one around, under and above waterfalls accompanied by rainbows, plants, birds and coatis.
Coatis have furry tails and funny noses, giving them a deceptively huggable appearance, but they are actually clever at sniffing out and stealing food from visitors.
If time allows on the Argentinian side, the Macuco Trail is seven-kilometre path that leads to the Arrechea waterfall, which forms a natural pool beneath it.
If trekking through the park is too tiring though, both sides offer trains and buses that transport visitors between viewpoints.
Museums with information about biodiversity of the rainforest as well as the region’s history and culture are located on both sides of the park.
On the Brazilian side of the falls, visitors enter a multi-storey building with elevators that takes one to different levels to view the waterfall.
It is actually in Brazil where the Iguazu River starts near Curitiba and at an altitude of 1300-metres. It travels west, picks up tributaries and increases in size as it travels for 1200km.
A few days of paradise on the Argentinian side ended with a trip to the Brazilian side of the falls. And then it was off to a manic-energy-eating city of a different kind: the coastal Rio de Janeiro.