Story and Photos by Nicholas Gill
Iguazu Falls, straddling the border of Argentina and Brazil, easily ranks with Machu Picchu as one of South America’s most sought after and classic adventure destinations.
The first time I walked into the Devil’s Throat was at night, with it glowing under the light of a full moon. From the edge of the river I crossed a metal catwalk that spanned 800 meters of the upper portion of the Argentine side of the Iguazu River. The sky was clear and the moon lit up the fast moving water beneath me and allowed me to see the islands of tropical forest in the river. From the shore I could see the clouds of mist coming rising up form the falls. As I walked closer the roar of the water grew stronger and stronger until I was standing on a platform looking down at the U-shaped, 490 by 2300 feet waterfall where hundreds of thousands of gallons of water were falling more than 200 feet into the gorge below.
I was one of the first people off of the train to reach the falls, though a hundred or so others trailed behind and the mirador quickly filled up. At times wind would blow the mist from the falls right over the mirador, completely soaking everyone there. Few stayed more than fifteen minutes because of the amount of mist that rained down, though the view was spectacular. I’d learn the following day that this isn’t always the case, though a waterproof jacket was essential (and helped protect my camera).
Most don’t get to see this view. It was my first evening at Iguazu Falls. Every month, usually in the five days surrounding a full moon, visitors are allowed to make the guided trip to La Garganta del Diablo, or the Devils’ Throat, a horseshoe of thunderous falls on the Iguazu River that is usually seen during the day. Afterwards everyone retreats to the main lodge and restaurant at the entrance for caiprinhas and an all you can eat parilla, included with the price of the tour.
My following two days were spent viewing the falls from each side of the border while my guide Carlos spit out the names of every orchid, every bird, the amount of water falling over the falls per second, and pointed to where the catwalks over the river have changed over the years due to floods. Eighty percent of the falls actually sit on the Argentine side and the majority of adventure activities sit here. However, the views of the falls are better from the Brazilian side looking across to Argentina. The majority of visitors on a 2-3 day trip to Iguazu will spend one day on each side. (And to keep you confused, it’s spelled as either Iguaçu or Iguassu on the Brazilian side.)
Several tour companies organize guided trips into the national park where the falls are located. Inside of the park the excursions do not differ form one company to the next; however, guides and transfers do differ considerably. The Iguazu Grand Hotel in Puerto Iguazu recommended Aguas Grandes, the largest operator in the area, and the one they usually work with. The company provides personal, well-trained guides and private transfers and can adjust to any itinerary. Other operators have set departure times and a busload of people with one guide.
Full Day Argentine Falls
Seeing the Argentine side of the Falls takes at least one full day and is broken up into three sections: the Upper, Lower and the Devil´s Throat Circuits. Admission into the Argentine side of the park is 85 Pesos per non-Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay) resident. (This is apart from your guide services and transport to the park). After entering the park and passing the Visitor and Nature Interpretation Center an open sided train connects you to the following different circuits:
Garganta del Diablo/Devil’s Throat: This circuit is the same as on Full Moon nights and the highlight for most in the national park. One long catwalk crosses the Iguazu River and stops at a single mirador that stands at the edge of the falls. This point is where you get the most up close and personal with the Devil’s Throat, feeling the mist, the power, and seeing the swifts dart in and out of the mist. This is the furthest point of the park and the train ride takes approximately 20 minutes each way.
Upper Circuit: Eight hundred meters of catwalks straddle the top of the middle portion of the falls. Like the lower circuit, this part of the park is heavily forested and there are good chances of seeing toucans and coatimundi. Panoramic views of the largest sections of the falls are quite good, while the tiny ant-like figures moving on the lower circuit below also make for an interesting sight.
Lower Circuit: Sixteen hundred meters of catwalks and trails, mostly through forest, are highlighted by one excellent mirador that sits towards the bottom of the middle portion of the falls and peers up at the upper circuit. From here, those who have bought the Great Adventure attachment (included with the Passaporte Verde package), can take a wet speed boat ride up the river that gets up close to the falls and at points, goes underneath them (dry bags are provided), then returns to a drop off point four miles down river to connect with an all terrain vehicle ride for 5 miles through the forest that connects back to the entrance.