20th June 2014
It sounds foolish to say it now, but as soon as we crossed the grey concrete bridge from Argentina to Brazil I noticed a difference that seemed to lie in more than the new language showing on every sign and shop front. Foz do Iguaçu, just a short drive down the road from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina, really felt like a different country – strange for a place separated only by a river and a tiny border control.
The difference was even noticeable on the Brazil side of the actual falls themselves. Although the river, forest and waterfalls themselves were of course no different, the views and the National Park felt a world away from the Argentinian side, proving that the only way to truly experience Iguassu is from both sides.
For starters, the park itself was a little more modern and sleeker, with a big, fancy complex of ticket offices and shops at the entry, and a transport system included in the ticket price to take us from the entrance all the way to the start of the waterfall trail.
While Argentina have multiple trails offering various views of the falls, as well as ferry tours to the central island (unfortunately closed due to flooding when we were there), Brazil only have the one trail. This starts pretty far back, affording incredible views across the falls and over to Argentina. We arrived later in the morning on our Brazil-side visit to the falls, which meant that all the mist had cleared up leaving bright blue skies and brilliant sunshine. As we followed the trail, the view just seemed to get better and better, and once we’d rounded the edge of the cliff a little, to where the air was heavy with rain from the spray of the distant falls, which caught in the leaves of the forest and fell down on us, we were hit by the most impressive sight yet; the view of the horseshoe section of the falls known as Garganta do Diabo (Devil’s throat). We’d wanted to view this from up above the day before, but again due to the flooding this trail had been shut on Argentina side, so this was our first view of the Garganta, and it really was breath-taking. The spray from the thunderous ring of falls was so thick that we couldn’t even see the back of the horseshoe, and the falls we could see were so fast and powerful that they didn’t even seem like water; more a heavy blur of white.
The trail on the Brazil side creeps in one more or less straight line right along the edge of the river and as close to the falls as they can get. After zigzagging down the cliffside to the level of the lower river, an optional side trail led us out into the very centre of the Garganta do Diabo . I don’t recommend heading out along this pier-like pathway unless you’re wearing a decent raincoat and very fast-drying shoes and trousers – and definitely don’t take you’re camera or phone without protection. It was WET! The river below the path roared and splashed like a stormy sea, but it was the thick, white spray – a dense, misty fog hanging in the air – that had us completely soaked. The whole experience was great fun and very refreshing, but we waddled back onto dry land wet through with out dripping clothes adding to the growing puddle outside the queue for the observation lifts.
Glass fronted lifts provided pretty good views of the horseshoe we’d just experience, but it was from the upper observation deck that we could really see the power of the surging water around the pier we’d just been stood on. The trail had led us neatly from distant, beautiful views to a thrilling up-close-and-personal experience of the powerful waterfalls.
Trail done, we ate a picnic lunch alongside the river and then took the bus back through the park looking for additional trails through the forest. Unfortunately, these are all at an additional cost, so we opted out, and after watching the last fifteen minutes of the Italy vs Costa Rica game on a TV screen at one of the trail ticket offices (and finding out that England had definitely lost our group) we headed back to the main trail again for one last look at the falls. Revisiting the trail a second time is a great idea, because this time we put our cameras down – knowing that we’d already taken plenty of shots – and just experienced the incredible views. We’d done the same thing with the upper trail on the Argentina side the day before, and it’s a really nice way to make sure you really experience the falls without the distraction of a camera in front of your face!
Since we were already dry after our wash in the Devil’s Throat, we didn’t walk all the way along the trail a second time, and only walked as far as where the spray “rain” started, then stood on one of the viewing platforms and just looked. I’m not exaggerating in any way when I say that the photos of Iguassu Falls simply do not do it justice; in fact I don’t really like any of the ones I did take because none of them capture the full experience; which involves the motion of the water, the power, the thunderous noise which can be heard from far away, the heat of the bright sun, the rich green forest, and the fragmented sunlight through brilliant, wet leaves, catching in rays on the misty air.
Without using too many clichés, I really did have to tear myself away from that stunning view when it was time to leave. We were both exhausted, the day was ending, and we had lots to sort out back at the hostel (like bus tickets to our next destination), but I could have stayed at the top of that trail for hours and just stared. I mentioned it in a previous post, one why we should take less photographs, but I really did find myself disappointed when I saw people clicking their cameras a few times and then hurrying on to the next viewpoint of the trail. Iguassu, like all the wonderful places in this world, is about more than catching a couple of good photos. It’s a staggering sight of the incredible power of nature, a dizzyingly huge waterfall made up of over 150 individual falls, cutting across a wide, fast river. There are many visible traces of how the force of the river has shaped the landscape and created the falls, and hints of how these will change shape in the future, all proving just how strong and powerful nature can be.
Both sides of Iguassu are staggeringly impressive and have lots to offer even if you can only visit one half. But I’m so glad we got to experience the falls from both Brazil and Argentina – and I honestly can’t pick a favourite side.
Heading to the falls? Don’t miss my information post for prices, tips and how to get there!