As travellers, we are always looking for intact places, the ones locals go to, “secrets” that our beloved Lonely Planet has yet to discover. Nevertheless, there’s a list of places everyone should visit at least once in their lives. Sometimes, must-see attractions take over, and there is no time for hesitation: you have to go there, sí o sí, like they say in Argentina. In South America, the throne of this list is battled between iconic Machu Picchu and majestic Iguazú falls. Just like for Niagara Falls, shared between the United States and Canada, Brazil and Argentina fight over who has the best access to Iguazú Falls, which lie on the border between the two countries.
Since the majority of flights to visit the Argentinian side of the falls are from Buenos Aires, I had to take advantage of the moment and go visit them – just before my allowed 90 days in Argentina expired once again – and briefly leave the country. A couple of weeks after my boyfriend Thomas joined me in Buenos Aires, we reached Puerto Iguazú, a charmless village that survives thanks to its proximity to the falls.
In spite of very little to like in the village itself we had a very pleasant stay, thanks to the hostel we chose and its lovely owners. Tadeo Nuñez runs Residencial Amigos, a tranquil and well located hostel with a most-needed pool and lots of vegetation. With rooms and rates that fit perfectly most backpackers’ budgets – let’s not forget this is a hyper-touristy destination, and this was among the cheapest options -, Residencial Amigos will not disappoint you. Like many places in Argentina, you will have to pay cash – our room was 400 ARS/night (21.27 GBP, 24.24 EUR) -, with a delightful breakfast included. As a typical blackout hit the neighbourhood, we had to spend the last night sleeping on the floor – the only cool spot left due to the unbearable heat and the momentary lack of air con -, but Residencial Amigos had no share of guilt.
March is a very good time of the year to visit the falls – as the busy summer ends, and the rainy season just finished, the falls are still very rich in water and the village a bit poorer in tourists. If you’re unlucky like we were, they will close the Argentinian park for two days for the presence of a couple of hungry pumas. Most likely it will not happen to you, as this had never happened before according to the hostel owner’s memory.
The Brazilian park being still open, we visited this side of the falls first, which we personally recommend. The trail might be shorter, i.e. the concentration of tourists higher, but the panoramic views, including the final steps right beneath the main part of the falls, will leave you speechless – and soaked! Unlike what most Argentinians will tell you, and as the two sides are so different, the Brazilian park is definitely worth a visit, whether you need to do a visa run or not!
Apart from the falls, what you’ll find most amusing are the coatis, funny yet potentially aggressive animals constantly looking for food and will not hesitate to bite you if you give them some. In spite of being told not to do so, some tourists still feed them, harming their own safety and the animals’ well-being, as human food is not good for them.
Whilst on the bus, you will be invited and advised to visit Parc des Aves before entering the falls. This zoo-like park hosts birds and other animals rescued from illegal trafficking, but in spite of its benevolent purpose, we personally didn’t enjoy seeing animals in cages and how we weren’t given a truthful description of the place before buying the entry ticket.
Back in the village, exhausted after each day of visiting, we refuelled with a fruit juice at Petit Marcel, a simple yet lovely independent fruit shop on Avenida Misiónes (if coming from the near bus station it’s just before Supermercado Capicua). If you happen to go there, make sure to give our best wishes to the owner.
The following day, half of the park being re-opened, we took the bus to the Argentinian side of the falls. Regardless of how much we enjoyed the Brazilian side and the number of tourists expected after a two-days closure, we listened to the countless voices telling us about how extraordinary the Argentinian side was. The combination of an overcrowded place, unbearable heat and humidity, and Black Friday-like queues slightly put us off, but when we finally reached the Garganta del Diablo we were rewarded with a soul-filling and mind-blowing view.
J.M.W. Turner’s painting aimed to describe the human insignificance when facing the destructive potential of Mother Nature. When admiring the magnificence of the falls, this is exactly what we felt. Yet, there is a comforting feeling of courage and resistance when you notice the little plants on the edge which aren’t washed away by the water, just like Leopardi’s Wild Broom on the slope of Mount Vesuvius.
If you fly to Puerto Iguazú (the village in Argentina), most likely you will be offered a taxi service by your accommodation. We were told the buses from the airport we complicated to catch and would’ve ended up costing almost like a taxi (120 ARS per person by bus vs 150 ARS per person by taxi, in our case).
To get to the Brazilian park, open from 9 am to 5 pm, Rio Uruguay and Crucero del Norte buses leave every hour from the main station and cost 80 ARS (4.25 GBP, 4.84 EUR) for a return ticket. The entrance to the park costs 64 BRL (16.75 GBP, 19.10 EUR), which you can pay by card.
To get to the Argentinian park, open from 8 am to 6 pm, Rio Uruguay and Crucero del Norte buses leave every hour from the main station and cost 130 ARS (6.91 GBP, 7.87 EUR) for a return ticket. The entrance to the park costs 500 ARS (26.59 GBP, 30.30 EUR), which you can only pay by cash. The day after you can visit the park a second time, paying only half the price.
All prices are updated to: March 10th 2017.