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A weekend at Iguassu Falls

After three-plus months on the road, it’s easy to become lazy, to tire of yet another monument, national park, over-priced tour, overnight bus, loud hostel. Iguassu falls reignited the flame for a couple of weary travellers. Yes it’s touristy and crowded, but it’s jaw-dropping magnificence awakens all the senses. In hindsight, arriving on a weekend might not have the smartest idea, but you can still avoid the crowds if you’re willing to rise early and plan well. We were able to explore both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the falls over two days, which is plenty of time.

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Panorama from the Brazilian side

Foz do Iguaçu

From the research I did there isn’t much to see in Foz do Iguaçu, the town on the Brazilian side of the Falls, so we didn’t stick around. After getting off an overnight bus from Curitiba (about 11 hours and R$170) we headed straight for the park in time to arrive as it opened. A metered taxi costs R$55 – R$65 and will get you there in 15 minutes. The much longer and cheaper way is to take two buses, one labelled Centro from the bus terminal to Foz’s city centre and then line 120 to the park. We brought fruit, bread and boiled eggs with us on the bus, saving the need for a breakfast stop.

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From the bottom platform on the Brazil side of the falls

Parque Nacional do Iguaçu

The entry fee for the park was R$56 each, I bought the tickets online the day before and printed them in Curitiba, along with the receipts for our reciprocity fee for Argentina (which was recently dropped for US citizens, but Australians and Canadians still need to pay online via this website). We arrived just after 9am, and the priority queue for pre-purchased tickets had no one in it. The line to buy tickets was about 10 or 15 people long, so pre-purchasing is useful to save some time (the lines are longer if you arrive later). We stored our luggage in the lockers, R$30 but better than having to backtrack or spend the night in Foz. One locker would easily fit three large backpacks. We boarded the 9:30 bus (included in the ticket) taking us to the trail that leads down to the falls, with various viewing points along the way to stop and take photos.

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A coati

You can’t grasp grandeur of the falls until you are standing under them, becoming completely soaked with the spray, while rainbows dance around you and the roaring water makes you feel as insignificant as a tiny insect. My photographs could not capture the beauty I saw with my own eyes. We sprinted our way down to the bottom viewing platform. We were far ahead of any large tour groups and there were only a few others on the platform. Within half an hour the platform was filled with dozens of people all vying for the perfect photo spot, so it was worth getting there early! The Brazil side is all about the Panoramic views and a few hours was enough. There is a boat ride and a guided hike and a few other activities in the park but the prices are steep. After exploring the falls, we stopped for some food and much-needed coffee. (An expresso coffee with milk set us back around $R8 each). Everywhere there is food you will find coati’s, furry grey animals with a pointed nose scavenging, digging in garbage bins, attempting to open backpacks or climb onto cafe tables.

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By 10am the platform is crowded with visitors

Crossing into Argentina 

img_4151Crossing the border was surprisingly easy. From the bus stop outside the Brazil side of the park we caught the Rio Uruguay bus for $R10 (AR$40) going to Puerto Iguazú. The bus driver escorted everyone through both border crossings. We weren’t left stranded waiting at the border for an hour for the next bus as others have described. The only problem I encountered was realising I had several pieces of fruit in my bag, which is not allowed into Argentina.

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Panorama of the Argentinian side

Puerto Iguazú

We spent one night here, it’s not the greatest introduction to Argentina. Accommodation is cheap but run-down and there’s not much to see in the town. Puerto Iguazú is smaller and seems safer than Foz  with the bus station located a short walk from most accommodations. We couldn’t find a money changer anywhere, but were pleased to find vendors give a good rate on reals (I hear you get a pretty raw deal for pesos on the Brazilian side). Note the time difference: Argentina is one hour behind Brazil (UTC-3).

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The highest platform on the Argentina side, before the crowds arrive

Cataratas del Iguazu 

img_4239To reach the Argentinian park we took a Rio Uruguay bus (AR$130 p/person return) and arrived before the park opened at 8am. The cost for most foreigners (everyone outside South America) is AR$330. We boarded the first train to the Estacion Gorgenta del Diablo, where you walk to the platform at the very top of falls. A little too energetic for that time of the morning, I managed to get ahead of everyone to be one of the first three people on the platform for the day (l could see from the Brazil side how crowded it was!). We stayed in the park until mid-afternoon, walking all of the trails except for the blue trail and the yellow trail on the island, which were both closed due to a rouge puma lurking around. I’d love to see a puma in the wild but then again it depends how close! There are many animals in both sides of the park, in addition to more of the cheeky coati’s, we spotted capuchin monkeys, a variety of lizards and many colourful butterflies.

We didn’t want to hang around in Puerto Iguazú, so we opted for an overnight bus to Buenos Aires (18 hrs & AR$1022 each with Singer buses).  I can’t say which side of the falls I prefer. They are both breathtaking but very different and seeing both sides is a must if you can.

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