Waterfalls can sometimes be overrated, but the awe-inspiring Iguazu Falls lives up the hype. I’ve never seen so much fresh water in my life, which is saying something coming from someone who grew up in Minnesota, nicknamed “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
The falls straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil, and can be visited from national parks in both countries. The parks operate independently, so visiting both in one day would be a logistical challenge, not to mention exhausting.
So, which side is better? In short, Brazil, but both are excellent if you have time.
I preferred the Brazilian side for one simple reason: the views are better.
The Brazilian side takes 2-3 hours to complete, and offers varied glimpses of the falls to visitors as they make their way down lush switchbacks toward the base of the falls. Further from the perpetual mist, these viewpoints make for the best photo opportunities.
Getting to the park: From Foz do Iguaçu, the two main options are taking a bus or taxi. The bus takes around 50 minutes and costs around R $3 ($0.78 USD), while a taxi is around 20-25 minutes and costs around R $65 ($16.83). To take the bus, you can go to the main bus terminal, or just ask the front desk at your hotel or hostel where the nearest bus stop is.
Cost: The entrance fee for Iguaçu National Park was R $63.60 ($16 USD) as of July, 2018.
Where to stay: In Foz do Iguaçu, I stayed at the Che Lagarto Hostel. It was one of the largest hostels I’ve ever stayed at, which gave it more of a hotel feel. The beds were comfortable, bathrooms recently renovated, and free breakfast was tasty and plentiful. The biggest drawback for me was that they only had two or three people working the front desk at any given time, and with hundreds of guests, it was nearly impossible to ask questions, but overall I would still recommend it.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Parque das Aves
The Parque das Aves (Bird Park) is a conservation and rescue center for over 150 different species of exotic birds. It’s located about five minutes’ walk from the main entrance of Iguaçu National Park, making it convenient to visit both in one day.
The entrance is R $45 ($11.54 USD), and you can expect to spend between 1 and 2 hours there, which I felt was one hundred percent worth it. The facility is beautiful and well-maintained, with spacious exhibits that still allow you to get an excellent view of the birds.
Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam Tour
The Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam is considered one of seven wonders of modern engineering. They offer several types of tours every day with the most popular being the Panoramic tour, which takes around two hours at a cost of R $38 ($9.74 USD).
The dam is located 7 miles/12 km from the center of Foz do Iguaçu. To get there, you can take a 15 minute taxi ride or take the bus. There are three buses that go to the dam: “Itaipu Dam”, “Conjunto C Norte” or “Conjunto C Sul.” All three depart from the city’s central terminal and the ride takes approximately 30 minutes.
Marco das Três Fronteiras
As the name indicates, Marco das Três Fronteiras (Three Borders Landmark) is located at the intersection of borders between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. The attraction offers some historical information, but is first and foremost, a photo op for tourists. For a lack of time, money, and interest, I chose to skip this one, but it’s still a popular destination for many.
The much larger park on the Argentinian side of the falls, El Área Cataratas del Parque Nacional Iguazú , or simply “Cataratas” as the locals call it, offers several different hiking trails, but La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat) is the biggest attraction. If you only see one thing in the park, see this.
It takes around 45 minutes to get to La Garganta del Diablo from the main entrance. This time is spent navigating through marshes and rainforest, even crossing over several hundred meters of the Iguazu river itself, until you reach a large platform in the middle of the river. From here, you can peer over the very edge of highest point of the falls. Seeing the sheer power of the river propelling itself over the edge and crashing 270 feet below will surely send shivers down your spine.
Unfortunately, the persistent mist obstructs some of the view, making photography difficult. Not to mention, it’ll get you incredibly wet, so a rain jacket is highly recommended.
Getting to the park: To get to Cataratas from the nearby town of Puerto Iguazú, your two main options are, once again, taxi or bus. A taxi from the city center takes around 25 minutes and doesn’t come cheap. Especially if you’re on a budget, I recommend taking the bus, which is convenient and more economical. The easiest way to catch the bus is to go to the main bus terminal and simply ask which bus goes to Cataratas. Employees are used to tourists unsure of where to go, and will always point you in the right direction.
Buses leave frequently, so there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance. The park closes at 6 p.m. and stops allowing people in at 4 p.m. Most people spend between 4-6 there, so plan to take a bus no later than noon in order to give yourself plenty of time to see everything the park has to offer.
Cost: As of July, 2018, the entrance fee for Cataratas was $600 ARS ($21.46 USD).
HOW MUCH TIME TO SPEND
I would recommend spending at least two days, but no more than four, in the Iguazu Falls area. I was there for two full days– one was spent visiting the falls and bird park in Brazil before crossing the border to Argentina, and the second day was spent exploring Cataratas Park before flying to Buenos Aires.
CROSSING THE BORDER
Crossing the border between Brazil and Argentina is different from any other border crossing I made in South America. Read everything you need to know here.
GETTING TO IGUAZU FALLS
If you’re coming to or from Buenos Aires, São Paulo, or Rio and you’re debating between flying or busing to Iguazu, consider flying because costs are similar and buses are LONG.
To/From Buenos Aires
Flight: Starting around $55-80 USD; 1 hour 50 minutes
Bus: Starting around $60 USD; 17 hours
Look for a flight to/from the Aeroparque (AEP) in Buenos Aires, which is the smaller domestic airport located much closer to the city center than the Ministro Pistarini International airport (EZE), making it cheaper and easier to get to your accommodations.
To/From São Paulo
Flight: Starting around $60 USD; 1 hour 50 minutes
Bus: Starting around $55 USD; 18 hours
CGH is the local airport in São Paulo, and similar to the situation in Buenos Aires, is cheaper and easier to get to than the international airport (GRU).
Flight: Starting around $60 USD; 2 hour 15 minutes
Bus: Starting around $75 USD; 24 hours
There are no direct flights to Foz do Iguaçu from the small domestic airport in Rio, and the flights that are available (with a layover in São Paulo) tend to be slightly more expensive than direct flights out of Galeão International Airport (GIG). Even though getting to Galeão is more expensive, the cost is similar when it’s all said and done, so save yourself time and book a direct flight out of Galeão.