Iguazu Falls: Brazilian or Argentinian Side?
Which side to choose: Brazilian or Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls?
The Greatest Waterfalls on Earth
Bunny has experienced the three biggest waterfalls in the world - Iguazu Falls, Victoria Falls and Niagara - in the past five years so she can state the following with some authority: Iguazu Falls are the greatest waterfalls in the world!
Bordering the frontier between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls are an astonishing sight. They are formed by the Iguacu River, which literally means “big water”, and comprise approximately 275 waterfalls. Iguazu Falls span an impressive 2700 metres, making them by far the widest of the great waterfalls in the world.
It is no wonder that Iguazu Falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts 1,5 million visitors every year.
Which Side to Choose?
Bunny found her experience at Iguazu Falls absolutely amazing. She visited both sides, Argentina and Brazil, and spent three full days in the area.
Iguazu Falls encompass two different national parks, Parque Nacional do Iguacu on the Brazilian side and Parque Nacional Iguazu in Argentina. These subtropical rainforests protect a rich biodiversity, including such rare species as the jaguar and puma, not that you are likely to bump into either.
There are 19 main falls at Iguazu. Five of those are on the Brazilian side and the rest in Argentina. Since most of the falls are on the Argentinean side, facing Brazil, viewing them from the Brazilian side gives an amazing panorama of their splendor. On the Argentinian side, the walking trails take you up close to the cascades and right into the heart of the action at the Devil’s Throat.
There is only one walking trail on the Brazilian side of the falls, 1,200 metres in total. It is an easy walk, subject to one steep staircase. Along the trail, there are a number of observation points offering amazing, panoramic views of the falls. The trail is also inundated with beautiful butterflies and exotic birds, creating an otherworldly atmosphere, particularly early in the morning.
At the end of the trail, you get a close view of the Devil's Throat, thanks to a long above-water platform that goes right out to it - and gets you totally soaked with spraying water from all directions. It is right here where you can feel the power of the falls as you are practically standing inside them.
If you want to skip the walking trail and head to the highlight right away, you can take a bus directly to the Naipi Square where the observation tower, gift shops and restaurants are located. You can enjoy a great view from the top of the tower and then descend to the platform level for a more hands-on experience. Lifts take you up and down, but you may have to wait some minutes in line, especially at popular times.
It is very easy to do the Brazilian side of the falls in one day, or even half a day, but the longer you linger, the more you appreciate the immense scale of the whole spectacle.
The Argentinian side of the falls offer a more extensive trail system than the Brazilian side. There are three major circuits: Lower Circuit, Upper Circuit and Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat). Each trail has a number of observation decks and viewpoints where you are sometimes close enough to almost touch the falls.
On the Lower Circuit (1700 metres), you can observe the falls from (nearly) ground level, walking on an elevated footpath that goes deep into the forest foliage. Bunny also encountered wildlife (some sort of deer) on her early morning walk on the Lower Circuit.
In contrast, the Upper Circuit (1750 metres) is set on the edge of the top of the waterfalls, giving you an almost birds eye view from above as well as some panoramic views of the Argentinian side.
The Garganta del Diablo trail (2200 metres) leads you right into the action of the Devil’s Throat, generally touted as the greatest spectacle at Iguazu Falls.
All the trails are well-marked and there is no danger of getting lost or confused. You can even walk all the way to the Devil’s Throat by foot, although most people take the special tourist train which runs from the visitors centre to the start of the Garganta del Diablo trail. Bunny is proud to say she walked.
There is also a separate trail on San Martin Island, a rocky rain forest island in the middle of the falls, which you can access by ferry crossing (included in the park’s ticket price) from the Lower Circuit. Unfortunately, access was closed during Bunny’s visit due to high water levels.
It is possible to do all the trails on the Argentinian side in one day, although it is best spread over two days, particularly if you want to engage in any of the activities on offer (see below).
Bunny’s Major Annoyance
Bunny is a known animal-lover (with the notable exception of cockroaches and mosquitos) but by the end of her time at the park, she was super annoyed with the ubiquitous quatis (coati) at Iguazu Falls.
The quatis are members of the raccoon family and quite (too) used to people at Iguazu. At first, they may seem cute running around the walking trails and observation points. However, just wait until you produce anything seemingly edible from your pocket and watch them transform into bloodsucking monster vampires.
Bunny almost got to the point of being totally fed up with the annoying little creatures when they didn’t let her eat or drink anything in peace on the trail. In addition to the annoyance factor, the real problem is that the quatis are quite ready to attack and bite you if they don’t get their way. If you’re lucky, their bite might bring you anything from infectious diseases to rabies. Not so lovely anymore, huh?
Of course, this is not the quatis’ fault, but rather that of those stupid humans who feed them, despite numerous warning signs not to do so.
On the Brazilian side, Helisul offers 10-minute scenic helicopter flights over the falls as well as longer flights over the national park and the Three Borders Landmark (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay). Bunny has a thing about flying in helicopters (or anything really) so she was happy to skip this adventure. Mr. Bunny was pleased that Bunny declined an expensive indulgence for a change.
Bunny also passed on the various boat trips, trail tours, rappelling and rafting on offer as she was perfectly happy just hopping around on her own.
The Argentinian side does not offer any helicopter rides but there are exhilarating speedboat rides into the falls - guaranteed to soak you - as well as various jungle rides on offer. Bunny didn’t partake but the boat rides sure looked like fun for those who appreciate that sort of adrenaline boost.
Where to Stay?
