Iguazu Falls, also known as Iguacu Falls or Iguassu Falls, are waterfalls of the Iguazu River located on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Parana. The name of the falls originates from the Tupi or Guarani language, and translates as “big water.”
Iguazu river is born in Parana state in Brazil, and after crossing 1,200 km on a plateau where it receives many affluents, it reaches a fault forming a crack in the interleaved layers of basalt and sandstone where the river runs. This river forms the boundary between Argentina and Brazil, making it an important part of the geographical and political structure of the continent of South America.
The amount of water pouring from these falls to the Iguazu River is equally astonishing. On average, about 1,500 cubic meters of water flows every second. Water levels are artificially modified through power plants upriver in Brazil, such as the Salto Caxias Hydroelectric Plant or Jose Richa, causing ecological and scenic impacts.
There are 275 falls in an area where islets and cliffs are scattered in a half moon. They extend over 2,700 m in a semi-circular shape. Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo) is the highest point of the falls measuring 82 m (269 feet) high, 150 m (492.1 feet) wide and 700 m (2,296 feet) long.
This area was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984, and in 2011 it was selected as one of the winners of the New Seven Wonders of Nature competition.
Best way to experience Iguassu Falls
Most of the waterfalls are located on the Argentinean side of Iguazu (2,100 meters long). Being much lower, the Brazilian side, nevertheless, is considered most spectacular, as one can enjoy a better view of the waterfalls.
The surrounding subtropical rainforest has approximately 2,000 species of vascular plants (including some 80 tree species) and is home to the typical wildlife of the region: jaguars, giant anteaters, tapirs, howler monkeys, ocelots, and 450 bird species. This forest biome historically covering extensive parts of the Brazilian coast and extending into Uruguay and Northern Argentina, as well as Eastern Paraguay, is known for its species diversity and extreme habitat, as well as its high degree of endemism.
These waterfalls are so exquisite that they have been used as the backdrop for many films, including Baraka (1992), Happy Together (1997), Mr. Magoo (1997), Moonraker (1979), Miami Vice (2006), In the Hands of the Gods (2007) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
Wear waterproofs and protect your camera as it can get quite wet on some viewpoints. Some tourists visit the waterfalls in swimsuits, which actually is recommended in summer. On both sides of the falls, you can buy souvenirs, but they are very expensive compared to the souvenirs you can buy on the main road of Puerto Iguazu and Foz do Iguaçu.
Helicopter rides offering aerial views of the falls have been available from Brazil, but Argentina has prohibited such helicopter tours because of the adverse environmental impact on the fauna and flora of the falls. In addition, spectacular boat trips can be made under the falls (you can catch the Gran Aventura boat ride from the lower circuit).
How to get to Iguazu Falls?
Access to this zone is usually done through one of the 3 main cities in the so-called tri-border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
The town on the Argentinian side is called Puerto Iguazu and is small and pretty. The city on the Brazilian side is Foz do Iguaçu – big and reasonably safe (by Brazilian standards). Both the Argentinian and Brazilian cities have nearby airports: the Brazilian Foz do Iguaçu International Airport (IGU) and the Argentinian Cataratas del Iguazu International Airport (IGR). Although the falls are between Argentina and Brazil only, Ciudad del Este (known for its malls and shops), the city on the Paraguayan side, is just across the bridge from Brazil.
There is an entrance fee to the park on both sides. Once inside, frequent and free buses are provided to different points within the park. Visitors with physical difficulties or in wheelchairs need not worry: Argentina has made 90 percent of the Iguazu park accessible to people with disabilities, and this includes all viewpoints and walkways. The Brazilian side opens up at 9:00 a.m. and it is a good idea to be there earlier than that. The park on the Argentinian side opens at 8:00 a.m. and photographers should be up and ready to start on their photography adventure.
The best times to see Iguazu Falls are in the fall and spring. In winter, the water level is considerably lower, and summer is intensely tropically hot and humid.