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Iguazú, One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

Written by Peter Lauffer
August 13, 2021

The waterfalls of Iguazu between Brazil and Argentina are one of the most spectacular natural spectacles on the South American continent. In 1986 the waterfalls and the surrounding area were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and since 2011 they have also been considered one of the "seven new natural wonders" of the world.

Up to 7,000 cubic meters of water fall over the Iguazu Falls every second. These falls span over 2,700 meters (1.68 Miles), in which space between 150 and 275 large and small waterfalls provide a breathtaking spectacle. The Iguazu Falls are wider than the better-known Victoria Falls in Africa and taller than the Niagara Falls in North America.

The absolute highlight of the Iguazu waterfalls is the "Devil's Throat" (Garganta del Diablo), which consists of 14 waterfalls in a 150 meter (492 ft) wide and 700 meter (2297 ft) long gorge.

Iguazu Falls, walking the Lower Circuit in Argentina
Iguazu Falls, walking the Lower Circuit in Argentina

History and discovery of the Iguazu Falls

The Iguazu Falls owe their creation to a natural phenomenon. Volcanic eruptions and the movement of the South American tectonic plates, which occurred many millions of years ago, created the incomparable spectacle. In 1542, the Spanish navigator and explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his crew were the first Europeans to pass the waterfalls. He baptized them "Saltos de Santa María," but this name did not take hold permanently.

Of course, the waterfalls had been known to the indigenous people for ages. For the native tribes of Tupi-Guaraní and the Paraguas, the falls served as a sacred burial place.

The name of the waterfalls, "Iguaçu," came from the Tupi-Guaraní and means "great water."

View from the Brazilian Side of the Iguazu Falls
View from the Brazilian Side of the Iguazu Falls

Iguazu National Parks

The "Parque Nacional do Iguaçu" is a national park in the state of Paraná in Brazil. The park was founded in 1939 and covers an area of 1701 square km (657 square miles). The entrance to the park is about 18 km (11.18 miles) away from the city center in Foz do Iguaçu. From the visitor center, a double-decker bus takes visitors toward the waterfalls. The 1.2 kilometer (0.75 mile) long hiking trail “Trilha das Cataratas” begins at the “Hotel das Cataratas” bus stop. 

The "Parque Nacional Iguazú" is the name of the Iguazu National Park on the Argentinean side of the falls. This park, located in the north of the province of Misiones, was created in 1934 and covers an area of 677 square km (261 square miles). The entrance to the park in Argentina is 17 km (10.56 miles) away from Puerto Iguazu. Public buses and taxis bring visitors to the park entrance. 

In both these parks live 420 species of birds, around 70 different mammals, and some endangered reptiles and amphibians. The parks are also home to over 2,000 species of plants.

Capybara at the Iguazu Falls
Capybara at the Iguazu Falls

Animals and plants in the national parks

When visiting the Iguazu waterfalls, you will experience a breathtaking landscape that is second to none. The water mist forms a perfect habitat for numerous insects, giant butterflies, and many different animal species.

With a bit of luck, you’ll see monkeys, capybaras, tree frogs, snakes, and crocodiles in their natural environment. The national parks are also home to lizards, spiders, and numerous shy animals such as sloths, anteaters, and deer. In addition, a wide variety of birds such as parrots, parakeets, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and colorful toucans also live in the falls' forests.

The number of rare orchids and other plants that grow only in the Iguazu area is enormous. You can discover many of the orchids on an exploration tour along the walkways.

Iguazu Falls from nearby
Iguazu Falls from nearby

Climate and the best travel time

The region around Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil and Puerto Iguazu in Argentina has a subtropical climate with high humidity. In the Brazilian summer (December to March), the average daytime temperatures are 26° C (79° Fahrenheit), but it can also get up to 40° C (104° Fahrenheit). At night it doesn't get colder than 14-15° C (57-59° Fahrenheit) in the summer. In the Brazilian winter, on the other hand, temperatures can drop below 10° C (50° Fahrenheit).

The best travel time to visit the Iguazu waterfalls is from December to March, as the Rio Iguazu then has significantly more water than during the rest of the year, making the waterfalls much more spectacular.