Bunny wanted to do Iguazu in style. That meant she did not even consider staying anywhere else other than inside the two national parks. Luckily for her, there is only one hotel inside the park in both countries. This made Bunny’s hotel choices easy-peasy.
Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, Brazil
Bunny loved her stay at Belmond Hotel das Cataratas! It is a luxurious, Portuguese colonial style retreat literally steps from the Iguazu Falls, inside the Parque Nacional do Iguacu. A truly world class property, Bunny says.
Bunny spent two nights at Belmond and totally absorbed herself in the Brazilian side of the falls. She started with early morning walks to the falls, with the rising sun, colourful butterflies and pre-coffee-grumpy Mr. Bunny as her sole companions.
Followed by a sumptuous al fresco breakfast, Bunny spent the hottest time of the day lazing by the hotel’s gorgeous pool, with a cocktail in one paw and a book in the other.
In the afternoon, once the crowds at the falls started to thin out again, Bunny ventured out and enjoyed relative quiet on the trail.
After closing time, it was even better. The hordes of tourists were gone, and the only other people Bunny encountered on the trail were a handful of other hotel guests. So she lingered until sunset (for gorgeous pictures!) and really got her money’s worth of the Brazilian side of the falls.
Adding to the excitement of staying at Belmond were the warning signs around the property alerting guests about a jaguar that had had been sighted multiple times on the grounds after dark. Bunny was often on the trial well after sunset and never saw the jaguar upon returning to the hotel, but was just as happy this was the case.
Back at the hotel, she was able to enjoy refreshing pre-dinner drinks, the fragrant garden, a lovely little spa and excellent dinners (plenty of yummy options for vegetarians) to wind down a memorable day.
If this was not doing the falls in style, then what is, Bunny asks.
Melia Iguazu, Argentina
Melia Iguazu on the Argentinian side of the falls was in the middle of renovations when Bunny visited. She adjusted her expectations accordingly - particularly since TripAdvisor was full of negative reviews ahead of her visit. Many of the hotel’s best features, such as the gorgeous outdoor pool, were not available during Bunny’s visit.
And yet she had a great time! What the hotel lacked in polish, it made up for in staff friendliness and enthusiasm. Yes, there was construction noise but that didn’t bother Bunny as she spent all day on the trails anyway. The spa was a little rough around the edges but a very welcome break after hiking the trails and relaxing before dinner. The dining room setting was clearly temporary pending the renovations, but the food was well-prepared and tasty.
Like Bunny’s experiences on the Brazilian side of the falls, she would attribute great value to staying inside the park. Although the guards chased Bunny away just as the “golden hour” started in the evening, the best possible time for photographs, it was a different story in the morning. The Bunnies were on the trail at 8am sharp and didn’t see another person for a full hour. This head start meant a blissful people-free experience of the falls and the best photo-taking opportunities.
Although guests of the Melia Hotel do not have access to the trails outside opening hours, people not staying at Melia first have to line up for their park tickets starting at 8am, then have to take the train to the start of the trail and can only then start walking.
If you decide to go to both sides (you totally should), Bunny advises you to start with Brazil. It is nice to appreciate the wider perspective of the falls first and then get a more intimate experience on the Argentinian side. One full day on each side is enough, although this will mean making the most of the opening times and thus might require two nights at your chosen accommodation.
Iguazu Falls is quite easily visited via one of the two towns next to the falls: Foz do Iguacu on the Brazilian side or Puetro Iguazu in Argentina. Both have (small) airports with mostly internal flights. You can also reach Iguazu Falls by bus from Buenos Aires.
When to Go
Iguazu Falls are spectacular all year round. There is no perfect time to visit the falls, although the time of the year affects the volume of the water. The smallest volume of water is usually experienced in April, whilst the wettest month is October.
Bunny visited in May which, at least to her, seemed like a good time to go: the weather was beautiful and sunny, but not too hot. It was also relatively uncrowded.
Entrance fees on both sides of the falls are similar, a little over 20 USD for foreigners. Locals get in cheaper as they should, Bunny says.
Staying in hotels located inside the national parks, you do not have to worry about entrance fees as both hotels charge the entrance fee directly to your bill. At Melia Iguazu, you will only have to pay the entrance fee once, no matter how many days you are staying.
Both sides of the falls have facilities that include fast food restaurants, souvenir shops and kiosks selling drinks and ice-cream. You will not go hungry or thirsty, but you will not be spoiled by a gourmet experience either. Prices, unsurprisingly, are on the expensive side. For example, Bunny paid 8 USD for the privilege of sipping a bottle of beer falls-side in Brazil.
Crossing the Border
Crossing the border is easy and straightforward, although you cannot just walk across the frontier, like at Niagara Falls or Victoria Falls, because the distances are greater.
When Bunny crossed from Brazil to Argentina, she did so in style. She had arranged a car and a driver to get her from Belmond Hotel das Cataratas in Brazil to Melia Iguazu in Argentina. The whole transfer took about an hour.
On the border, Brazilian border officials showed a little more enthusiasm, but on the Argentinian side Bunny didn’t even have to leave the car! She just waved her passport from the car window and, voila, she was in Argentina. She didn’t have to worry about visas to either country but of course this depends on the passport you hold.
The common conclusion seems to be that the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls is somehow better. Bunny likes to be a contrarian so naturally she preferred the Brazilian side.
If Bunny had to choose one side only, she would go to Brazil where the whole scale of the spectacle can be better appreciated. And she would definitely stay at the fabulous Belmond Hotel das Cataratas again. Nothing the Argentinian side has to offer can beat the experience of having access to the trail outside the official opening times, like you do at the Belmond Hotel. That is simply magical.