See the magic of Iguazu Falls

See the magic of Iguazu Falls

You can hear the thunderous roar of Iguazu Falls long before you see the swirling white foamed waters tumbling over rocks to the depths below. The curtain of waterfalls that straddle the Brazil and Argentinian border is a spectacular sight and no matter how many times you watch documentaries or read about it, nothing compares to the first glimpse you catch of nature’s watery masterpiece.

Discovered by Spanish conquistador Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541, there are 275 cascades fed by the Iguazu River across a 2.7km wide canyon. Legend has it that U.S. first lady, the late Eleanor Roosevelt, was so overwhelmed when she first visited the falls she uttered two words – “Poor Niagara.”

Iguazu Falls is taller than Niagara and twice as wide and can be visited on both the Brazil and Argentinian sides both providing different experiences. Iguazu, which means ‘big water’ in the native Tupi-Guarani language. Formed about 150 million years ago, it’s considered to be the world’s largest cluster of waterfalls and is so impressive it was voted on to the new natural Seven Wonders of the World hotlist.

There are several ways to see these incredible falls. Our day starts with a walk on the Brazilian side of the falls with our guide Louis, who directs us to the best vantage points for photos. As we stand in front of the falls, Louis says: “This is paradise and is always a sight to behold – you just never tire of it.”

Lightweight rainjackets are recommended the closer we get to the falls but on a hot day, the light spray is a welcome relief. It’s mesmerising watching the 1.3 million litres of water spill over the rocks, every second.

Home for the night is the historic Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas, the only accommodation in Brazil’s Iguacu National Park. Staying there, the falls are yours from dusk to dawn, long after thousands of tourists have left.

We sit on the verandah of the 193-room Portuguese colonial style hotel, caipirinha in hand, and wait for the knockout sunset that exceeds expectations. Red and magenta colours streak the sky as Iguazu’s continuous roar serenades us.

Dinner is Piranha broth, ceviche and pan-seared Amazonian Piraruca fish at the hotel’s Itaipu Restaurant, and before bed we head across to the falls to watch the full moon cast her shadow over the dark waters. It’s a toss-up what’s a more spectacular sight – the falls in daylight or by moonlight.

Taking Louis’ insider advice, we’re up early next morning and spot a colourful resident toucan near the falls viewing platform, just below the hotel. He perches in a tree’s lower branches, allowing us a close-up view of his stunning plumage before he flies off, just as the first tourist buses arrive in the park.

For the best bird’s eye view of the falls, take a 10-minute helicopter ride that hovers over the falls and the giant Iguacu National Park that stretches for 185,000 hectares. It is absolutely breathtaking and is a great position from which to take photos.

The second day we head to the Argentinian side of the falls after obtaining a visa from the border security, which is quick and efficient. This side offers a different perspective of the beauty of the falls, as well as a chance to get closer to the highest waterfall, the Devil’s Throat, that is considered the most scenic curved cataract, with 14 falls.

But the most fun is the jetboat ride that nudges right under the falls – this time we really get a proper dousing and there’s much laughter as we ride the rapids and do several spins. It’s an exhilarating experience that again leaves you in awe of these magnificent falls.

The surrounding rainforest delta is home to 2000 species of plants and animals including the opossum, the only marsupial found outside Australia. There are also jaguars, ocelots, anteaters, harpy eagles and yacare caiman. Louis tells us more than 30 jaguars roam the park and he’s been lucky to see one from a distance five years ago. “They don’t like people and are rarely seen, it’s considered very fortunate if you see one,” he says.

Back on Brazil’s side of the falls, there’s a bird park that’s covers 17 hectares of native woodland and is home to 150 bird species from around the world including large toucans, macaws and parakeets.

Tourists can also visit the Itaipu Dam, the world’s largest hydro-electric power plant in terms of electricity generation and the city of Foz do Iguaçu with a population of 311,000.

Unfortunately, we don’t spot a jaguar, but instead a magnificent double rainbow takes centre stage above the falls as we prepare to leave – a fitting farewell to one of the most remarkable sights on Earth.

Best time to go: The rainy season sees even more water rushing over the falls while the dry season features more rainbows

Written by Sue Wallace. Republished with permission of MyDisoveries.