The spectacular Iguaçu Falls on the borders of Argentina and Brazil are one of the natural wonders of the world. We combined it with visits to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro on a summer trip to South America.
Who went and where Nancy and son, Ed, 15 went with friends Sheila and her son, Max 19
Nancy says: Ed’s older brother and friends were travelling in South America on a school football tour. We flew out to watch a couple of matches and take in some sights. We had less than 10 days to see Buenos Aires, Iguaçu and Rio so it was a busy trip, Audley Travel tailor-made our itinerary to fit and organised guides to help it all run smoothly.
Itinerary For the second leg of the holiday we flew from Buenos Aires with Aerolineas Argentinas to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. From here we transferred across the border to Belmond Hotel das Cataratas in Brazil. We spent two nights here and then flew with TAM from Foz d’Iguaçu airport in Brazil to Rio de Janeiro.
Iguacu Falls with Teens
Our first sight of the spectacular Iguaçu waterfalls – and our hotel! – was from the plane.
Iguaçu Falls is a stunning collection of waterfalls that span the border of Argentina and Brazil. The Iguazu river drops 80 metres at this point in a series of cataracts and cascades surrounded by lush sub tropical vegetation. The whole area is now designated as two sister national parks: Iguazu on the Argentinan side and Iguaçu in Brazil. There’s a lot of discussion about which side to visit: ‘Argentina provides the spectacle and Brazil enjoys the view!’ is how the saying goes. Even though it was going to require extra to’ing and fro’ing through passport control friends had recommended that we should stay on the Brazilian side at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. That way we could enjoy the overview of the falls from the Brazilian national park then take a day trip back into Argentina for a closer look.
The flight from Buenos Aires to Puerto d’Iguazu was just an hour and a half but we felt the difference in mood as soon as we landed. The air was warmer and more humid and we were met by a cheerful Brazilian guide: we’d swopped city life for the sub-tropics.
Our drive to the hotel crossed the border between Argentina and Brazil. The guide handled the paperwork and then – top tip! – stopped the car at a souvenir store so that we could buy rain ponchos and water bottles for our trip the next day.
Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, is the only one inside the Brazilian Iguaçu national park.
Not only is it a pink palace in its own right but the waterfalls are literally on its doorstep. And this was the view when we arrived:
The scale of the falls – and the sound – is mesmerizing.
We dropped our bags quickly and hurried out for a walk as the light was fading.
There are walkways and viewing points in the parks on both sides of the Falls. On the Brazilian side they are shorter and the stroll from hotel to the foot of the Devil’s Throat and back takes about an hour if you loiter.
Which we did.
The views are spectacular. The Park closes at 6pm so the only visitors still around are the ones staying at the hotel.
It’s a very special chance to see the falls close up, without crowds and with just a few coatis for company.
The light had gone by the time we got back to the hotel
with the distant roar of the water in the background.
A day at Iguazu Falls in Argentina
The next morning we set off with our guide, back through the border control to the Argentinian National Park. Rain had been forecast but in fact we were relatively lucky: it was drizzly at times (we needed the ponchos!) rather than pouring down.
The well-manicured walkways are arranged into circuits and are far more extensive than in the Brazilian park. They culminate in a train ride to a platform at the top of the Devil’s Throat where the main force of the falls tumbles off the edge of the plateau into a u-shaped chasm. But severe floods six weeks earlier had engulfed the platforms and the train line and that part of the park was closed temporarily. Our guide suggested lunch and a boat trip instead. The boys, unsurprisingly, thought lunch was a very good idea!
But first we went exploring. The paths around the falls are well marked with vantage points and observation decks. Bamboos arch overhead and vines hang down on either side. There are huge vistas
and walkways that cross gorges.
The paths and surrounding jungle are well-kept and though there are options for safari wildlife tours in the park it struck us that there probably aren’t a great many wild animals around – it feels too busy and civilized. The most prominent wildlife in fact are the coatis who hang around the snack bars and litter bins and seem completely impervious to tourist bustle.
The water that day was the colour of dolce con leche, still stirred up by the recent floods which had reached the observation decks in some places and washed away the train track. We could see the tidemarks on the side of the gorge and realized just how powerful the flood must have been.
The boat ride was memorable!
We watched a few boatfuls do the circuit before it was our turn.
At first it seems like it’d be a great photo opportunity but then phones have to be wrapped up tight and the boat swings under the cloud of spray.
It engulfs the whole boat, everyone screams, everyone laughs, it’s as if bucketsful of water are being thrown over you. The waterproof ponchos were essential!
After the boat trip we retrieved our belongings and, squelching slightly, caught a ride on the little train to the park entrance where there are souvenirs to be considered….
Back in Brazil after a cup of tea at the hotel we went for yet another walk down to the Devil’s Throat.
Every visit is a little different. The water is very changeable – and so is the weather –
on this particular afternoon there was so much spray we could hardly see to the end of the walkway.
That evening we were in luck – our stay coincided with a full moon and there was to be a guided Full Moon walk for the hotel guests. We trooped in torchlight down the road and along the walkways. At the foot of the falls and by the light of the moon we saw the ethereal glow of the lunar rainbow that forms across the water.
Where to stay to visit the Iguacu Falls
Belmond Hotel das Cataratas is the only hotel in the Brazilian Iguaçu national park and has stunning views.
It’s not a budget option but the opportunity to stay right inside the national park was worth it for us. We made the most of it with the full moon walk and strolls down to the falls at breakfast and dusk. It really did feel like we had the park to ourselves, along with a few other hotel guests. We watched the sun setting, sat on the terrace for coffee and climbed the little tower for an aerial view.
The hotel is built in an expansive Portuguese colonial style with wide corridors, art on the walls and bowls of orchids that give it the air of a private house on a grand scale. There’s an understated luxurious vibe and we felt very relaxed there. It’s informal enough for younger children to feel welcome too.
The breakfast and evening buffets in the Ipê Grill were grander than the name suggests. There was a huge and delicious choice, including traditional Brazilian grilled meats in the evening. The caipirinhas were the best on the trip and we were quietly impressed when we were served English tea with cold milk without having to ask. I’d go back there tomorrow!
The Best Bits and What Went Wrong
Top tips: The decision to stay inside the Iguaçu National Park was a big success! In our opinion it was worth the additional cost as it gave us so much extra access to the falls. It was also a relatively quiet couple of days in the middle of our trip. Two nights was sufficient to see both sides of the falls but we all loved Belmond Hotel das Cataratas and wished we could have stayed a bit longer.
It’s not necessary to have a guide to view the falls – but ours definitely simplified all our border criss-crossing as well as leading our day trip to the Argentinian Iguazu National Park.
Bitey things: Sorry if this is stating the blindingly obvious but do keep your arms and legs covered and be vigilant with insect repellent. I forgot for a few minutes as I rolled the hems of my trousers pre-boat and something immediately got me on the ankles.
Train ride: We were disappointed there was no train ride to the Devil’s Throat in the Argentinian park – it must give an incredible view of the falls. The track and walkways have now been rebuilt.
The weather: This is a tropical region so it can rain at any time. It’s winter in August so the temperatures are likely to be lower than the rest of the year. The upside from the point of view of sightseeing was that it was pleasantly warm, rather than broiling. Shame it wasn’t quite nice enough to sit by the hotel pool though!
Family Trip to Iguacu Falls
This holiday in South America was tailor-made by Audley Travel
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