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I was born in Brazil but had not visited Cataratas do Iguaçú (a.k.a Iguassu Falls, Iguazu Falls) until this past weekend. Here are some photos and some information that might be useful if you plan to make the trip there.
To visit the falls, your gateway city is Foz do Iguaçú (on the Brazilian side) or Puerto Iguazu (on the Argentinian side). A visit to the area is a 2-3 day affair. You can get to Foz do Iguaçú through São Paulo (1.5h flight).
The Iguaçú (big water in the native Tupi Guarani language) River runs through the southern state of Paraná and forms the falls. It then joins the larger Paraná River (which feeds the Itaipú hydroelectric plant) to form the natural borders between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
The Falls were declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site in 1984 and is short-listed as a candidate to be one of the New7Wonders of Nature (you can help to elect it by voting at http://www.new7wonders.com). They are within National Parks on both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides.
Most of the falls are on the Argentinian side, so you get the best panoramic views of the majestic falls from Brazil. Bring a light raincoat or buy a plastic one at the entrance. You will get wet.
The admission to the Brazilian side is R$22 (about US$12 as of Jun/2010) and the walk along the main trail 0.8 miles can be done in a bit more than 1 hour and the entire visit won’t take more than three hours. You can take a van from the hotel, get to the park on a taxi or drive yourself.
There are optional tours (bird park, jeep safari), but I have not done them.
Visiting the Argentinian side is an all-day endeavor, with a good amount of walking (some 5 miles total – my 76-year-old father and 70-year-old mother were able to do it fine). While the panoramic views are less magnificent than from the Brazilian side, you can get a closer experience of the waterfalls.
It doesn’t matter how you get to the entrance of the park (tour van, taxi or your own), private cars stay at the entrance. The entrance fee is 45 pesos (about US$12 as of Jun/2010). Beat the tour buses by arriving a bit before 9AM. Plan to stay until about 5:30PM (or break the visit in two days).
From the park entrance, you can take a small train to the Cataratas and then to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) station. A 1km walk (round-trip) on catwalk takes you to the top of the Devil’s Throat fall for an amazing experience. This takes about 1.5 hours.
From the Cataratas station, you get access to the “Upper Circuit” (about 1 hour), with the most panoramic views, and the “Lower Circuit” (about 1.5 hours) with close-to-the-water experiences.
I recommend taking the “Nautical Adventure” (a power boat that takes you very close – or under – the falls), boarding from the lower circuit. There are additional optional tours (jeep safari, other boat tours).
I would not expect a restaurant inside a park to be an attraction, but I really enjoyed the lunch break at the La Selva Restaurant, which offers an authentic Argentinian Parrilla experience (all you can eat beef on the grill) and an incredible value (45 pesos/person).
After visiting both sides of the Falls, optional tours from Foz do Iguaçú include shopping in Paraguay (very popular among Brazilians, but really not recommended for American visitors) and a tour of the Itaipu Hydroelectric plan (a gigantic facility, the world largest in energy production and the second in size to the Three Gorges).
If you plan to visit Foz do Iguaçú, feel free to contact me for additional pointers. If you are in Brazil, you can save some money by self-guiding and using cabs. If you are visiting from elsewhere and is not familiar with Brazil or with the language, I recommend using a local travel agency to provide the airport/hotel transfers and local tours.
We did use an agency and were very happy with it. Free Travel Brazil is a small family-run agency. They work with all Foz do Iguaçú Hotels and cover the Brazilian, Argentinian and Paraguayan vicinities. They balance the flexibility and friendliness of a small operation with the resources to organize groups and serve very specific needs.
Highly recommended: Contact Viviane Rak at http://www.freetravelbrazil.com