Adding to our list of “world’s best” or “world’s biggest” we have now visited Iguazú Falls – one of the World’s biggest waterfalls. On top of that it is currently experiencing flood levels last seen more than 20 years ago! Exceptionally heavy rain upstream in Brazil has caused the flow to increase from the usual 1500 cumecs (cubic metres of water per second) to a peak of 19000 cumecs. Normal flood levels are only 6500 cumecs! Aside from the havoc this is causing upstream with many families having to be evacuated and livelihoods lost to the flood waters, it also means that part of the park is closed to visitors due to pathways being underwater. A few days ago the only part open on the Argentinian side was the lower trail. When we went the upper trail was open as was the “Grand Adventure” experience. The pathway out to see the Devil’s Throat is underwater and the embarkation point to get he shuttle boat out to Isla Grande San Martin was 12 metres below the surface meaning that it was not possible to visit the island!
Looking across at the Argentinian side of Iguazú Falls from the Brazilian side
We arrived in Puerto Iguazu on Wednesday following a rather long bus journey across northern Argentina from Salta (19 hour bus to Posadas, a one hour wait and then a five and a half hour bus to Puerto Iguazu). We got to Puerto Iguazu in the late afternoon and had initially planned to head straight to the falls the next day. Upon checking in to our hostel and hearing the news about the water levels we decided that we would hold back a day to see if any more of the park reopened as levels receded. We enjoyed a day relaxing around town on Thursday – having a lie-in, sorting some washing, reading in the garden whilst watching hummingbirds feed and visiting “Tres Fronteras”. This is the point on the edge of town at the confluence of the rivers Iguazú and Paraná. Each of the three river banks is a different country – Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. While stood there you could see how orange the river coming down from Iguazú Falls was and one of the roads back from the viewpoint into town was closed as it was underwater – the river is definitely very high!
Friday was a (relatively) early start to get to breakfast for 0730. This would enable us to be ready to head out around 0800 – when the hostel receives and email from the national park informing them which parts of the park would be open today. This information would allow us to decide whether we would be heading to the Argentinian or Brazilian side of the falls. As it turned out our expectations of what would be open were correct and so we set off to the bus station, via the bakery to buy a picnic lunch, to get a bus to the national park on the Argentinian side.
With our lunch safely in our bag we boarded the 0840 bus headed to the waterfalls. Once inside the park we enquired about which trips were still running and decided on the “Gran Aventura” – 6km through the rainforest in a 4×4 truck, 6km up the river in a speedboat, a look around the falls in the speedboat, back downstream to where we boarded and then back to the visitor centre in the truck. This trip usually finishes up by the falls but the pontoon they use was still underwater. The trip in the truck was nothing special – the guide talked about some of the plants and tree species we saw along the way bit for both of us the boat trip was why we were doing it. We were provided with dry bags each to put all our stuff in and were advised that we put our shoes in there too. We did and, at the end of the trip, were glad we followed the advice.
The boat trip up to the falls was relatively uneventful with a few stops at little waterfalls on the way. Up at the main falls our first stop was at the entrance to the Devil’s Throat. We couldn’t go very far in because there was so much spray that you couldn’t see very far – we stopped at the first fall on the right hand side (as we were facing upstream) to take in the sheer size and power of these falls, especially at the current flood level, and to take some photos. The driver had to work hard to keep the boat under control as the water was so fast and choppy this close to the falls. We then dropped back and headed up the other side of Isla Grande San Martin to get some photos before we were advised to put our cameras in our dry bags and to hold on tight – it was time for the driver to have some fun! His objective now was to ensure that none of the passengers had a scrap of dry clothing by the time we headed back downstream and I am certain that he achieved his objective 100%! The spray from the falls did a good job in soaking us but the driver was an expert in getting just the right amount of water coming over the sides to soak us to the skin. We were both wearing waterproofs but the water was coming in at the neck and soaking us inside the coats!! The driver also seemed to have fun as we set off downstream at full throttle, jumping over little waves and weaving in and out of the little inlets. After arriving back at the pontoon we put our shoes back on and went to get the truck back to the start. We didn’t have the best luck as our truck broke down only a few hundred metres into the 6km journey so we had to wait for a replacement before continuing. Our route back to the start was the same as our route down and the guide didn’t add anything to what we were told on the way down. We were dropped at the middle of the park and decided that know would be a good time to tuck into our picnic before we tackle the upper and lower trails in the afternoon.
Our first challenge after lunch was to work out where the upper trail started. After a couple of false starts we eventually found the correct trail and were on our way. The upper trail is only 650m long but takes about an hour to do – mainly because you spend so much time taking photos! It takes you along walkways constructed over the water and sometimes over the lip of the falls themselves. It was amazing to see, and to hear, such a force of nature in action. As we walked along the trail more and more falls would appear out of the mist. At one stage the mist lifted and you were able to see all the falls as far as the Devil’s Throat.
The lower trail is just over 1km long and takes about two hours, again because of photos. This trail takes you along a set of pathways at halfway between river level and the top of the falls (the upper trail is at the same level as the top of the falls). You start of by seeing some smaller falls which are separate from the main falls before working your way around to the main set. There were a few viewpoints where the spray from the falls was sufficient to soak you to the skin in only a couple of seconds. We did one such viewpoint just as we were almost dry following the boat trip. Well, I say “we”, but Lindsay was smart enough to stay dry. I, in the other hand, was more than happy to go to the end of the viewing platform in order to pose for the necessary photos! This was almost the end of the lower trail so I was glad to head out of the forest and into the sunshine to commence round two of the drying process! We then headed for the train station and waited for a train to take us back to the park entrance to get the bus back to Puerto Iguazu.
With our things almost dry from the previous day, on Saturday we headed across to the Brazilian side of the falls. 70% of the falls are on the Argentinian side of the border, which we saw up close the previous day, but the Brazilian side offers a fantastic panoramic view of the Argentinian falls as well as a close up view of the falls on this side of the border. We took a bus from the bus station in Puerto Iguazu that goes directly to the park on the other side of the border. After a brief stop at the border to get our exit and entry stamps it wasn’t long before we arrived at the park entrance. The park entrance is about 12km from the falls and we had to get a bus there, which is included in the entrance ticket. The bus dropped us at the top of he trail to the falls and as we descended the trail we were treated to glimpses of the falls across the river through the trees. Eventually we came to a clearing and could see the Argentinian side of the falls in all their glory. We continued along the trail, stopping at the numerous viewpoints to get photos, until we arrived at the Devil’s Throat walkway. This walkway, like the upper trail on the other side of the boder, is only a few feet above the water. This was above a pool which separates the upper and lower falls. As a consequence of the high river level there was a lot of spray and it didn’t take long before we were again soaked. Next up was a viewing platform right at the bottom of the upper fall. The spray here was so intense that I was completely soaked through from top to toe, including my boots, in less than a couple of seconds! Lindsay was again sensible and offered to take the photos! We then took an elevator which took us up to the top of the upper falls. The sun came out just at the right time to display a fantastic rainbow as we stood taking in the majestic view of all of the falls. The Brazilian side didn’t take as long to do – only two hours versus the seven we spent on the Argentinian side the day before – so it wasn’t long before we were on the bus heading back across the border to Puerto Iguazu.
Seeing these falls has been amazing and we were glad that we took the time to see them from both sides as they each offer a different experience. Even though the island and the Devil’s Throat walkway on the Argentinian side were both closed we were pleased that we had the opportunity to go when we did. It is not very often that the falls have this much flow so we feel that we were able to experience something that not many other people have been able to.