The Iguaçu Falls need no introduction; they’re quite simply one of the most spectacular natural wonders on the planet. The sheer scale of the falls is so tremendous that no words or photographs can do justice to the experience of actually seeing them.
Set amid a primitive landscape of dazzlingly green rainforest, Iguaçu Falls consists of 275 80-meter-high (260-foot-high) cataracts that thunder over a 3-km-wide (2-mile-wide) precipice. The sound is deafening and the sight is absolutely unforgettable. Eleanor Roosevelt summed up the spectacular sight of these famous falls when she declared: “Poor Niagara! This makes it look like a kitchen faucet.”
The falls straddle Brazil’s border with Argentina and are located within the parameters of Brazil’s Parque Nacional do Iguaçu and Argentina’s Parque Nacional Iguazú. Both the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu and the smaller Argentinean town of Puerto Iguazú are about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the falls. Also close by is Ciudad del Este, a run-down Paraguayan frontier town where Brazilians flock in massive numbers to buy cheap duty-free goods (many of them counterfeit).
Of the three border towns, Foz do Iguaçu attracts the largest number of tourists. A modern and not very attractive city, “Foz” grew in leaps and bounds during the 1970s and ’80s; its unbridled development was propelled by the construction of the monumental and controversial Itaipu Dam. South of town, the meeting of the Iguaçu and Paraná rivers marks the shared frontier between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.
The Ponte Presidente Tancredo Neves spans the Rio Iguaçu and connects Foz with Puerto Iguazú, while the Ponte da Amizade, crossing the Rio Paraná, links Foz with Ciudad del Este. Although it’s no longer the louche frontier town famed for contraband that it once was, avoid walking around the riverfront at night or crossing the bridge to Paraguay on foot.
If you’re not a fan of heat and intense humidity (along with hordes of tourists), avoid visiting the falls during the summer months. Between April and October, it’s cooler but rainier (especially September and October). Downpours not only obstruct scenic views, but can also result in the closing of some walkways due to the Rio Iguaçu’s rising waters. While the Brazilian side offers the most stunning panoramic views, 70 percent of the cataracts are in Argentina, which is where you’ll need to go if you want to get up close and personal.
To take advantage of the surrounding forest, visit sites such as the Itaipu Dam, and indulge in some adventure sports, plan on spending several days.
To cross the border from Foz do Iguaçu into Argentina or Paraguay, you will need to have a valid passport and—depending on your nationality—a tourist visa if you’re going to leave Brazil for any longer than a day trip. For more information contact the Argentinean Consulate (Rua Travessa Vice Consûl E.R. Bianchi 26, tel. 45/3574-2969, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) and/or the Paraguayan Consulate (Rua Marechal Deodoro 901, tel. 45/3523-2898, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri.).
Getting to Iguaçu Falls
You can fly to Foz do Iguaçu directly from Curitiba and São Paulo. The Aeroporto Internacional Foz do Iguaçu (Rodovia das Cataratas Km 13, tel. 45/3521-4276) is 13 kilometers (8 miles) southeast of downtown Foz. To get to the center of town, a taxi will cost around R$50. Airport buses (5 a.m.–midnight daily) leave at 15-minute intervals (45-minute intervals on Sun.) to the local bus station.
Buses from cities throughout south and southeastern Brazil as well as Buenos Aires and Asunción arrive and depart from the Rodoviária Internacional (Av. Costa e Silva, tel. 45/3522-2590), which is 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the center of Foz. The 10-hour trip between Curitiba and Foz is operated by Sulamericana (tel. 41/3373-1000 or 45/3522-2515, www.sula.com.br). Pluma (tel. 0800/646-0300, www.pluma.com.br) offers service to and from São Paulo—a 16-hour journey.
Several municipal buses offer service to the downtown local bus station, from here, Parque Nacional buses leave at regular intervals between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. to the entrance of Parque Nacional do Iguaçu.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition