Saturday 27 September 2014

Chasing Rainbows at the Iguazú Falls

Drawing a rainbow in the sky
In the weeks leading up to our visit to the Iguazú falls on the border between Argentina and Brazil, I was worried. There had been massive flooding in the area and the falls
had been closed to visitors. When we mentioned our plan to go to the falls to an Argentinian I was speaking to a couple of weeks before we were on our way, he shook his head and said that it was a bad time to go.

Chasing rainbows

We really wanted to see the falls, but didn't want to get there just to find it was shut or that there was so much damage that our visit would be badly affected.

We needn't have worried. Iguazú did not disappoint.

Our first view of the falls from the Brazilian side
Day 1: Visiting the Brazilian side
Although a little tired from our overnight bus trip, as it was such a glorious day, we decided to head to the Brazilian side of the falls in the afternoon on our first day in the area. 

We were staying in Puerto Iguazú in Argentina close to the bus station, from where there are buses every 30 minutes that take you straight to the Parque Nacional Do Iguaçu in Brazil. The driver helps sort out immigration for you and the journey is about 40 minutes.

On arrival, we got on the double-decker bus inside the park and headed to the last stop at the Hotel das Cataratas, which is at the start of the waterfall observation trail.

It is said that its best to see the Brazilian side first as you are further away from the falls and get an idea of scale, before getting up close to them when you visit the Argentinian side. 

The panoramic views from this side were breathtaking. We walked along the walkway, admiring the views, being entertained by the antics of the coatis - animals who live in the park and who have learnt that humans have food - and snapping pictures of the falls.

A coati climbing out of a bin
As well as the coatis, there are also opportunities for further nature spotting on both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. 

The Brazilian side also lets you get up close to the water, out on a viewing platform in the middle of the river and overlooking one of the falls. Warning! You will get wet!

The end of the trail leads to a lift that takes you up to a viewing platform, allowing you views across to the devil's throat and back through down the river.

Day 2: Visiting the Argentinian side
We wanted to get right up close to the waterfalls and had heard that the boat trips up to the falls were good fun. 

One of the hostel workers did a good job selling us the 'Great Adventure' tour, which involves a trip on a truck through the jungle in the park, with a guide giving information about the local flora and fauna. Then boarding a boat, you head up the river towards the falls for a good soaking. 

First view of the falls from the boat
We liked the idea of this tour as it would mean our first sighting of the falls from this side would be from the river. It was interesting to see a bit more of the national park and the guide was good. However, if you are on a budget, we didn't feel that you'd miss too much by doing the shorter trip that just takes you under the falls - this bit was the highlight and a lot of fun. You get absolutely drenched, so make sure to take a raincoat!

Getting wet

We were let off the boat at the lower circuit pathway and walked around most of this trail , putting our cameras to good use. 

We then stopped for some lunch, which was a little stressful, because the coatis were not shy at coming right up to you to try and steal your food. Do not feed them!

Don't feed the coatis!
Walking round the upper circuit in the afternoon, we saw the signs of damage made by the recent floods. The end of the upper circuit pathway had been washed away meaning that the pathway was considerably shorter than it usually is. 

Broken walkway on the upper circuit
And it wasn't at all possible to go to the platform at the Devil's Throat. While a little bit disappointing, we didn't feel that it detracted too much from our visit. 

How could this disappoint?!
This is not the first time that floods have washed away walkways in the park and there are now plans to develop new walkways that can easily be taken away when floods are threatening and then put back when the waters have subsided.

Day 3: Visiting the Argentinian side again
If you want to visit the Argentinian side on two consecutive days, when you're leaving on your first day, take your ticket and ID to the ticket office and you can get 50% off your ticket price on the second day. 

This is particularly useful, if you've not had good weather on your visit. We were lucky with the weather, but went back in for a second day to walk down the 'Sendero Macuco' - a nature trail with a waterfall and small pool at the end, where you can enjoy a refreshing dip. In July, it was a bit cold, but I still braved it along with Steph from our hostel. James didn't fancy it, so watched over our stuff while we had a little splash.

A very refreshing dip
On our walk back, we were lucky enough to see some monkeys in the trees above us. We then spent another hour admiring the falls from the upper pathway - one of my favourite parts of the park.

From the Upper Circuit
It was much quieter this second day and we did manage to see some monkeys on the upper trail too.

The Big Question: Brazilian side or Argentinian side - which is better?
Nearly everyone who has been to both sides seems to prefer the Argentinian side. They tend to say that the Brazilian side is good to see first for a perspective, but that they prefer getting up so close to the falls on the Argentinian side. 

Controversially, and perhaps because large parts of the Argentinian side were closed/washed away, I think that we preferred the vistas from the Brazilian side. The sense of scale that you get from this side was really impressive. However, the Argentinian side does allow you to get much closer and if you can, we would really recommend seeing both sides, as they do give something quite different.

Have you been to the Iguazú falls? Were all the walkways open? Which side did you prefer, Brazilian or Argentinian?

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