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As flights from Buenos Aires approach Puerto Iguazú, in northeast Argentina, the patchwork landscape of fields and farms, below, changes to a verdant carpet of jungle. Even from 27,000 feet, all eyes are drawn to its focal point: a billowing cloud of mist, erupting from a horseshoe-shaped precipice, two miles wide.

Aerial view of Devil's Throat
Aerial view of Devil's Throat
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Guarani Indians called these pristine cataracts Iguazú, meaning "great waters." Here, they said, is "the place where the clouds are born."

Iguazú's 275 falls could embrace four Niagaras, as they plunge over scalloped cliffs, 220 feet high. "Poor Niagara," lamented Eleanor Roosevelt, when she first saw the falls. "Iguazú makes it look like a kitchen faucet."


Straddling the borders of Brazil (where they are called Iguaçu) and Argentina (where they are called Iguazú) near the border with Paraguay (where they are called Iguassu), the falls have changed little since the first Europeans viewed them in 1541.

Iguazu Falls is located in the Province of Misiones, one of 23 provinces in Argentina. More than 30 per cent of Misiones is protected by national and private reserves.

Sign for Parque Nacional do Iguaçu in Brazil
Sign for Parque Nacional do Iguaçu in Brazil
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

World Heritage

In 1984, Iguazu Falls was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. National parks, in Brazil and Argentina, surround the waterfalls. Iguazu is the most visited of the 35 national parks in Argentina.

The tropical rainforest shelters 80 species of mammals (including jaguars, ocelots, giant anteaters, howler monkeys and tapirs) and 450 species of birds (including toucans, parrots and vencejos, which are only found near Iguassu Falls). Iguazu rain forest is also home to 38 species of reptiles, 18 species of amphibians and more than 2,000 unique flora, including bromeliads, orchids, strangler figs and ferns.

Iguazu hotels

Plan to spend at least two days here. The closest hotels are the Sheraton Internacional Iguazu Resort on the Argentina side and the Tropical das Cataratas Hotel on the Brazil side.

Puerto Iguazu, just 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Iguazu Falls, has many hostels and hotels, including the 4-star Esturion. New and planned hotels in the Yriapu Tropical Forest are La Aldea de la Selva Lodge, Loi Suites, the Hilton Iguazu Resorts and a hotel in Tekoa Theme Park, an ecotourism and cultural park.

Helicopter view of two-tiered falls
Helicopter view of two-tiered falls
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Iguazu Falls tours

Because 80 per cent of the falls are on the Argentinean side, it is said that Argentina puts on the show, while Brazil collects at the box office. In truth, both offer mind-boggling panoramas. Spectators who visit only one side miss half the performance.

Begin your exploration of the falls, on foot, from the cotton candy-pink Tropical Hotel das Cataratas. A book in the hotel features the signatures and comments of celebrities who came here to view the falls. They include Henry Kissinger, Princess Ann and Baron Rothschild. Bo Derek wrote: "Don't ever turn them off."

A paved path starts at the hotel, and skirts the Iguazú River for one mile, offering three-dimensional motion picture views around every turn. Trees and shrubs frame postcard scenes. Iridescent turquoise, red and yellow butterflies flutter amid orchids and begonias on one side, while birds drift and turn on misty updrafts on the other.

Iguazu National Park

Cute coatimundis (raccoon-like animals with masked eyes and long, ringed tails) trail visitors, poking pointed noses into their bags, looking for treats. "Ignore their imploring looks," says guide Virginia De Oliveira. "Junk food decays their teeth."

Even though she sees the waterfalls nearly every day, De Oliveira admits that she never tires of them. "They're constantly changing, depending on the weather and the location."

Devil's Throat

Many of the cataracts break midway, forming double tiers. Their thundering roar reaches a crescendo at Devil's Throat, where 14 separate falls converge in a wall of water, with such titanic force, that an early explorer described it as "an ocean plunging into an abyss."

Visitors on Brazil walkway look at rainbow.
Visitors on Brazil walkway look at rainbow.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Rainbows arch over a walkway, which brings visitors out into a maelstrom of waterfalls, pounding like tidal waves above, below and around them. Faces, hair and clothing become soaked from the spray. No matter. People linger, enthralled by the spectacle.

Buildings and walkways in Iguazu National Park are accessible by the disabled and parents pushing baby strollers. The Ecological Train of the Jungle is an eco-friendly way to travel through the park.

Helicopter view of two-tiered falls
Helicopter view of two-tiered falls
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Adventure tours

The next day, visit the Argentinean side of the park for up-close views from two levels of walkways, both offering equally tantalizing vistas. From an upper-level bridge, gaze at three formidable falls stitched together with rainbows.

Below, another catwalk spans three more falls. Here, amid the primeval electric green of the jungle and the tumultuous cataracts, Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons climbed slippery rocks in The Mission, and Roger Moore enacted his daring exploits as James Bond in Moonraker.

Macuco Safari

No less adventurous are the boat excursions up the Iguazú River. On the Brazil side, Macuco Safari tours begin with vintage jeep rides along a jungle trail. (Former tennis-pro, Gabriella Sabatini, filmed a German television commercial for perfume, on one of these jeeps.)

Guides point out bromeliads, water vines, lizards and other flora and fauna. More than 1,200 species of butterflies and 32 species of orchids punctuate the vibrant green subtropical vegetation. The hike ends at pretty Macuco Falls, named after a local quail-like bird.

Visitors then board a five-passenger Zodiac™. It zips up, around, and gently over the five-foot-high waves, then swings in a wide 360-degree circle under the cool curtain of water surging from Three Musketeers Falls. Great egrets and black cormorants watch the boat glide back to the starting point.

Helicopter tours

Although Iguazú is awesome, when seen from land and water, nothing surpasses a bird's-eye perspective from the air. Sightseeing helicopters, offering ten-minute tours, depart frequently from Foz do Iguaçu.

As you whirl above the national park, the river rapids, moss-covered rocks, dense jungle, foaming cascades, clouds of mist and a parade of rainbows all merge into an overwhelming symphony that can only be described in one Indian word: Iguazú.


Argentina Tourism Office: www.argentina.travel

More things to see and do in Argentina and Brazil:

Argentina Wine Country Tours

Brazil Amazon Cruise

Jungle Lodge Amazon Vacation

Ariau Amazon Towers Brazil Tree House Resort

Copacabana Palace Hotel Rio de Janeiro Brazil