Literal Awesomeness: Iguazu Falls

[No one gets to go on an adventure of a lifetime and not tell about it on Go Go Go. Especially not when you’re the former editor-in-chief of said blog. A warm welcome back to Claire, who does her best to describe the indescribable. We miss you, Claire!]

I don’t remember the first time I saw a picture of Iguazu Falls. It was probably on one of those Hundred Places to See Before You Die shows that I tend to nap in front of while visiting my parents for the holidays. But I remember very clearly the first time I saw them in person, first from the plane, circling over twice in rocky air so both sides could get a good view, and then from every conceivable angle of trails and boats as we explored the park for the next two days.

It’s a hard thing to explain, actually seeing a place in person that you’ve dreamed of going to for more than a decade. It’s damn near impossible to explain the literal awesomeness of a massive, mighty force of nature like that. But Brooke has requested that I try.

Iguazu Falls rushes through the corner of South America where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. They are some of the widest, tallest, and most powerful falls in the world, and certainly one of the most visually stunning, erupting from a lush jungle and curving in a huge broken horseshoe formation lined with well-tended trails.

This is a highly touristed national park, so don’t expect a rugged or solitary adventure. It’s two parks, really, although the great trails and views are mainly on the Argentine side, with the Brazilian side requiring a separate visa (this is a relatively new development and one we didn’t know about until it was too late, thus resulting in one annoyed cabbie and two disappointed tourists) to get a wide vista of the whole falls. On the Argentine side, there’s a wide variety of hikes and activities to choose from. I’d recommend doing the tour that includes the boat trip down the river and right under the falls, soaking passengers Maid-of-the-Mist style. It’s a fun adrenaline rush, and you get views you can’t see from land. Any other tour, though, including the rides through the jungle, aren’t really worth the extra cost. You won’t see any animals with a rumbling truck carting you around, and the tour guides are adequate but nothing special.

Plan to take two days to see the park. If you save your ticket from Day 1, you can pay half price on Day 2 (check back with the ticket desk before you leave the park on Day 1). It’s a huge place, all of the trails are worth walking, and you don’t want to rush yourself. You’re going to want to just stand in the majesty of these falls for a long time. With two days, you can easily explore everything without overextending yourself.

And overextending is easy to do. While the trails aren’t steep and they’re all well-maintained, this is a humid tropical area, and the heat can get intense. Bring a hat and gallons of sunscreen and water to keep yourself safe, and plan to get to the park right when it opens so you can avoid the worst heat of the day. I definitely overdid it on the first day, when the temperature was about 95 with not a single cloud to interrupt the sun, and I wound up feeling headache-y and queasy for the rest of the afternoon.

Also, remember that this is a rainforest. It rains here, a lot! And that’s actually fantastic. Don’t be scared of it. Bring a poncho and go anyway. It rained on our second day, and it meant that a) the park was less crowded b) it was less hot, which added together meant c) there were more animals to see. Because, again, this is such a highly touristed area, there’s not a ton in the way of animal sightings, but on Day 2 we saw two caimans, a river turtle, a flock of gorgeous blue birds, two vultures, and several families of coatis. (Watch out for these guys–they’re basically tropical raccoons, which is to say, vicious thieves. But super cute!)

You’ll notice that nowhere in this story do I really describe seeing the falls themselves. And that’s because I can’t. I’m a decent writer, but here, words fail me. They were, truly, indescribable. I was overwhelmed with their beauty and power. All I can say is, Go. Or if waterfalls aren’t your thing, figure out what place seems amazing in pictures and go see that. Trust me: the pictures never do it justice.

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