Curiously, for a resort that appears to have only two hotels within its boundaries, Iguassu Falls benefits from two airports. Coming from Buenos Aires, we touched down on the Argentinean side around noon and swiftly found our way to our hotel, the Sheraton, the only hotel in the Argentinean side of the resort. It’s a beautiful place to stay, and it’s worth forking out the extra packet to have a Falls view room. This provides you with a balcony looking out over the back of the hotel, towards the paths that lead down to the Falls, as well as a distant view of the Falls themselves.
Our afternoon tour was to have an optional extra, namely getting on a boat that would take you as close to the underneath of the Falls as it dared. Take this option, we were advised, if you want to have some fun and excitement, and also if you want to get extremely wet. In for a penny; we therefore opted to wear swimming costumes for our trek down to the Falls. As we were looking at a distinctly open-air day, with little in the way of spending opportunities – or so I thought – and the prospect of much drenching – I took no credit cards and just a modest amount of cash.
So here is my salutary tale. Our afternoon guided tour of the Argentinean Falls started with a non-included lunch. On the way down to the little railway halt that takes you to the main paths there are a few “restaurants”; the inverted commas hopefully sum up the quality. We were to have our lunch here before heading on. The choices were a fast food outlet that was a complete misnomer as the queues to the counter were about thirty tourists deep; or an aircraft hangar buffet restaurant, where at least there was no queuing. We chose this option. The food was below average, the atmosphere zoo-like, and the cost exorbitant. Having just brought what I thought would be sufficient for a light lunch, I found myself in the embarrassing situation of not having enough pesos to pay for this culinary delight, thus having to throw ourselves on the mercy of one of our intrepid co-travellers to bale us out of our spot of cash bother. Considering we had only ten minutes earlier left the welcoming sight of the Sheraton’s quietly elegant dining room, the bill for which could easily have been signed away without needing to take any dosh out, the decision to plonk us in this tourist trap hellhole was appalling.
So therefore it was in a rather disgruntled mood that we hit the queue for the little train, which was a surprisingly hit-and-miss arrangement, but we did eventually reach our first destination, the Estación Garganta del Diablo, from where we take our first real trek to the Falls.
It has to be quite a wide path in order to cope with the large numbers of people heading out to the Falls and back again, so at first you don’t get an uplifting sense of being near to an exciting bit of nature – at least not quite yet. But as you get closer and closer, the view of the wide river gives way to a sense of the rocky Falls beneath you. And the noise begins to rise; and what had been a very fine spray begins to thicken; and rainbows emerge; and you are completely taken in by the incredible energy that this wonderful natural phenomenon creates. It’s mesmerising to watch a waterfall from above – your eyes pick on a little bubble of water and follow it along the top of the river till it reaches the crest and starts hurtling down an incredible 80 metres. It’s an extraordinary sight.
Of course there are plenty of places to view the Falls. Garganta del Diablo is the usual first port of call as it’s convenient for the railway and you get close up to this enormous plunge. But there are also the Circuitos Superior and Inferior which provide different aspects at varying heights and proximity to the water. On the whole, the paths on the Argentinean side of the Falls take you to closer to the water itself, so they tend to be louder and wetter; on the Brazilian side you tend to get a more panoramic view over a wider area from slightly further back, although you can get up close and personal as well. In theatre terms, in Brazil you get the front row of the dress circle and in Argentina the front row of the stalls.
We took the Circuito Inferior to reach the little boat that would navigate us extraordinarily close to the second largest fall, Salto San Martin. It’s a fun, easy walk, with the chance to see lots of little jungle critters, like the omnipresent tapirs, maybe even a toucan if you’re lucky; you get close to the foot of several small falls, and, when we were there, loads of stunning rainbows. It’s with no little nervous trepidation that you stumble upon the boat that’s going to take you for your spin. Well prepared tourists take out their see-through ponchos, raincoats, sou’westers and what have you’s. Some will have parted with their last pesos to get an umbrella back at the tourist shop. My advice: what a waste of time. Without poncho, you get 100% wet. With poncho – from our observations – you get 98% wet. It really isn’t worth the 2%.
Life-jacketed out of recognition, you stumble into the boat (maximum 30 passengers), sit down in the puddles left by its previous incumbents, mutter some unexpectedly heartfelt prayers, and head off into eternity. Vultures look down expectantly from the tops of the trees. You desperately hang on to your camera, or your partner, until you’re so buffeted around and shaken from side to side that you can only hang on to one of them – so it’s up to you to choose which is the more valuable. You go right underneath the Salto San Martin, genuinely within a few feet of where the water comes crashing down on you. Screams of delight and terror abound. You are drenched but you don’t care. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
The downside of this, is that you get off at the end like a drowned rat, desperately hoping that the sun will dry you off as quickly as possible as there isn’t a towel in sight; and just when you want to be whisked back to your luxurious Sheraton en suite, you end up sitting in the back of a truck where an enthusiastic lady is going to take a good half an hour to tell you all about her favourite nature species in the jungle. To be fair, her talk was interesting and we enjoyed it – but it would have been a whole lot more enjoyable if we’d done it first!
Eventually civilisation hove back into view and we were able to shower, rest up and prepare for a Sheraton dinner. I’d describe it as good quality hotel food, if you get my drift. Service was borderline relaxed/slow, but it’s not a problem, as we hardly wanted to get ready to go clubbing.
The next day we were to tour the Brazilian side, so we crossed the international border, passports at the ready, from Iguazu to Iguaçu. At the border was an opportunity to use an ATM to get some Brazilian Reals. My Portuguese is not good, and the ATMs had no translation into any other language. Thus three of our intrepid co-travellers and I spent what seemed like half-an-hour, inserting cards, getting error messages, getting cards rejected, forgetting PINs, panicking about lost cards, pressing the first button that came into our heads, until eventually some local chap felt sorry for us and showed us how they worked.
As soon as you emerge at the entrance to the Brazilian side, it’s clear how much wealthier the local economy is. The Brazilian entrance is sleek, modern, stylish and attractive. Colourful open-top buses drive you along well tarmacked lanes to the first viewpoint. The Argentine side, in comparison, and the Sheraton apart, is basic. It would be like comparing Le Gavroche with Newport Pagnell Service Station. Once you get to the viewpoint, it takes a good 90 minutes to wander along the path, and with a new Falls panorama every fifteen seconds or so, your camera shutter finger gets worn out quickly. There’s a shop and shelter area at the end of the walk; and, depending on the wind, you may well be drenched again.
Earlier we had forked out lots of our new Reals for an optional helicopter ride over the Brazilian side of the Falls. It was just to be Mrs C and I, plus two of our intrepid co-travellers, Niri and Ratna. And the pilot of course! I suppose on a cost per minute basis it’s a bloody expensive form of tourism. But we thought we’d push the boat out, if that’s not mixing my metaphoric forms of transport, and I’m very glad we did. It may be stating the obvious but you do get a fantastic view over the river and the falls, and from a distance things appear different from how you would expect. There’s so much bright green jungle, for one thing. The flat-water surface on the other hand takes on a muddy green hue, almost looking motionless and jellified. The waterfalls appear artificially from nowhere, just where the land has for no apparent reason crumbled away. A fascinating perspective, and the fastest eight minutes of my life!
Back from Iguaçu to Iguazu, we returned to the hotel, then escaped again to take a last minute private walk along the Circuito Superior. A very attractive and not too crowded walk; if you thought you hadn’t seen enough waterfall, it treats you to yet more views, so that you come away feeling satisfied that you saw as much as you possibly could. A visit to Iguazu is an exceptional experience. We loved it.