"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