Puerto Iguazú, Argentina

The turmoil in my stomach never escalated from localized skirmishes into a full-scale revolt, and I survived the 17-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú without any major incidents.  But I was in poor shape when we finally arrived at the station.  Sleep deprived and dehydrated, I stumbled into the dizzying brightness of high noon.

Puerto Iguazú is a small city located at Argentina’s border with Brazil and Paraguay, an area known as the “Triple Frontier.”  Eleven miles south of the city, marking the border between Argentina and Brazil, the Iguazu River widens considerably before spilling over a long line of rocky cliffs, creating a winding curtain of cataracts that many people believe is the most spectacular waterfall in the world.

The travel agent who’d sold me my bus ticket said that for just a little bit more he’d include a guided tour of both sides of the falls, and I agreed without giving it much thought.  First on the tour agenda was an afternoon trip to the Brazilian side of the river.  Just two hours after I arrived in Puerto Iguazú a driver picked me up at my hotel.  “Do you have your passport?” asked the driver.  I assured him I did.  “And also your visa?”

Ack…  The travel agent hadn’t mentioned anything about a visa.  My guidebook said that, while tourists from most countries (including the United States) need a pre-arranged visa to cross from Argentina to the Brazilian side of Iguazu, enforcement is very loose and many people make the short daytrip over and back without paperwork.

But the driver was adamant.  He said that if I didn’t have a visa there was no point in going, and – because it was Sunday – there was no way to get a visa.  So we turned around.  I was disappointed, but also relieved I could retreat to my hotel room for some recovery time.

 

Stone Carving on the Streets of Puerto Iguazu

 

Persuasive Dog Begging at Dinner

 

Early the next morning I waited outside my hotel to be picked up for a tour of the Argentine side of the falls.  Not until I actually caught sight of the massive bus did it dawn on me how stupid it had been to book a group tour.  First I hadn’t even been able to visit the Brazilian side of Iguazu, and now on the Argentine side I’d be stuck waddling from one viewpoint to another with a pack of loud, overweight retirees.

Our group assembled just inside the entrance gate.  “Hola y bienvenidos al Parque Nacional Iguazú,” began our guide.  I hadn’t realized the tour would be conducted in Spanish.  An Asian woman, the one other member of our large group who wasn’t a native Spanish speaker, asked if English translations would be provided.  “¡No!” the guide answered emphatically.  “¡Solamente Español!”  The Asian woman stormed off, eliciting snickers from the rest of the group.  I kept my mouth shut.  A day with no English would be good for me.  Maybe the tour wouldn’t be a total bust after all.

Iguazu isn’t a single waterfall.  The Iguazu River, almost two miles wide where it tumbles over the jungle-covered cliffs, creates hundreds of interconnected waterfalls of all different shapes and sizes.  Covering the major viewpoints on the Argentine side alone took our tour group the entire day.  We started at an overlook of the area’s tallest waterfall, Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), 82 meters high and 150 meters wide.  Long before we reached Garganta del Diablo we heard its low roar and saw a cloud of white mist rising over the distant treetops.

 

Iguazu Falls from Garganta del Diablo

 

Iguazu Falls in Argentina (Video)

 

Occaisionally the water spraying up from the base of Garganta del Diablo erupted skywards and literally rained down on the viewing area.  It happened infrequently enough, however, that I thought I could fire off a few long-exposure shots without getting my camera wet.  I elbowed my way through the crowd, set up my tripod, and took about five photos before a spray cloud suddenly rose up and blasted us with a wall of water.  We might as well have been inside a car wash.  I staggered out of the deluge, all of my clothes so soaked I couldn’t use them to dry my camera.

 

Garganta del Diablo Closeup

 

Garganta del Diablo Closeup B&W

 

Back in the sunshine, fingers crossed, I shook off my camera and gave it a try.  The shutter release sounded strange, and “Error 30” appeared on the LCD screen.  Oh crap…  My stomach sank.  I could still take a photo, but after each shot the software crashed and had to be restarted.  I made myself believe that the camera – a weather-resistant Canon 5D Mark II – might recover once it dried out.

Our group moved on to the Circuito Superior, a path that loops over and through Iguazu’s upper tier of waterfalls.  I was able to take a few photos, but my camera continued to malfunction.  I tried not to think about the hassle and expense that would be associated with replacing it.

 

Iguazu from Circuito Superior

 

Rainbow at Iguazu

 

At lunch we were surrounded by roving bands of coati, a fascinating animal that looks like a raccoon crossed with an aardvark.  The coati helpfully ensured that any food left on the tables of Iguazu’s outdoor cafés didn’t go to waste.  Some of the friendly scavengers were so tame they let people pat their heads and scratch behind their ears.

 

Friendly Coati in Iguazu National Park

 

Coati at a Café in Iguazu National Park (Video)

 

After lunch we checked out the lower tier of waterfalls along the Circuito Inferior.  Those of us who’d signed up for the “Nautical Adventure” boat ride then donned life jackets, stowed our gear inside a waterproof bag, and headed up the river in a speedboat.

 

Rainbow and Boat at Iguazu

 

Afternoon Light on a Section of Iguazu Falls

 

Double Rainbow at Iguazu Falls

 

Argentina Side of Iguazu

 

The boat ride turned out to be my favorite part of the day.  Our pilot took us directly into the base of the falls, where the spray was so intense I could hardly keep my eyes open as I tried to look straight up at the river plunging from the steep cliffs above us, backlit by the bright sun.  After our first dunking, drenched and laughing, our group chanted “¡Otra!” (Again!) until the pilot took us back for another run under the falls.  Much more fun than any amusement park ride.

 

Our Boat Heading to Iguazu Falls

 

Iguazu Falls from Our Boat

 

Boat Ride to the Base of Iguazu Falls in Argentina (Video)

 

I was really glad to have seen Iguazu Falls, especially considering that I never made it to Victoria Falls in Africa.  But I wasn’t as awed as I thought I’d be.  Last year I visited Iceland, and the waterfalls there, while relatively modest in size, each had a unique, compelling personality.  I preferred Iceland’s collective cast of smaller, quirkier characters to the single overpowering superstar of Iguazu.