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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina

"Where are we going?" my wife asked again, somewhat concerned about the out-of-the-way locale of our destination as I showed it to her on a map. And again, I said, "Iguazu Falls," a place almost midway between our other destinations, the metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina. "We're going up the Iguazu," I said. And going "up the wazu" became a running joke even before we left for South America.
Iguazu Falls, 660 miles south of Rio and about a two hour flight, is a collection of 275 waterfalls that cascade into a horseshoe shaped canyon over nearly two miles of the Iguazu River. Called Foz do Iguacu in Brazil and Cataratas del Iguazu in Argentina, it is vigorously advertised as a national treasure and a tourist destination by both countries. It is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. "Poor Niagara," Eleanor Roosevelt mused when she experienced the power and beauty of Iguazu which is taller than and more than four times as wide as Niagara Falls.
While it is possible to visit the falls on a day trip from either Rio or Buenos Aires, there is too much grandeur here to enjoy in such a rush. It is worthy of an overnight stay. While there is inexpensive lodging in the nearby towns of Puerto Iguazu in Argentina or Foz do Iguacu in Brazil, the best places to stay are at the two deluxe hotels that directly overlook the falls - the Hotel Tropical das Cataratas Eco Resort www.tropicalhotel.com.br) on the Brazilian side or the Sheraton Iguazu on the Argentine side.
We stayed at the Tropical das Cataratas. Built in 1958, it is the oldest hotel at the falls. It is a classic pink building of Portuguese colonial design with 203 rooms that either overlook the falls or the hotel's lush jungle gardens and pool. The lobby has a requisite "H. Stern" jewelry store which in South America seemed more ubiquitous than McDonald's. Our room was large, rustic but comfortable, with a drop-dead view of the falls right from our window. There were wooden wedges available to put in the windows to keep them from rattling from the force of the falls just a few hundred feet away. In the distance on the opposite side of the gorge of the Iguazu River, we could see the modern ship-shaped Sheraton Hotel, an equally good option, which has its own great view of the falls. High season extends from mid-July until March, when tourists flock here, retreating from the wild beauty of Rio's Carnival to the natural beauty of this jungle ecosystem. But perhaps the best time to visit is in early summer (November), after the rains, when the falls have their most dramatic volume, but before the bugs come out. Standard rooms at the Tropical Cataratas are about $175/night including breakfast but most people visit here on package tours that include a visit to Iguazu with Manaus in the Amazon, or with city tours of Rio or Buenos Aires.
Although you can take a guided tour of the falls, they are easy to explore on your own. However, a tour operator will speed your access across national borders and help with your exploration of the subtropical jungle with its towering trees and hundreds of species of flora and fauna.

Both Brazil and Argentina have done an excellent job of creating paths, bridges, and overlooks to enjoy the falls. The trek on the Brazilian side is best for enjoying the panorama of the falls, two-thirds of which are across the river on the Argentine side. From the Argentine side you can walk over metal bridges, engineering marvels that allow you to stand over a waterfall and gaze down at falling torrents of water with geysers of mist erupting from hundreds of feet below.
Relaxing poolside at our hotel after an afternoon trek of the Brazilian falls, we watched a beautiful macaw maliciously peck away at bird nests hanging from palm trees. Great lizards and raccoon-like animals with pointy snouts called "coatis" traipsed about ignoring tourists like me busily following them with cameras. And there were butterflies by the thousands - of all colors but mostly in clouds of yellow.
On the Argentine side there's a miniature train that takes you to the "Garganta del Diablo," or "Devil's Throat." The Garganta is one of the greatest spectacles at Iguazu where fourteen waterfalls converge and drop 350 feet with enough force that there is always a 100-foot cloud of mist overhead often surrounded by rainbows. You can enjoy getting drenched from the rising spray or stay dry with one of the two buck raincoats for sale along the route.
Besides trekking around the waterfalls, you can also experience jungle tours, rafting trips, rappelling adventures, and helicopter over flights. For our Mucaco Safari Tour, we boarded a jeep shuttle for a tour through the forest with a guide pointing out interesting flora. Upon reaching the river, we boarded large rubber rafts with powerful outboard engines. The rafts took us upriver below the falls and daringly ran alongside the torrents as they plunged into the river - another drenching experience.
Some of the great sights in the world are so grand that there are no words or pictures do them justice. And though I had seen photos of Iguazu Falls before visiting there, its majesty is not something that can be communicated. You have to see it, hear it, and feel it. I urge you some day to go "up the Iguazu."