Waterfalling for Argentina

Posted on April 3, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Some countries have experiences or places that you just have to see. You know the ones – the ones you are always asked about if you mention that you've visited a place. For example, when we tell people that we went to Cambodia, we're asked 'What did you think of Angkor?', with the presumption that you just freakin' had to go. Or if you tell someone that you were in Thailand, they will inevitably ask about the beaches – not if you went, but how they were.

In South America, Peru has a few such places: Macchu Pichu, Nasca and Lake Titicaca. In Argentina, there are the Iguazu Falls. If we're being truthful, there's also the Perito Moreno glacier, but we'll skip over that owing to budgetary constraints. Anyway, the falls.

They are immense. Really, hugely, all encompassingly megarific. Spectacular.

It's actually quite hard to describe the feeling and sound around the falls without reference back to other waterfall experiences – the sound of the water pounding over the drop brought back a long forgotten memory of Victoria Falls in Africa. Apart from that I have nothing to compare it to.

But before we get onto the main event, let us work up to it a wee bit. We flew into Puerto Iguazú from Cordobá, via the northern town of Salta on a wee MD-83 (mentioned because Rachel felt it was the smallest aircraft she'd ever been on – although our Lao Airways flight was actually on a smaller aircraft). Incidentally, if you need to do a similar thing, fly Andes Líneas Aéreas, much cheaper than the national carrier.

Finding accommodation in Argentina had been a bit haphazard. The usual budget fall back of Hostelling International hostels tend not to be the cheapest or the cleanest things available, and with the addition of the hugely touristy nature of Iguazú, other types of accommodation could be expensive or unreachably expensive. We had eventually settled on the 'mid-range' Rio Tropic Hotel, which turned out to be an excellent choice. The rooms are all built from wood, include air conditioning (essential for the intense temperature and humidity for most of the year) and front onto a medium sized swimming pool.

It's an excellent place, run by a friendly family, and we highly recommend it should you choose to stay in the area. Most of the accommodation in 'town' isn't actually in town, it's off the road between the National Park and Puerto Iguazú, and the beautiful red colour of the ground was evident on the underside of all the taxis (by far the easiest and most reliable way to get around, even if expensive).

Although a nice enough place, the only outstanding feature of the town itself is that it sits on the tri-country border with Paraguay and Brazil. The Argentine side is the smallest urban area – the large cities of Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil) and Ciudade del Este (Paraguay) form one reasonably contiguous urban area, broken only the confluence of two rivers. We didn't spend much time in town itself, although we did find a fantastic Italian restaurant in town, and Rachel had pumpkin gnocchi. Food is awesome!

To get to the National Park, we jumped on a public bus along the main road, which runs between Puerto Iguazú and the park itself (cheap and reliable). When you arrive, you must pay entrance to the park, which allows you access to all the pedestrian paths via a train link (should you so choose). Also at the entrance to the park, there are a few shops and a wee museum about the history of the reserve and the falls.

On the Argentine side, the Cataratas (Spanish for 'waterfalls') are located within a large sub-tropical jungle. With summer temperatures of 40 centigrade and 100% humidity, this sauna allows for spectacular seasonal growth. Whilst we were there, it was only 34 degrees and about 70% humidity, which given our South East Asian adventures wasn't too bad. The flora and fauna though, were spectacularly vibrant. Plants and trees geen and leafy, and unique mammals and birds.


This be a coati.


And this, a butterfly

There are 3 paths you can walk which take you to different views of various parts of the falls, and there's a <a href="http://www.iguazujungle.com/>single tour company</a> that runs different boat trips around the upper and lower Iguazú river. This is anther thing that you just have to do, so we did. Split roughly in three, the tour was about an hour in total. The first bit is spent on a truck barrelling through the jungle, where you learn about how subtropical jungles work (turns out, the same as tropical jungles), and particulars of some species (such as the palmitos, or palm hearts from subtropical palms).

We then stepped down to the speedboats on the lower Iguazú river. The dock was filled with white butterflies, swarming around the boats. It's pretty clear you're going to get very wet, and people prepared themselves by putting on jackets, or stripping down to swim suits. To drive the point home, on the boat they give you a large waterproof sack to throw everything in (my backpack would have comfortably sat in it twice). And then we powered up river, towards the main event.

We spent about 5 minutes flying up the Rio Iguazú, darting around other boats from the same company, and then the first of the waterfalls hove into view.

The Devil's Throat is the largest single cascade in the group, and the spray from it is visible before the water actually is. Because of the geography of the falls (have a look at the map here, click on the 'Map of our Adventures link'), the river actually splits around Isla de San Martín. Our boat went up alongside the island, close to 3 falls spilling off the island as we watched 2 other boats dive under the spray – pretty energising.

We stopped for photos, and then charged around to the other side of the island, away from the roar of the Devil's Throat. We slowly approached the second set of falls (again, taking some photos):

And then? Well, we charged right in there. The roar and noise, and the feeling of powerlessness was incredible. And we were soaked. It was amazing. The boat then swung back around and underneath the first set of falls (a second dose! Woohoo!), before depositing us on a second boat dock, opposite the island.

Wet but exhilerated, we trudged up the path towards the lower falls area, passing several wee falls and some large ones.

A look down at my watch confirmed that a load of time had passed, so we quick marched up to catch the last train to the Devil's Throat walkway. This a metal bridge, over a kilometer long, which crosses the upper river and ends up on a viewing platform on the edge of the waterfall.

You actually cross over several islands, with different trees and bird species, so the size of the river here takes a while to sink in. Here's a wee video Rachel took after walking for 5 minutes:

More worryingly, the remains and debris from previous walkways started to be visible. Apparently, a flood in the last 10 years had swept away bits and pieces of previous walkways, so it was with some relief that we found ourselves on the viewing platform. Despite being packed with people, and periodically soaked with spray from the falls, it was the fulfulling culmination of our day. The noise, the panoramic views, the impression of the power flowing around and underneath us, the 150 meter drop down to the river we had been on only an hour before…it defies accurate description. The photos and video below will have to do.

As always, you can click the photos/videos above to get through to our two Flickr pages, where we have lots of other pictures. We were eventually ushered off the platform by the Park's staff, to ensure we caught the last train down to the entrance. It was an incredible experience, and more than lived up to the quiet hype that we'd had from the place. I'd comfortably recommend it to everyone – we didn't cross over to the Brazilian side, which is both more expensive and less interactive (but is supposed to have some amazing views), but I'm sure it's pretty good too. And if you want to live it up, the Sheraton actually have a hotel *in* the National Park. You can pay for a room with a view of the falls! During the days around the full moon, they do night time tours as well. Awesome.

The next day we jumped on another flight via Buenos Aires's smaller (but more central) airport and jumped across the 'Rio' Plate to Uruguay. But more on that later.

James

Posted via email from dreadpiratesarcas

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