The Iguazu Falls are one of the most stunning natural wonders on Earth and the largest waterfall system in the world. It is also an amazing ecosystem with beautiful wildlife to be observed.
This post aims to encourage you to one day visit this beautiful place. It also provides five tips for a fantastic experience if and when you decide to go. Beyond that, you’ll find some information not only on how beautiful this place is but also how fragile it is as part of the world’s most threatened tropical forest.
Why should you go there?
The Iguaçu (Brazil) and Iguazu (Argentina) National Parks are a combined UNESCO World Heritage site property of 170 000 hectares. The falls have been carving the borders of this area for 3 countries: Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.
The Iguazu Falls are, in my opinion, one of the most stunning natural wonders on Earth, and one of the most spectacular waterfalls, as well. The Iguazu Falls are the largest waterfall system in the world, taller than Niagara Falls and wider than Victoria Falls. When Eleonor Roosevelt saw the falls, her comment was “My poor Niagara…”
This natural wonder and landscape photography paradise offers around 275 separate waterfalls or cataracts, varying between 200 and 269 feet (60 and 82 meters) in height, over nearly three kilometers wide of the water show. The heart of the site is an 80m-high semicircular waterfall (almost 2,700m in diameter).
The falls are also surrounded by a beautiful subtropical rainforest hosting 2,000 types of plants and amazing wildlife, like the vulture below.
Five travel tips for an amazing experience and photoshoot
Do not choose: visit the falls both from Brazil and Argentina!
There are always arguments on many things between Brazil and Argentina, one of them being who got the best side of the Iguazu wonder. The short summary is that Brazil has the view, but Argentina has the falls (80% of the waterfalls are technically Argentinian indeed).
This debate is, however, irrelevant, as both sides are fantastic, offering very different perspectives, so you should see both!
From the Brazil side, you’ll enjoy amazing panoramic views along a 2-kilometer walkway. From Argentina’s side, you will get closer to the individual cascades, including The Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo), at the heart of the gorgeous Iguazu cataracts (pic below).
If you really want to choose, stay on the Argentinian side. The best Iguazu Falls spots are on the lower Argentinian circuit. But, again, if you can, you should do both. Border crossing is normally very easy (but check current pandemic conditions when going).
Visit Isla San Martin as well (free transfer, normally) to get a different and amazing perspective and feel like Robert de Niro in the iconic The Mission movie, featuring Iguazu.
The early bird gets the worm… so get there early!
Like any world-class landmark, it can be rather busy, so it’s best to go early when the park opens (and, ideally, to get your tickets online before going). Morning light is much better, for photography as well, and the afternoon can get warm – really warm.
To avoid crowds, you might want to start at the Devil’s Throat on the Argentinian side, getting there first and moving “backward”. Later, on this platform, the tourist devils are many and are all taking selfies like crazy 😢. The best light from this spot should, however, be in the late afternoon (so return there later if you are passionate about landscape photography).
If your budget allows it, consider staying in one of the 2 hotels in the park (preferably on the Argentinian side, in my opinion) to have the falls for yourself and to be able to see sunrise or sunset over the falls. If not, plenty of other and cheaper options around are perfectly fine – but get there early, in that case.
Relax and smell the roses: it is a once in a lifetime experience, so take your time!
The sun rises from the Brazilian side and sets on the Argentine side, so if you’re a serious photographer (or simply want great pictures), you may want to go twice to a few spots for different light and atmosphere.
To explore both sides thoroughly, visiting the falls over 2 days is the right duration.
Take the time to slow down and look for wildlife as well. If you’re lucky enough to see a jaguar (I wasn’t), send me a picture, please! In any case, you’ll observe amazing birds, vultures, butterflies, monkeys, the famous and cute Coatis… and many more animals and plants.
If you stay for more than two days, you’ll be also able to and you should visit the Guira Oga bird sanctuary, intended to help injured and orphaned wildlife return to their natural habitat.
You can also ride with motorized, inflatable boats under the falls from both sides (closer to the falls from Argentina, however). Fun and Shower are guaranteed so be careful about your camera (and your passport – a handy document if you crossed the border).
Choose when to go – fewer tourists and heat, or less water
The Southern hemisphere summer (December to March) is the peak for tourists, and it is very hot during this time. The water level and falls are normally, however, at their best during this time, and there is a higher chance of blue skies (but it can be cloudy and rainy in afternoons or at night, as well). Overall, it’s likely the best time to go.
If having fewer people is your priority, March-April or August-September can be good times, with cooler temperatures, but the water flow will be lower. May-July and October-November are a bit unpredictable with a risk of even lower water – clearly not great, obviously, to see the largest falls on Earth.
Protect yourself… and the Coatis
So, here is the “not only your mom cares about you” moment: make sure you go with good shoes, comfortable clothes, a lot of water, sun cream, and (very important) insect repellant.
You’ll get wet, which is fine – so if you are a photographer, make sure you protect your gear a bit and, for everyone, remember that a wet passport where we can’t see your name anymore may make your trip slightly miserable…
More importantly than yourself, please do not feed the South American Coatis or any other wild animals you might see! The cute Coatis are wild animals that should not become accustomed to industrial human food – even if they are fed daily by tourists now – and, of course, to coming back for more. So don’t do that.
What’s up in Iguazu on the sustainability front?
Beyond being an amazing place, Iguazu is home to amazing biodiversity, with almost 80 mammals, 400 bird species, and 2,000 different plants. The park and its surrounding are a significant part of the Atlantic forest, the world’s most threatened tropical forest (with amazing biodiversity nonetheless), making it one of the highest priorities for global conservation action.
The Iguazú area itself has a long conservation history and is well taken care of by the three cities – Foz do Iguacu (Brazil), Puerto Iguazú (Argentina), and Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) -, which are coming together to protect the area.
However, the exponential growth of population in those 3 cities (due to tourism) is outgrowing the capabilities of the infrastructures, creating a proven temperature increase that has altered the natural rain cycles, with more extreme rainstorms causing accelerated erosion. The impact of the rapid growth of agriculture, pulp and paper plantations and logging has been also strongly altering the landscape around the protected areas.
This, combined with unnatural changes in river level (dams upstream and, obviously, deforestation in Brazil), put the area in a “high concern” category in the IUCN rating (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Deforestation in Brazil and the construction of the Baixo Iguaçu dam (very close to the falls) are major threats. To be balanced, the dam supplies energy to 1M people, and lots of adjustments were made in the Baixo dam project and operations, but still…
…in April 2020, the river was running at 13% of its usual flow, transforming the largest waterfall on the earth into slender rivulets. The Parama River is also at its lowest level in more than 50 years, so perhaps this is not just bad luck…
So, back to sounding like a broken record on this.
Iguazu is one of the most stunning natural wonders on Earth – as long as the water is still there.
Hopefully, our grandchildren will still be able to see it…