By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Acclaimed as a World Heritage Site and once voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the waterfalls at Foz do Iguaçu are an incredible sight to behold. They also make an excellent weekend break from Rio. Divided between two national parks and sitting on the border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, there is plenty to see and do for a two-day visit.
On the Argentinean side (spelt Iguazú), a new 900-meter walkway has been constructed to give tourists a better, closer view of Salto San Martin, one of the better known of the 275 waterfalls. Built from concrete and galvanized iron at a cost of R$7.5 million, the structure has been designed to withstand the very hot and humid climate in the area. The head of the Iguazú National Park, Omar Cañete, says that further works are planned for next year, including a viewing point to at the end of the trail.
The waterfalls, on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná, span a total distance of 2.7km and are accessible from both countries (but not Paraguay). The most famous of them is Devil’s Throat, which cuts across the international border. Approximately half of the water of the Iguaçu River is funneled at the top of the fall into a channel 150 meters wide before surging over and pouring down 82 meters where the river turns into the Lower Iguaçu. Expect to be deafened and soaked by the incredible volume of water as it crashes over the cliffs.
Mike Yardley, a travel writer from New Zealand, recently described the experience. “As far as the eye can see, mighty silver chains of gushing water, plunging through gaps in the emerald jungle, with semi-circular rainbows radiating across the river,” he said. “Now that’s grandeur. It’s easy to see what Disney’s Log Fume ride was inspired by.”
The waterfalls are best seen from Brazil but explored from Argentina where the subtropical rainforest surrounding the trails gives a chance to look at the extensive number of animals, birds and plants that live there. Exhilarating boat rides into the falls can be taken from both sides but helicopter tours are only possible from Brazil. It is advisable to wear wet-weather gear and to make sure you have a water-tight container for any electronics whether on foot or in a boat.
The Iguaçu Falls are one of Brazil’s most-visited attractions and with the weakening of the real have become increasingly popular. Iguaçu National Park registered the highest number of visitors (175,000) in 35 years in July, the majority coming from Mercosur countries (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela). The number of other foreign tourists however fell 22 percent in comparison to the previous year.
Given its popularity it is advisable to book a guide (most speak English) and arrive at the park early. Opening daily from 9AM to 5PM, it costs R$53 for adults and R$7.50 for children under twelve years old. Inside, buses run throughout the park. Spring and autumn are the best times of the year to visit as the river is full and the humidity is more bearable. TAM and Gol both fly direct from Rio to Foz do Iguaçu town (20km from the park) taking around 2.5 hours.
Whether you stay on the Brazilian or Argentinean side, there are a host of options, ranging from back-packer hostels to family-run pousadas and high-end hotels. Though not the most budget-friendly option, checking into the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas is an incredible experience. Situated in the middle of the park, guests get to appreciate the magic of the falls once the crowds have cleared off. Superior rooms start at R$1,225 per night.