The spectacular waterfalls of Iguazú are located on the border between Argentina and Brazil. The nearest town on the Argentinean side, Puerto Iguazú, has a population of around 30’000 people. Its counterpart in Brazil bears the name of Foz do Iguaçu and is roughly ten times bigger. Since a visit to the falls usually involves seeing the falls from both countries, a number of border crossings is necessary. Setting my base camp at a strategic location involved some advance research, since I planned to continue my trip by going to Paraguay – which also has a border in the area.
The question at hand, about which side of the waterfalls would be more attractive, is being answered by almost all people in a very diplomatic way: The Brazilian side gives a panoramic overview, whereas the Argentinean side allows to step up closer to the various falls. Officially, no one prefers either side. But let me cut the crap: The Argentinean side is massively better. There, is was kept busy for a full day exploring various smaller and larger treks around the falls. A lot of times, I found myself being absolutely surprised and amazed at the new twists of angles in seeing the waterfalls. This is the side to do if you really just have time for one country.
Although the whole area in both countries is very touristic, this was alright with me. Coming from the solitude of rural Uruguay, the bustling atmosphere was a welcome change. Puerto Iguazú had the perfect size to make it a base for the whole stay in this tri-state area. Prices are cheaper than in Foz do Iguaçu. Moreover, getting from and to the transportation is definitely easier in a smaller town.
Although recommended by many (female) backpackers, I did not stay at the “best hostel in Argentina“, which belongs to the “Hostelling International” (HI-hostel) chain. Resort-style, it is located five kilometers away from Puerto Iguazú, features pool, bar and restaurants. After having been hung up the phone by the HI-hostel’s receptionist, telling me “We don’t accept any phone bookings and we are fully booked. Click.”, I quickly found another hostel. Located downtown, it also had a nice courtyard, pool and a bar. And it was much cheaper. Actually, I should thank the unfriendly receptionist, since staying in the town of Puerto Iguazú was not only much more comfortable, I also ran – by sheer coincidence – into Brice, a French traveller. We last met in Beijing (China) about eight months ago. Obviously, we spent quite some time exchanging stories over some beers and (very bad quality) vodka.
By staying a total of three days, I had enough time to visit the whole of the Iguazú waterfall system, which consists of 275 falls along almost 3 kilometers of the same named river (except for 900 meters, where no water runs over the cliff edge). The water flow rate peaks at 1’500 m³/s with a height of the falls that peaks at 82 meters for the highest ones. Contrary to common belief, there seems to be no record entry for these falls.
The Iguazú falls are nowhere near the highest (record: Angel Falls, Venezuela at 979 metres total height), widest (Victoria Falls, Zambia & Zimbabwe at 1680 meters width) nor do they have the most water flow (record: Boyoma Falls, Congo at 17’000 m³/s). However, the Iguazú falls are among the most scenic ones I have encountered.
After seeing the impressive Argentinean side, where the catwalks are located very near on the top and at the bottom of some falls, I went to see the Brazilian side. Well, I already mentioned how I felt about that side of the falls. In Brazil, there is essentially one long catwalk along the upper rim of the river, where I did take endless series of panoramic pictures from the falls. Towards the end of the walk, some sort of catwalk over the falls provides the most scenic view. Although being a very good spot to take pictures, I found it somehow to be less impressive than what I had seen the day before on the Argentinean side. I guess, it boils down to the sequence in visiting the falls: I should have done them the other way around by starting in Brazil.
Entrance fees are high on the agenda in most discussions among travellers: Brazil charges 35 Arg.Pesos (10 US$), while Argentina charges 60 Arg.Pesos (17.5 US$) after a 50% price increase for many sites throughout the country as per 1.1.2009. Visiting both sides of the falls therefore puts a serious dent in any backpacker’s budget.
Coming at 4 Arg.Pesos for locals, the entrance fee for tourists (15 times as much)feels a bit like a slap in the face. And the salary statistics for IT workers in Argentina doesn’t really explain this gap. Then again, taking only the statistics from my particular working area is a bit subjective. Anyhow, the entrance fee for tourists to the Iguazú falls could be as five times as high and there would be probably still be a few backpackers that would make it there. Because it is definitely a major scenic spot in South America, not to be missed.