As the world’s largest waterfall-system and prominently located at the border between Brazil and Argentina with Paraguay right next to it, the Iguazu Falls hardly need any introduction. And while Paraguay doesn’t own any of the waterfalls, it is part of the second most remarkable sight in the region: the Itaipú hydroelectric dam and the world’s second largest powerplant. I could pull up Wikipedia now and throw a ton of interesting numbers at you, but I’m sure you, dear reader, are well capable of doing that by yourself.
We stayed four days in Foz do Iguaçu, the Brazilian city named after the falls in the state of Paraná. On our first day we visited Itaipú. Hotels and travel agencies offer tours, all of which are completely over-priced considering that they consist merely of transportation to the powerplant and the on-sight tour which can also be booked directly at the dam. So the two of us just walked to the local bus terminal and caught a bus for about 1 USD each. At the powerplant, we decided to do the extended tour granting us insights into the inner workings of the dam, the machinery and the control rooms. Fun fact: once the tour bus drives through the gates of Itaipú, you are neither in Brazil, nor in Paraguay. Itaipú is a territory shared by both countries but owned by neither of them. It was impressive seeing and experiencing one of mankind’s biggest engineering projects. And although it is right in front of you, it seems impossible to comprehend the complexities of planning, building and running this place.
part of the dam
The next day it was time to start discovering the falls. Once again we took a cheap public bus that took us right to the entrance of Iguaçu National Park on the Brazilian side. The entrance ticket, with different prices for Brazilians, Mercosur nationalities and all the others, includes transportation on the hop-on hop-off buses that take you from the entrance to the final stop at the falls. Inbetween, you can get off at several points for boat tours and different trails through the forest and along the waterfalls. We got off at the second last stop in order to walk along the water. Dozens of Coatis welcomed us there, eager to snatch some food from a careless tourist. But once we got a first glimpse at the first section of waterfalls, the enthusiasm for the animals dwindled quickly.
A hell of an outfit!
It was brutally hot that day and the piers at the end of the waterfall trail that lead over the water onto a platform mounted right on top of one of the cliffs were a welcome refreshment as the mist of the thundering water all around left you soaking wet within minutes.
When we first arrived at the park, we bought tickets for the Macuco boat tour. So once we finished the walking part, we took the bus to where the tour started. An electric cart pulling a carriage took us through the tropical forest for about 15 minutes. We walked the rest down to the boat landing. The ride on the rubber boat was a one of a kind experience. We headed upwards against the current, stopping for pictures and then it was time to get a proper shower; the captain maneuvered the boat practically underneath one of the waterfalls and it was hard to breath because of all the water everywhere. Then he gave us a quick break, just to do it once again a minute later. It was short but unforgettable.
We visited the Argentinean side the day after. This time we arranged a driver because we needed to stop at both borders and it was quite a bit further.
The park on the Argentinean side is much less well taken care of and less organized than was the case in Brazil. But on the other side they have two connecting train routes instead of lame buses, and nothing is cooler than trains.
In general, the views towards the falls are better on the Brazilian side, but in Argentina you are much closer to the action. The main attraction is Devil’s Throat, a gigantic waterfall that, once you reach it after crossing about one kilometer of river on a pier, just simply takes your breath away. The amount of water rushing over the cliff right underneath and in front of you is overwhelming. And although there are hundreds of tourist around, there is some humbling solitude in the moment you appreciate this spectacle.
While less spectacular than Devil’s Throat, the other trails also uncover a beautiful scenery. At one point, Barbara was simply overflowing with the beauty of nature and had to relieve herself.
On our last day we went over to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. The city is not known for its sightseeing attractions. There are none. But nevertheless, thousands of people come every day to buy cheap electronics and brand products that are heavily taxed in other countries. The basically inexistent border controls lets people buy absurd amounts and smuggle them back into Brazil. Of course you can also find an infinite number of ilegitimate knock-offs and there are all kinds of shady sales strategies being deployed. Our goal wasn’t to go on a big shopping spree but getting to see a tiny part of another country so easily was too good an opportunity to let go. So there we went, we hopped into a van, drove across borders without showing a passport at any point. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
What we ended up buying? Two lipsticks for Barbara and a beard trimmer for me, not exactly what you would call splashing out.
That was the last of Brazil. I hope through our posts you could enjoy a little bit of what we had the pleasure to see and experience during these last three months.