What location on this planet enables visitors to see the most majestic waterfall in the world? What single place enables one to witness a spectacular waterfall that consists of 275 individual falls? What location on this planet also enables one to stand and to look into three countries? Finally, what location offers inviting pristine rainforests ready to be explored? There is only one spot! Iguazu Falls, located where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet along the Iguazu River. Here, cascades of water thunder down over hundreds of individual waterfalls that stretch along a 1.7 mile trench of land. This incredible sight attracts thousands of tourists every week.
If you were to visit here, you actually have three ways to witness this wonder of nature. The falls may be viewed from the Brazilian side or from the Argentinian side. I highly recommend taking two full days to see both sides of the waterfalls. But if you’re short on time and only have one day, I recommend choosing the Argentinian side for the simple reason that there’s more to see and the type of views are particularly spectacular.
There are wooden walkways and platforms on both sides that enable you to get very close to key points of many of the waterfalls. Remember to bring plenty of rain wear because if you walk out onto some of the viewing platforms you are going to get soaked!
Iguazu Falls (which literally means “big water” in the native Indian language) is a Wold Heritage Site and is also number 11 on the Smithsonian’s list of “28 Places to See before You Die.” It is listed in the third subcategory called “A Matter of Timing,” along with the Serengeti in Africa and Machu Picchu. In 2011, it was selected as one of the winners of the New Seven Wonders of Nature competition. It is easy to see why it is piling up awards of every type.
As I approached Iguazu Falls for the first time 20 years ago, I remember the thundering sound and the fine mist that swept over me. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Iguazu Falls is indeed in a league of its own. Upon seeing Iguazu, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed “Poor Niagara!” The former First Lady was apparently reacting to the fact that Iguazu is nearly three times as wide as Niagara!
Just looking at photos of this place or reading about it pales in comparison to witnessing this marvelous sight firsthand. I had visited Niagara Falls in upstate New York as well as Victoria Falls in Zambia. But seeing those mighty falls earlier had not sufficiently prepared me for what awaited me in the jungles of South America. To describe the Iguazu Falls without resorting to gushing superlatives is a futile exercise. With water cascades as far as the eye can see — some massive and powerful, some small and dainty — the Iguazu Falls are truly a shock to the system.
Many travel experts claim that, forgetting the Falls themselves, a trip here is worthwhile just to wander about in the rain forests. That’s right! Iguazu Falls are situated within one of the few remaining inland rainforests in all of South America. Often referred to as the “Atlantic” rainforest, this rich, lush area has been wisely preserved by both the Argentinan and Brazilian governments. These subtropical National Parks surrounding the falls are teeming with wildlife. They are a haven for more than 2,000 plant species, about 400 bird species, 80 types of mammals, and countless insects and invertebrate species.
Hollywood made it to Iguazu at least once to shoot a film that starred Robert De Niro and Liam Neeson. It was entitled “The Mission” and it was released in 1986. I was captivated by the film many years before I was able to see the Falls for myself. But thanks to Hollywood I was mesmerized with the size and scope of this place.
Certainly some travel destinations are overhyped and can leave you feeling disappointed. Iguazu Falls, however, instantly turns even jaded travelers into raving fans. In terms of its sheer number of visitors — more than one million a year — its pulling power is showing no signs of weakening. “Iguazu Falls always catches you by surprise,” says one travel writer. “They’re truly a magnificent display of nature. Their size and scale are unlike any other waterfall on Earth.”
Believe me, that is no exaggeration. By any measure, Iguazu Falls is a monster. And unlike Niagara Falls, which is surrounded by development such as casinos, a revolving restaurant and Starbucks, Iguazu Falls is pure nature all the way.
Next time: “The Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu”