The spectacular Iguazu Falls, cascading for 1.7 miles along the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, is one of the natural wonders of the world. To see the waterfalls at their best it’s worth planning a visit to more than one viewpoint. Here’s our 2 day Iguazu Falls itinerary, part of our family 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 some of the matches and see the sights. We had less than 10 days to take in Buenos Aires, Iguaçu Falls and Rio de Janeiro so it was a busy trip. Audley Travel tailor-made an itinerary to fit our dates and organised guides to help it all run smoothly.
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Iguazu Falls from Buenos Aires
Iguazu falls itinerary For the second leg of our trip (read about Two Days in Buenos Aires here) we flew from Buenos Aires with Aerolineas Argentinas to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. The flight takes under two hours. Although we landed in Argentina we crossed the border and passport control to stay in Belmond Hotel das Cataratas in Brazil. We spent two nights here inside the Brazilian national park and then flew with TAM from Foz d’Iguaçu airport in Brazil to Rio de Janeiro.
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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, 1.7 miles wide, bordering Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. 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. It was memorably the setting for the 1986 Academy Award winning film, The Mission, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons.
Where to view Iguazu Falls
There’s a lot of discussion about which country to visit to view Iguazu Falls: ‘Argentina provides the spectacle and Brazil enjoys the view!’ is how the saying goes. Even though it requires extra to’ing and fro’ing through passport control friends recommended that we should stay on the Brazilian side at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. That way we really could enjoy the view of the falls from the Brazilian national park then take a day trip back over the border to get up close to the big Argentinian cascades.
How many days at Iguazu Falls?
We allowed two days at Iguazu and two nights in the hotel. We wanted to have time to explore the falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. We also knew we could benefit from early morning and sunset walks beside the cascades when the national park is closed to the public.
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.
Iguacu Falls in Brazil
Our drive to the hotel crossed the border from Argentina to Brazil. Our guide handled the paperwork at passport control and then – top tip! – stopped the car at a souvenir store so we could buy rain ponchos and water bottles for our trip the next day.
Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, is the only hotel inside the Brazilian 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 as the sun went down:
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. The walks in the Brazilian national park are shorter and the stroll from the 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 Belmond 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 for supper ……
…..with the distant roar of the falls 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 were 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. There are options for safari wildlife tours in the park but 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, Argentina’s legendary caramel sauce which we’d been spooning onto our toast at breakfast. The recent floods, which had reached as high as the observation decks in some places and washed away the train track, had stirred up the waters. We could see the tidemarks on the side of the gorge and realized just how powerful the flood must have been.
The boat ride at Iguazu Falls 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.
The falls feel magnetic, the distant roar is enticing and 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. A mist hung over the jungle foliage.
Full Moon Walk at Iguazu Falls
That evening we were in luck – our stay coincided with a full moon and 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.
If you’re travelling independently and want to book ahead here’s a selection of Iguazu Falls tours from Get Your Guide
Where to stay to visit Iguacu Falls
The only hotel in the Brazilian Iguaçu national park with stunning views is Belmond Hotel das Cataratas
It’s a luxury 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. Its wide corridors, walls lined with art and bowls of orchids 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
For Part One – Buenos Aires with Teenagers click here
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