Maybe it was the memory of James Bond taking off over the Falls in a hang glider in the 1979 film Moonraker; but for Jackie Marriott it had been a long standing dream to see the Iguazú Falls for herself.
The Falls (spelled Iguazú, Iguassú or Iguaçu depending where you are and which language you speak) lie within the Iguaçu National Park in Brazil and the Iguazú National Park in Argentina, on the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. They stretch for more than a mile and a half on the Iguaçu River fed by the waters of the Pantanal in the north and are twice as wide as and higher than Niagara Falls, more than living up to the translation of their name – great water.
Depending on water levels and flow, there are between 150 and 300 falls at any one time, ranging in height from 197’ to 269’. The famous u-shaped chasm called the “Devil’s Throat” marks the border between Argentina and Brazil and comprises 14 falls which plunge more than 350’.
We had chosen to stay at the supremely comfortable Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, the only hotel within the Park on the Brazilian side. However, for anyone choosing to stay in the close by town of Foz do Iguazu itself, there is a regular coach shuttle service to the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides of the Falls.
To read more about the hotel, see the Foody Traveller's review of the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas.
Magnificent awe-inspiring views
After checking into the hotel and a quick lunch by the pool we crossed the quiet road for our first close up view of the Falls.
As we neared them the sound of the water became a thunderous roar, and we were greeted by the sight of cascades as far as the eye could see. Magnificent views - wide-reaching, awe inspiring even.
We chose not to take one of the boat trips from the landing stage far below and instead walked down the easy stepped walkway, past the little cabin where there is live music of an evening revelling in the different vistas that opened up at every turn. We stopped frequently to admire the swirling waters and the spray causing arching rainbows over the torrents.
The average flow of the river is 1500 metres per second but it can range from 500 m/s in times of drought to 8500 m/s in times of flood. In 2006 there was such a drought that many waterfalls were either reduced to a comparative trickle or temporarily disappeared.
Las Cataratas provides guests with a daily bulletin with details of the flow rate, when we were there it ranged from 1370 – 1700 m/s. It must be even more awe-inspiring for guests staying at hotel when there is a full moon – the hotel organises moon walks to see the rare phenomenon of rainbows by moonlight!
Coati are unaware of the Green Cross Code
The following day our Guide Bernardo, who had also met us at the local airport, arrived to take us to the Argentinian side of the Falls. As he drove he told us that the Argentinian Park was established in 1934 and the Brazilian one in 1939 to protect this unique environment which includes a rare remnant of Atlantic rainforest and a rich biodiversity of both flora and fauna.
There are many endangered species here, including the Puma and the Jaguar and, we became aware of how much of this environment was treasured and protected. There are severe penalties in force for the harming of wildlife and strictly enforced low speed limits through the Park area, a necessity as we saw when we witnessed a family of coati ambling across the main road, clearly unaware of the Green Cross Code.
Crossing the border
As we were crossing an international border passports were essential. It took an age to get into Argentina but, eventually, we made it. And it was so worth it.
The Argentinian side may not have as many sweeping vistas as the Brazilian side, but it has more individual waterfalls and cataracts and, indeed two thirds of the Falls are in Argentina. Here it is a much more intimate experience, and we followed the walkways both by and over the waters along the top of the canyon and through the forest enabling us to also better glimpses of the wildlife and the Falls.
By the time we had crossed the border, even with an early start from our hotel, the walkways were somewhat crowded, so if possible time visits for early or later in the day.
Unfortunately were unable to take the walkway into the Devil’s Throat as it, and several other smaller walkways, had been swept away in torrential floods earlier in the year.
Wet weather gear is a must
As with the Brazilian side, had we wished, we could have descended the steps deep into the gorge (there is a lift back upon both sides) to follow more walkways to lookout points far out to overlook the very edge of the Falls plus an opportunity for a boat trip. Wet weather gear is a must for both.
On the way back, after the obligatory wait at the border control, we stopped briefly at the huge Duty Free Hyper Store. Here they had a multitude of internal shops selling everything you could possibly want. Apart that is for the connector I badly needed for my Samsung Galaxy tablet.
A bird’s eye view of the Falls
We were to have one more magnificent sight of the Falls; and for us the most exhilarating. We had seen the Helisul Taxi Aereos (www.helsul.com ) helicopter pad on the way into the Park on the road from Foz do Iguazu. On our return journey we prevailed upon the ever patient Bernardo to make the necessary detour.
We parted with 280 Reais, approx. £75 (credit cards accepted) and awaited our helicopter. The helicopter takes six passengers and we were lucky enough to be in the front alongside the pilot who took a wicked delight in swooping down at an impossible angle, causing shrieks of terror (or delight) from those sitting behind us.
The flight itself lasted about 15 minutes. Back on terra firma we happily parted with 50 Reais (about £16) for the short video that had been taken of us on our departure along with CD of one of the Falls themselves.
I had never been in a helicopter before and with such outstanding panoramic sights to see, this was (indeed for both of us) the highlight (no pun intended) of the tour.
As Bernado drove us the next morning back to the airport for the next stage of our Brazil visit we were aware that there was so much more to see than we had managed, more walkways in the gorge to travel and boat rides to take, but nonetheless this was a lifetime dream come true.
No disappointments, just spectacular scenery and an experience to be savoured in both photographs and memories.
Our visit to Brazil was organised by Bespoke Brazil: www.bespokebrazil.com
We flew: TAP the leading airline to Portugal from the UK. Outside of Portugal, TAP serves a total of 75 destinations in 35 countries worldwide, including 45 European destinations and connections to Africa, North and South America.
There are 82 weekly flights from the UK to Brazil, offering an extensive range of 10 destinations within the country, including 17 flights weekly from London to Rio de Janeiro via Lisbon and Porto, prices start at £698 return including all taxes - making TAP the most frequent flyer to the country. www.flytap.com
At Iguassu Falls we stayed at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas: www.belmond.com/hotel-das-cataratas-iguassu-falls