Iguazu Falls Ultimate Travel Guide (Both Sides!)
Iguazú Falls is a massive waterfall system on the border between Argentina and Brazil, and deserves its spot at the very top of anyone's list when visiting South America! You probably have visited other amazing waterfalls before in your life, but I assure you, none will be more spectacular than a visit to Iguazú Falls. Its width stretches nearly 9,000 feet (1.7 miles), and there's anywhere from 150 to 300 distinct waterfalls depending on the water level, which can vary daily. The word Iguazú itself means "big water" in the indigenous Guarani or Tupi language, which is fitting since its actually the largest waterfall system in the whole world. It's also so impressive that it was named one of the 7 natural wonders of the world!
Given those crazy stats, it can be hard to know how to best spend your time at Iguazu - so in my opinion, using an organized tour is a must to get the most out of the experience. There are a number of operators, but I highly recommend Say Hueque, an Argentinian travel agency with decades of expertise in taking travelers to Iguazú and beyond. They created an adventurous and informative experience that I won't soon forget!
How to get there
Since Iguazú Falls is located in both Argentina and Brazil, there's a multitude of ways to arrive. It's remote location makes air travel most convenient, and most travelers will arrive via the two main airports: Cataratas del Iguazú International Airport (IGR) on the Argentinian side and Foz do Iguaçu International Airport (IGU) on the Brazilian side. One-way flights from Buenos Aires to IGR cost a little more than $100, and one-way flights from Rio de Janeiro to IGU cost about $150, at least in the winter season when I visited.
If you'd rather take a bus, there are also overnight buses available - 18 hours from Buenos Aires and 25 hours from Rio de Janeiro. That's just... a wee bit too long for me, so I opted for the pricier but much shorter one-way flights. A lovely bilingual driver from Say Hueque was waiting for me at IGR airport to take me to my accommodation in town and kick off this wonderful experience!
Where to stay
Since Iguazú is divided across two countries, there are essentially two main hubs on either side of the falls: Puerto Iguazú on the Argentinian side and Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazilian side. Some travelers will come and make a home base on one side of the falls, and do a day trip to visit the other side. However, my personal recommendation is to give yourself at least one or more nights staying on each side of the falls so you don't feel so rushed into day trips crossing the border. Iguazú is one of those places that is so impressive it forces you to slow down, be present, and appreciate it - and a day trip just wouldn't do it justice!
On Puerto Iguazú side I stayed at Hotel Saint George, an excellent choice for travelers who want more comfort than your typical backpacker but also don't want to break the bank. The hotel is still super affordable, but it feels almost like a luxury property with two pools, a spa, a gym, huge rooms, on-site bar/restaurant, and all the perks you'd expect from a nice hotel. There's also several hostels in town for travelers on more of a budget, I recommend Hostal Bambú. On the Foz do Iguaçu side, I stayed at and recommend Che Legarto Hostel, where I got a private room that felt more like an mid-range hotel than a hostel.
Visiting the Falls
Very few times in my life do I set an early morning alarm and get excited about it... but when that alarm went off at 6:45 a.m. the next day I was stoked that Say Hueque was picking me up soon to start our adventures! My guide Diego introduced himself and the group all got acquainted with one another. I've been on some tours before where the environment is a bit awkward for a solo traveler - but not this one. Say Hueque specifically markets itself as a travel agency for independent travelers, and Diego made sure the group was involved and engaged the entire time which fostered an inclusive environment that really is missing on some other tours.
$600 Argentinian Pesos to enter the Argentinian side of the park (about $20 USD), less for children and residents of certain countries in South America.
R $62 Brazilian Reals to enter the Brazilian side of the park (about $16 USD), again less for children and residents of certain countries.
You can now pay with cash or credit/debit card.
US citizens do not need a visa and no longer need to pay a reciprocity fee to enter Argentina for 90 days, but do need to obtain a visa in advance to enter Brazil, even if you're only crossing the border for a quick day trip to visit the falls. You can now get an online e-visa for Brazil valid for 2 years. Check out more information at this link.
Both the Argentinian and Brazilian side of the falls have plenty of walking circuits and trails available for exploring, but both sides of the park are also accessible for those with physical disabilities.
If you choose not to do a tour (shame...), there are public buses from the main bus terminals in both cities to the entrance of the falls, and also between the two cities in Argentina and Brazil. Also taxis, but beware that prices should be negotiated beforehand.