Speedboat Tour Iguazu Falls
Speedboat Tour Iguazu Falls

Attractions & highlights

On the Brazilian side:

An essential activity is to walk the 1.2 kilometer (0.75 mile) long "Trilha das Cataratas" hiking trail. It runs along the Rio Iguazu and offers fantastic panoramic photo opportunities of the waterfalls. At the end of the path, views of the Garganta do Diabo await. A panoramic elevator takes you to the top, from which you can enjoy a spectacular view of the waterfalls. At the end of the "Trilha das Cataratas" hiking trail, the excellent restaurant “Porto Canoas” serving a buffet lunch. 

On the Argentine side:

Numerous trails on the Argentinean side bring you close to the waterfalls. The Upper and Lower Circuit both offer fantastic views from various angles of the Iguazu Falls. Consider walking both circuits during your visit. The Upper Circuit includes a 2 km (1.24 mile) long elevated walkway. 

Boat tours

A guided boat tour to the waterfalls is worthwhile, whether on the Brazilian or Argentinian side. On a boat trip, you will see the waterfalls and the incredible flora and fauna of the national parks. If you plan to do a speedboat tour, expect to get very wet, so bring a plastic bag for your camera and cellphone.

Organized Tours

I strongly recommend participating in a guided tour or booking a private guide to visit the Iguazu Falls, especially on the Argentinean side. The hotels on both sides of the border can help you book a guided tour the following day. You may also find many tour offers on websites like www.viator.com. The entry to the national park is typically included in the tour price. 

Traveling by yourself (not as part of a tour) is possible but can be very time-consuming when using public transport. On the other hand, taking taxis can be costly, especially when visiting the Argentinean side of the falls. 

Jungel Train Iguazu
Jungle Train Iguazu

Is there a train at the Iguazu Falls?

There is an Ecological Jungle Train in the Parque Nacional Iguazu on the Argentinean side that provides transport within the national park. This train has a capacity of 250 passengers and has been operating since July 2001. It uses a 600 mm gauge. Painted completely green, the train includes a locomotive that pulls four covered wagons, each having wooden seats that are totally open to the outside, so that the visitor remains in direct contact with nature.

The tour lasts 30 minutes. The Jungle Train leaves from the Central Station at the visitor center, makes an intermediate stop at the Cataratas Station, and finally arrives at the terminal of Garganta del Diablo Station. There you can descend and access the walkway, which reaches the balconies built on the edge of the huge 80-meter high waterfall called Garganta del Diablo.

Cataratas Belmond Hotel Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
Cataratas Belmond Hotel Foz do Iguacu, Brazil

Accommodation in the national park

There are numerous 3-, 4-, and 5-star hotels in Foz do Iguaçu and Puerto Iguazú. Here are three recommendations for beautiful accommodations:

Brazil: Hotel das Cataratas. This 5-star hotel, built in colonial style in 1958, is located inside the national park. Experience luxury in the middle of a rainforest.

Brazil: San Juan Eco Hotel. This nice 4-star hotel is just a few minutes from the entrance to the national park. Offers a great pool and delicious breakfast buffet.

Argentina: Gran Melia Iguazu. This 5-star hotel is strategically located inside Iguazu National Park. From some room balconies, you can see and hear the Iguazu Falls!

Itaipu Dam between Brazil and Paraguay
Itaipu Dam between Brazil and Paraguay

Itaipu Dam

Following 18 years of construction, the Itaipú Dam was completed in 1982. Almost 8 km (4.97 miles) long and 196 m (643 ft) high, the Itaipú Dam spans the Paraná River, one of the most important rivers in South America. During the construction of the dam and the power station, Foz do Iguaçu grew dramatically, its population quintupling. 

The dam is among the most powerful power plants globally and supplies around a quarter of Brazil’s electricity needs and over 80% of Paraguay’s. Although the dam is highly controversial from an ecological point of view, a trip there is worthwhile. The Itaipu Dam is easily reached from Foz de Iguacu on a guided tour or with a rented car. From your Hotel in Foz do Iguacu you can book tours visiting the Brazilian side of the falls and also visit the Itaipu Dam on the same day.

An optional visit to the Iguazu Falls can be included on our "Gand Rail Tour of Brazil" or as a pre-tour on our tour "Buenos Aires to Lima: High Andes & Machu PIcchu."

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