The trip to Iguazu was easy. Cab ride to the airport, a dingy LAN Airlines check-in area at the domestic and much more convenient Aeroparque airport, sit in a gleamingly-new departure lounge, short flight, and arrive to a jungle sea of green.
We stayed at the Sheraton, the only hotel in the park proper, figuring we could maximize our time exploring. The location is undeniably nice but the hotel itself is pretty meh. They’ve got you cornered and they’re full so there’s not much attempt to impress. But whatever, we’re not here for the hotel.
We didn’t have much intel to go on as the concierge gave us a map and had little else to offer in way of advice (see above lack of attempt to impress) and our guidebook was short on details but we walked the lower and upper loop paths on day one, and then took the little tourist train out to the Devil’s Throat viewpoint and did the truck ride/naturalist tour/boat ride on day two. I think we guessed at a pretty good sequence but there’s really no wrong way to do it.
The falls are impressive! I have no idea what of humans causes us to pay large sums to see water rushing over a wall (I suppose one could extend this to any type of natural beauty if we’re getting philosophical over the whole thing) but I was quite excited to see them; giddy even. It didn’t disappoint and it puts Niagara to shame (sorry Canada). The lower and upper loops give you ample opportunity for great views from multiple vantage points and one point on the lower loop lets you get up close and very wet. There are tons of other visitors all moving down the same narrow elevated walkway but there is enough length to the system such that people are spread out and there’s ample time to take pictures you want without having to elbow your way into position. Serenity it is not but it is pretty good.
Day two we headed out for the 8:00am park opening to catch the first train out to the Devil’s Throat. Because we were at the Sheraton, we were actually at the second station and were third and fourth in line behind some other British keeners. This turned out to be critical. The train was full of those coming from the main gate and it was a free-for-all to scout a seat on four-abreast benches occupied by three people trying to look big and not make eye contact to preserve their precious “earned” extra space. A hairy eyeball crosses cultures and Timberly and I split up, guilting our way into seats.
Upon arrival we walked quickly to pass the sauntering masses and walk the 800m of elevated walkway over the river to the Devil’s Throat. We passed a group of Japanese tourists who were first on the walkway but we’re doing an excellent job of clogging. We took the opportunity to open up a gap along with two others. This gave us a precious four minutes of viewing before all tourist-hell broke loose.
The Devil’s Throat is the money shot of Iguazu viewing. The platform is impressively close and you are quickly soaked by mist and high winds kicked off by the falls (question: what’s the story with the periodic breezes here? My theory is that the water and air creates an air mass bubble in the falls that increases in pressure until the pressure is great enough that it creates a wind that blows all sorts of water at you. The pressure equalizes, the wind stops, and the cycle repeats. Curious if that’s close to the truth). The view is spectacular and the contrast of greenery, mist, and the massive confluence of water churning into the semi-circular throat is something else.
Next up was the boat tour. We opted for a tour that added an open-top truck trip through the jungle with a naturalist before boarding the boat. The naturalist part of the tour was mostly underwhelming. Our guide was keen and spoke good English but she explained most of the animal activity is at dawn and dusk so we had to make due with a Toucan sighting and a drive through a second growth forest of heavy understory. The sections of the park with old growth Rosewood forest are off limits to the public and the only hiking trail we found was off limits at 3pm. Academically I get it: there is just no way to manage a million visitors a year through this area and provide much of a natural experience but emotionally you want to see some other animals! Anyway, this is a way of saying it’s great the Argentines are preserving a significant park but don’t expect much beyond the actual falls experience. We boarded the jet boat for a worthwhile amusement park-like experience. The captain navigates up the rapids giving some thrills and then you cruise up the Brazilian side of the falls for a fresh view. You head over to the Argentine side, take some pictures, and then are instructed to put your cameras into your dry bag. Then the show begins. A wall of water strikes. I should have known when the guide put on his glasses but enough water rushes me that I go momentarily blind. It’s pretty awesome. We repeat this again and a cheer erupts from the boat. The guide says “now onto the big one!”. It seems that you couldn’t get any more intense but you head back toward the Brazilian side for a soaking of truly epic proportions. The power is incredible and pretty astounding given you are not even close to the most intense of the falls. I imagine a few have perished or at least flooded some boats trying to go deeper into the chaos. If you do the boat ride, and I think you should, do it for the fun and not necessarily the extra views.
We were a bit apprehensive about Iguazu when we were planning this trip. It is out of the way, and there is some truth in the thought about there not being a lot to do beyond falls watching. In two days, we basically did everything there is to do in the park. But we enjoyed ourselves and it really is quite the wonder. We’re glad we came.
Next up: Mendoza.