Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Iguassu Falls

A trip to Brazil without a visit to The Falls is like a trip to Egypt without a visit to the pyramids, or  Peru without stopping at Machu Picchu. Some countries just have a crown jewel, a not-to-be-missed destination, and as one of the wonders of the world, Iguassu Falls is Brazil's top attraction, worth a flight to an otherwise nondescript and entirely unremarkable town of Foz do Iguassu.

Don't you just love crossing borders? I do. This area sits at the intersection of three international borders - Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay - all basically within walking distance of each other.

The Falls themselves mark the border between Brazil and Argentina, and to experience them properly, you need to see them from both sides. The Argentine side offers a more intimate and adventurous encounter, while the Brazil side presents all the most photogenic, sweeping panoramas.

Our first experience with the falls was in Argentina. The border crossing, though used by countless tourists every day, is an unorganized, interminable affair lasting far longer than it should. After about an hour of idling in the van while our passports were checked, we were finally cleared to proceed to the park.

The Argentine side is more developed, with many trails, bridges, rainforest hikes and a slew of adventure tours. This is your chance to really get in there and explore! It begins with an open air tram ride through the National Park...

followed by a hike of about a mile and a half across elevated walkways snaking in and out of the forest, and crossing the river at various junctions.

The closer you get, the louder the roar of the approaching falls. When they first come into view, it is at their most dramatic point, the Devil's Throat.

It's hard to convey the sensation of being that close to something so monstrously powerful and epically awesome. There is a constant all-consuming roar and a wall of wind and mist coming up from below; the torrent of so much energy enough to give you vertigo, as the mist swirls around you, eventually drenching your clothes to the skin. Devil's Throat is huge, it is so close, and yet seems to go on in every direction, and you are just a tiny speck, standing on a little platform in the midst of its raging dance.

From Devil's Throat, the path continues along the falls, through the lush tropical forest. Of individual falls, there are literally hundreds, of all shapes and sizes.

I mean, seriously...

These guys will unabashedly steal your food right out of your hands.
Other opportunities for gawking include a narrated drive through the rainforest, with some birding and wildlife spotting, a helicopter tour of the falls, and the most fun of all - a boat ride upstream, complete with taking a drenching detour into/under the falls themselves! Pretty scary, and incredibly fun!

flying upstream on a swollen and turbulent river.

a final photo-op before all the electronics are rolled up in a giant tarp bag, last rites are read, and the boat rams right into that wall of water to the delighted shrieking of adults reacting like 6 year olds.
Needless to say, there are no photos or video of that particular experience, although there is a videographer on board filming the shenanigans with a rather placid, "done this a million times" expression. We did not buy the video. But the experience will stay with us for a long time regardless.

And here we are on the Brazilian side the next day!

rare proof that we travel together!

We got incredibly lucky on this visit. The weather couldn't have been more perfect (complete with resplendent rainbows, frolicking butterflies, and a sunset shower or two) and the falls were very full after receiving a lot of rain, which meant that they were running at their most impressive. Definitely a sight and experience to leave you breathless and exuberant.

City of Foz do Iguassu after a shower at dusk.

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