A legend of the Falls
It is said that many years ago, there was a big monstrous serpent which lived in the Iguaçu River and its name was Boi. The local tribes had to sacrifice a beautiful girl as an offer to Boi, by throwing her into the river each and every year. All the tribes living near the river had to witness the ceremony. After many years of sacrificing, a young boy named Tarobá became a leader of the tribe. When a beautiful girl Naipí was chosen for the sacrifice, Tarobá, who liked her, rebelled to elderly members of the tribe tryin in vain to convince them not to throw her into the river. In order to save her, he decided to kidnap during the night before the sacrifice – he put her into a canoe and she escaped by the river. But Boi somehow knew about this so she became furious that they went over her back that she split the river apart forming the falls trying to catch Naipí and Tarobá. Boi turned Tarobá into the surrounding trees and the long hair of the beautiful Naipí into the falls. After that, Boi submerged in the Devil’s Throat and from this place she watches Naipí and Tarobá never come together again. However, on sunny days the rainbow surpasses Boi’s power and join them.
The name Iguaçu Falls (port. Cataratas do Iguaçu) comes from a guarani word which means The Big Water and no need to say it suits perfectly! The Falls were discovered in 1541 by the Spanish pioneer Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and I can imagine the look on his face when he tumbled on this amazing sight of this huge, immense water system that is constituted of 270 falls that are 82 meters high and 4 kilometres wide. It is located within the Iguaçu National Park, on the border between today’s Brazil (state of Paraná in the south of Brazil), Argentina and Paraguay (in the cities of Foz do Iguaçu, Puerto Iguazú and Cidade del Este).
Remember that 1986 film The Mission shot in and around Iguaçú with Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro? Well, today Iguaçu Falls annually receive more than 1 million tourists, being recognized worldwide for its outstanding beauty and its diverse and abundant flora and fauna. Iguaçu falls are also listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a quite beautiful sight to see. I swear it beats Niagara Falls any day (even by it size – it is four time bigger then the Niagara Falls)!
There are two options to meet the Iguaçu Falls: the Brazilian side or the Argentinean side. There are separated tours, and for each one you will have to buy a new ticket, but worth the price, since you will be experimenting with different perspectives and be able to explore the entire waterfall system and surrounding area.
Garganta do Diablo (Devil’s Throat)
On the Brazilian side, the tour lasts for about 2-4 hours and happens daily from 9am to 5pm. The trail is performed on foot by a path in the woods, with open spaces for observation of the Iguaçu Falls in some waypoints. At the end of the trail, there is a thrilling and incredibly exciting observation footbridge that completes the tour, coming to the point known as “Devil’s Throat” (port. Garganta do Diablo) where all the main waterfalls meet making a breathtaking sight, the world’s largest natural drainage that will pump your blood faster, rise your adrenaline and even scare you a bit. It is the highest and mightiest single drop in the world.
Spectacular Devil’s Throat combines 14 different falls and generates a perpetual rainbow in a sunny weather, that I had an honor to witness. You will feel so small and meaningless next to the nature at it’s strongest, ruthless and wildest. Also, be ready to get wet, like, super-wet! I have to admit, entering the Devil’s Throat (Garganta do Diablo) was the most cathartic experience of my life.
Parque das Aves (The Bird Park)
On your walk around the falls you’ll most probably encounter clouds of butterflies, howler monkeys, tucanos and endangered jaguars. But if you’re a real tucano lover or a bird fan in general, you should definitely visit this unique ZOO called Parque das Aves near the entrance to National Park on the brazilian side! Remember Rio animation? Well, there you can enter into huge aviaries and walk with araras, tucanos, hummingbirds and butterflies flying around you and literally let them sit on your arm or shoulder (or head). Don’t miss this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk with hundreds of hummingbirds!
Itaipú Binacional Dam on the Paraná, 20 minutes’ drive out of town is a joint Paraguayan/ Brazilian hydroelectricity project. It’s the world’s second largest (after the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze) dam that generates 90% of Paraguay’s and 20% of Brazil’s energy needs, according to a propaganda video shown at the smart Tourist Complex. There’s also an interesting Buddhist temple on the way to the dam and skydiving club that offers a helicopter ride over the falls, so you can take a stop there and explore some more.
Churrascaria (Brazilian Barbacue Houses)
Brazilian barbecue (port. churrasco) is really cheap in Foz do Iguacu – most churrascarias (”all meat you can eat” brazilian restaurants) in Foz do Iguazu are really inexpensive. A churrascaria is basically an all you can eat place where they serve all kinds of rotating meat on a skewer. The price in those restaurants is R$28.50 (about 9.50 USD) all in per person. All you have to do is pay in the end of your meal (if you can manage to get up after all that meat) on a cashier window (port. caixa) like you would do in a kilo restaurant.
Another useful hint: for all of you backpackers out there, Tetris Container Hostel could be a perfect choice and fit for you!
On the Argentine side, the park is opened from 8am to 18pm. To enter Argentina from Brazil you’ll need your passport and maybe even other personal documents. There you can admire the falls from close, enjoy maginificant views, take a train ride and, most interesting – see the Devil’s Throat from above, literally standing on the top of the 14 joined falls and millions of gallons of rumbling, falling water. You should be ready to get wet on argentinian side, too, since you can take a raft with a boat that gets you extremely close to the waterfalls and literally crushes you (couple of times) into the one. Again and again. Take a spare clothes, guys, don’t make my mistake and freeze for the rest of the day.
After a long day of walking and with hearts full of joy, the best thing you can do is to relax in one of the argentinian restaurants enjoying their barbecue, nice argentinian wines and of course, tango!
If you’re staying in Foz for three days or more, you can spend one day checking out neighboring Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second-largest city. There’s a bus from Foz to Ciudad del Este, but the buses don’t stop at the border and that could get you into trouble. Alternatively, you can take a taxi as well, but the taxi’s won’t stop at the border unless you request them to. Boy, what a bizarre border. The best option is to simply walk across the border across the Friendship Bridge (port. Ponte da Amizade) and get your Paraguay country stamp there! Attention – American citizens do need visa for Paraguay (but Europeans don’t)!
Ciudad del Este is a tax-free shopping zone where local Brazilians and Argentines are off to hunt down bargain anything and everything: designer clothes, perfumes, phones, computers, cameras, chocolates, car tyres, you name it. But it’s a really dangerous and threatening place – where people walk on the streets with machine guns and get robbed and stabbed on a daily bases. You shouldn’t take any values with you and you should try to get to the brazilian side by 4 p.m. when everything closes in Paraguay because armed drug trafficing takes place. Take a special care there, guys!
Brazil and Argentina are rivals over everything – from football to beef steaks. When it comes to panoramas of the falls, Brazil scores with its walkways and viewing platforms. But Argentina gets an equaliser by allowing you up close and personal. Certainly, the Argentine side is a touch of Disneyland, with its little train from the visitor centre, but the place that really gets your heart beat faster is definitely the edge of the Garganta do Diablo on the brazilian side. The true irony is that you’ll never feel more alive then in the Devil’s Throat – I guarantee you!