Day 1 with Say Hueque was visiting the Argentinian side of the falls, which ended up being on of the most cherished memories of my whole South American trip. The Argentinian side holds 80% of the falls and is comprised of tons of hiking trails, different viewpoints, various adventure activities, and restaurants to explore. Diego, an Iguazú expert who's been working there for over a decade, knew all the right spots to go and started with arguably the most impressive part of the entire waterfall system: Garganta del Diablo (aka Devil's Throat), very aptly named since the insane power of the water lets out a deep roar in the air. The elevated walkway system positions visitors right next to the action of the falls, and you will definitely get a little wet from the crazy mist in the air! The size and scale of water pounding down from Devil's Throat was an absolutely magnificent display of nature's power and force, and I don't think there are sufficient adjectives in the English language to describe how incomprehensible this particular sight was. For most visitors to Iguazú, this is the main attraction, and after visiting I can absolutely see why.
But the day was far from over! After many 'ooohs' and 'ahhhs' at Devil's Throat, Diego led us on a walking circuit to visit more viewpoints. There are several different circuits and without Say Hueque/Diego, I really would have been clueless about which to choose and likely would have gotten lost several times, knowing myself. Thankfully I had Diego who took us on the Upper Circuit which is about a 2-hour loop with elevated views of the falls. You'll pass countless viewpoints, photo opportunities, rainbows, and animal encounters - mostly coatis and native birds, but you may get lucky with monkeys as well. The whole time, Diego was ready and available to answer questions I had about the falls and I really learned a lot. Some tidbits he taught me that stood out:
More water flows from Iguazú than any other waterfall in the whole world!
Approximately 400,000 gallons of water fall per second. Really think about that one for a moment. Insane!
There's an upwards of 2,000 species of plants in the surrounding reserves
To finish off the day with a bang, me and some of the more adventurous members of my group with Say Hueque embarked on the famous boat ride taking you underneath the falls. It's an optional add-on, but repeat after me: do not pass up the boat ride opportunity! They gear you up with waterproof bags for your belongings but don't forget to pick up a cheap poncho which are sold at lots of stores within the park, because you will get absolutely drenched! The boat trip takes you underneath the falls so you can truly experience their power pumping down on your body instead of just witnessing it from above. Such an adrenaline rush! There was not a single straight face on our whole boat, we were all smiles and laughs as we happily got our day's shower from the falling water. The price for the boat ride was 1500 Argentinian Pesos, or about $50 USD, and worth every penny. After a long day of exploring, we were driven back to our accommodation in Puerto Iguazú for a well-deserved rest!
After a good night's sleep back at Hotel Saint George in Puerto Iguazú, Say Hueque picked me up in the morning for day 2: visiting the Brazilian side of the falls! After a super quick border crossing process with Diego's help (they barely even glanced at the e-visa that I spent hours applying for...), we started the day's adventure!
The Brazilian side of the falls is considerably smaller in scale than the Argentinian side, but make no mistake, it really packs in the views. Unlike the Argentinian side, the Brazilian side only has one primary walking trail, but boy is it beautiful! It takes roughly 2-3 hours to walk along the trail which offers panoramic views throughout, especially if you take your time to pause and take it all in. Since only 20% of the waterfalls are located on the Brazilian side, it's more about appreciating the views of the Argentinian falls from across the Iguazú River. In other words, it gives a new, more distant perspective to the falls that you explore in Argentina to really show its massive scale and deepen your appreciation. This day, Diego let us explore a bit on our own for some independence which I really enjoyed, but was never far behind if we wanted to ask him a question about Iguazú. Also note that the at the visitor's center on the Brazilian side, you can take an expensive but scenic 10 minute helicopter ride for $150 USD. That was out of my budget, but if you have the cash and no fear of heights, definitely do it!
The main attraction of the Brazilian side is the very end of the walking trail where elevated platforms take you right adjacent to the powerful falls. On these platforms, you are surrounded by nearly 360° of waterfall views! The platforms position you nearly right in the middle of the Devil's Throat with countless surrounding falls everywhere you look. Here you have a 100% chance of getting wet among the falls and also probably a 100% chance of seeing those iconic Iguazú rainbows! I spent more than 30 minutes on these platforms, soaking wet but happy as hell to be surrounded by such spectacular nature. Actually I had a pretty emotional experience here and felt deeply moved by the force of nature, and I've heard this is quite common for visitors to Iguazú. It's really hard to pick a favorite moment of the wonderful 2 days, but being surrounded by the falls on the Brazilian side might have to be it. Check out the views below!
Sadly, I had a flight to Rio de Janeiro the next day and my time in Iguazú had come to a close. It will forever be a stand-out travel memory of my life for the absolutely unparalleled nature views, the highly informational experience, and the friends I made in my tour group! Again, I can't stress enough the importance of booking with a tour agency while visiting Iguazu, it's just one of those places where tours add an invaluable layer to the experience. It's also imperative to choose an agency who cares about delivering an educational and adventurous experience, and Say Hueque will do exactly that. Many thanks to Say Hueque for sponsoring my trip to Iguazú and gifting me with memories that will last a lifetime!
Check out Say Hueque's website here for more information on Iguazú Falls tours, and also other trips they organize around Argentina and Chile!