OYOP: Iguazu Falls, Argentina
At the beginning of our South American trip, we planned to take a flight out of the way of our other travel destinations in order to see Iguazu Falls, the majestic waterfalls that lie on the border of Argentina and Brazil. We’d booked a two hour plane ride from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina at 9:00am on a Sunday with plans to spend two full days at Iguazu Falls, one day on the Argentinian side and one day on the Brazilian side. Our plans quickly changed for two reasons. The main reason was that we had procrastinated on visiting a Brazilian Consulate in any of the major South American cities we’d visited until Buenos Aires, the last big city before we were to head to the falls. For a US citizen, Brazilian visas must be obtained at a Brazilian Consulate in another country ahead of time, by appointment, allowing 1-3 business days for processing. It was the afternoon of our second to last weekday in Buenos Aires when we finally remembered, and we were bewildered to discover that the appointments at the Brazilian Consulate were booked up for 3 solid weeks. After several moments of panic on how to get into Brazil in time to catch our flight home at the end of March, we found out through some quick internet research that we could obtain a Brazilian visa at Puerto Igauzu, Argentina, the town we would fly into to see Iguazu Falls, and that no appointment at that location was necessary. We would be flying in on Sunday, so we made plans to visit the Brazilian Consulate as soon as they opened on Monday morning in hopes that they would grant us a visa by Tuesday morning in time for us to catch our 1:30pm flight on Tuesday to Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Even if we hadn’t completely dropped the ball on the Brazilian visa situation, our 9:00am flight on Sunday was cancelled, and we were offered a spot on either the 1:30pm or 2:30pm flight that afternoon, so we would have lost one full day at Iguazu Falls anyway. We chose the 2:30pm flight because it came with free breakfast and lunch vouchers and either $150 in airline credit or $75 cash per person, which meant we would be getting paid to fly on a flight that we had originally booked for free with airline points. We were so giddy over this that the extra 5 1/2 hours in the airport, which had free wi-fi, flew by and we were all smiles as we ate our free lunch and connected with other travelers who’d missed the morning flight as well.
Once we arrived into the town of Puerto Igauzu, we took the public bus into town and walked six blocks off the main highway to find our place in a small neighborhood with dirt roads and kids playing soccer in the streets. With the help of neighbors, we found Namara, a family-run guesthouse owned by a nice couple with a young daughter and two dogs. We immediately felt refreshed to be in this quiet, country town after two weeks of traveling in big cities. We were the only guests that day and spent the afternoon talking with the owners and learning about the trails at Iguazu Falls, then had a quiet evening with a home-cooked pizza and a beer by the pool.
We woke up early with a full-day of Iguazu Falls ahead. But first, we had to go to the Brazilian Consulate to turn in all of the documentation needed to get a Brazilian visa. We were 30 minutes early to be first in line, only to find out that our paperwork was rejected because our middle names were not on on the one-page summary visa application and so didn’t match our passports. This was frustrating since the online application had no place for middle names, so we couldn’t have reasonably expected this error. We found an Internet cafe at a hostel, fixed the error, and found out their printer didn’t print correctly. We then rushed to the hotel next door and all but begged the reception to print the updated applications for us, a service they only offer for guests. We must have looked desperate because they obliged. We returned to the Brazilian Consulate and found one group of applicants after another being turned away for incomplete paperwork or overall confusion about the process. Once we dropped off the visa application, bank statements, flight information, passports, and another “US$160” each (with the exchange rate at the consulate, it actually turned out to be US$185 each), we were told that the visas would be ready by noon the next day. Not ideal since our flight at the airport on the other side of the border was at 1:30pm, but we decided we could only hope for the best and mostly, we wanted to forget about it and enjoy a full day at Iguazu Falls in the meantime.
The Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls is in a National Park with three trails to see different parts of the waterfall and one separate trail that leads to a smaller waterfall away from the rest of the park. The trails consist of the Lower Circuit, the Upper Circuit, the train to the Garganta del Diablo, “Devil’s Throat”, of the waterfall, and the separate nature trail, Sendero Macuco. We walked the Macuco Trail first, a 3.5km walk through the forest to a single waterfall, the only one at which you can swim. We learned quickly that almost every visitor skips this trail, and we were delighted. The walk was peaceful with only the sounds and smells of the forest, a stark contrast to the rest of the park filled with hundreds of people, restaurants, gift shops, and overall too much infrastructure surrounding this beautiful natural wonder. On the Macuco Trail, we saw dozens of different colorful butterflies, and more excitedly, brown capuchin monkeys in the trees right off the trail. When we arrived at the waterfall, there were only two other people there. We changed into swimsuits, took a dip in the cold water, and ate our picnic lunch while having the site nearly all to ourselves. At this point, the visit to Iguazu Falls had already exceeded my expectations, and we hadn’t even seen the falls yet.
We walked the 3.5km back and saw more monkeys along the way. About halfway back to the entrance, we heard a loud grunt and snorting sound, and genuinely worried it was a jaguar, we quietly picked up our pace. We never saw the animal, but we decided it must have been a tapir or boar. While there are jaguars in the park, surely one of these stealthy creatures wouldn’t grunt at us. Either way, we made it out alive. We cut through the large hotel/resort in the middle of the national park to get to the Lower Circuit trail. As we were walking up the steps to the hotel, and I was wondering why the entire area couldn’t be preserved without resorts and restaurants, we opened the door to the hotel, and out the back window, I gasped as I saw a magnificent view of the falls. I was immediately deflated to see Iguazu Falls for the first time through the glass window of a 4-star hotel, but at the same time, the falls were so impressive, I was much more filled with awe and wonder than any disappointment I could have felt.
The 1.7km Lower Circuit trail around Iguazu Falls was picturesque and easily provided my favorite views of the falls. At every angle was a new breathtaking view, decorated with rainbows, more species of colorful butterflies and large birds circling around the falls. Each viewpoint seemed to be the best, only to be trumped by an even better view around the corner. The trail took us so near to the falls, that we got soaked as we stood the underneath the powerful, enormous flow of water. The short Upper Circuit trail provided unique views of the falls from the top, where you can look down over the edge of the waterfalls. We saved the train ride to the Garganta del Diablo for last. While not as beautiful as the panoramic views from the Lower Circuit, it was certainly the most impressive view of the water rushing down over a wide edge. The falls were so powerful that a constant mist blocked the view from being able to tell exactly how big the drop was to the bottom, adding to the wonder and mystery of the falls.
We spent 7 1/2 hours total on the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls, and I can’t imagine having spent any less time. We were able to walk all of the trails and spent as much time as we wanted at each viewpoint without being rushed. It is truly an incredible site, and I wish I could see it all over again for the first time.
As for the Brazilian visa, we waited again at the consulate office all morning, got the visa at 11:00am, made it to the airport by 11:30am and were early for the flight. Needless to say, we were very lucky!