SSHH….says a lot.
One will understand completely when one has to go.
We stayed on the Argentina side in Iguazu because we read that it was safer and cheaper. Two very good reasons upon which to make a sound decision methinks. I don’t think I need to belabour the point that the Falls are simply breathtaking. UNESCO and the World Wonders people have already given their stamps of approval. If my voice counts for something, I would be more than happy to shout about how amazing the experience was, and tell people in two minds about making a trip there to just GO!
Failing which, there are a few things that we learnt on our trip that may be useful to share with others making the same.
1. You should know that there are two ways into the Falls
The entrance to the Argentina side of the National Park is a short 10-minute drive from the small town of Puerto Iguazu. There is a total of 275 waterfalls in Iguazu, and 270 of them are on this side. The entrance fee for an adult (not from the area or bordering countries) is 215 Argentine Pesos, payable by cash and in Pesos only.
The journey to the Brazil entrance of the Park is about 40 minutes from Puerto Iguazu, including going through border customs under normal traffic conditions. You will collect 4 large chops on your passport after the entire trip. The entrance fee for an adult is 52.20 Brazilian Reals (after bus fees and taxes), and may be paid via cash in Reals/Pesos/USD, or credit card.
One can take the public buses that plough the routes to and fro, and the hotels should be able to give advice on the schedule and where to catch one. Or one can also arrange for transport and a licensed guide through travel agencies, which makes for a more fruitful trip since it will also come with a narrative from a dependable source for 190 Argentine Pesos per adult (of course, price varies with the tour agency you use).
2. Excursions within the Park are not included in the entrance fee, but do one that brings you into/under the Falls.
For us, there was just more to do on the Argentina side. If you are not too adventurous (i.e. Rappelling) nor too keen on splurging on rides (i.e. Helicopter), then take either the Grand Adventure or the Nautical Adventure on the Argentina side. The former takes you through the jungle on a motorcar, in a boat through 1km of Rapids, and finally to the Bossetti and San Martin Falls to get drenched. The whole ride is a bit over an hour and costs 520 Argentine Pesos per adult; The latter is a 12 minute ride that takes you to the same falls for a jolly good bath at an affordable 270 Argentine Pesos per adult. Choppy rides come with life jackets, waterproof bags and a bar somewhere to hold on for dear life.
3. Buying raincoats
Don’t get them in the Park. Bring from home or get them from Puerto Iguazu for cheaper. You will need one if you have zero intention of getting drenched (meaning not going on any waterfall rides) or damp from the random spray of the Falls. Our advice: forego the coat. A towel would be more useful. You are there to experience the Falls, and get wet you will.
4. Animals and Plants in the Park
There are over 2000 species of flora and fauna; specifically, 474 species of birds; 7 species of cats, including the puma and jaguar here. This Park has the equivalent of 50% of the total number of flora/fauna species found in Argentina we were told. Coatis, or the local raccoons, roam freely in the Park. They have very cute faces, sharp teeth and claws. Do not feed or pat it unless you’d like for it to leave you gashes and bloody memories. Even if you are hungry, do not take food out or they will come at you. Similarly, for the monkeys that swing by, do not tempt with food or worse, with your palm. Be warned.
5. Must-do walks for free
For the Argentina side, there are the Upper and Lower Circuits that you need to do to fully see the Falls from every angle possible. If you do both and another called the Green Trail, you would have walked about 3.5km and they are very easy to to do. But slippery always. If crowded, you would likely land on someone if you fall. There is also a train (included in the entrance ticket) you can take to the platform overlooking the Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat. But due to flood damage that occurred in June this year (2700 swelled to 47000 cubic meters per sec!) the place is closed for repairs and will reopen in December.
For the Brazil side, there is only one way to the Garganta del Diablo. A 1.6km long walk after you arrive at the starting point. You cover the first 10km by a bus, compliments of the Park Management on the Brazil side! I know I would never make it to anyone’s throat if I had to hike 11.6km to it per way!
6. Cambio to get Pesos
There are two rates for the exchange of Argentine Pesos: the official one that is ~A$8.5 to US$1, and the black market one that is ~A$13 to US$1. We didn’t know about this until a few days before we left for South America when we were working out exchange rates and conversions we needed to do. Change your US$ in a shop called Argecam Cambio, about 800meters away from Puerto Iguazu. It uses the black market rate. Super!
7. The little town of Puerto Iguazu
The first thing that struck me about the town servicing visitors of the Iguazu National Park was the red tinge in its streets and pavements. These stains caused by the red clay in its soil, unfortunately, added years to the already tired-looking place. The small, quiet town centre is easily covered in a stroll of 45 minutes. I didn’t do a count but if I were to estimate, I would say that the town has no more than 50 shops of souvenirs and clothing mostly catered to tourists. There are two or three restaurants that operate in the town, but it seemed to me that the most popular is the one in the corner, Angelo Cafe – and easily the one that would look most like a restaurant to city folks. The refreshing blended fruit juices there are phenomenal to have on a hot day! Very affordable too at 26 Pesos each for a fairly large cup. But appearances aside, the people here seem content, and are genuinely nice and very friendly. You can walk here without having to look behind you every few minutes.
Qosqo (in Quechua, a vanishing ancient language) to the Incans is what Cuzco (in phonics, haha) is to the Spanish. Cuzco city is synonymous with altitude sickness. Over 3000 meters above sea level, almost anyone who was not acclimatized would feel, at minimum, a bit of discomfort. Particularly those who fly in from areas at sea level…which is everywhere. So we prepared ahead and took Diamox to get it out of the way. But even then, I had tingly fingers and toes when the meds started to wear out as the next dose was due. I didn’t find the coca tea they said could alleviate symptoms to be particularly helpful, but drinking liquids to keep hydrated certainly was.
Cuzco is also the gateway to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and 3000 species of potatoes as well as the largest corn kernels I have ever seen! But I never expected it to be little Prague, albeit with clear Spanish influence in its architecture. So pretty. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site too, one of many in Cuzco.
The Spaniards took full advantage of the sturdy stone walls that the Incans built, and restoration works helped us see clearly how the buildings were forced to blend into one another. But I have to say that the masonry skills required of the Incans to carve out precise pieces of stones that fit together perfectly without modern tools are astounding. With locking systems too. Neat. That said, this was the 15th/16th century we are referring to. Many centuries before this, the Egyptians have already proven themselves fine craftsmen and architects. I didn’t think there is great improvement there.
But the food has certainly evolved from Egyptian times. They eat Alpacas and Guinea pigs. Of course, there is no way I’d have a guinea pig for lunch or dinner, but I did try Alpaca. Tasted like chicken…like every other strange pieces of meat. And their trout ceviche! Yummmmmss!!!
Clockwise, from top left:
Chicha Morada, a drink of purple corn. Similar to Ribena but fresher and more flavorful.
Pisco Sour, a local alcoholic drink made from white grapes, egg white and dash of cinnamon
Corn and flava beans, an appetizer
Ceviche, a Peruvian concoction and speciality. Not French as I had thought.
Alpaca steak, with salad, rice, potatoes. Carbo overload.
Trout steak, as above.
Local soup of the day, made with veggies, potatoes and innards. Delish!
Cheese, locally made from cow’s milk to be had together with the appetizer of corn
I am sitting in an airport lounge in Josef Chavez International in Lima, Peru waiting for our flight to Miami. We had just flown in from Cuzco in what I believe to be a concord because the plane went so fast – we arrived here in two-thirds of the time it would have if it had flown normally, my fingers and toes still tingling from the altitude changes. The WiFi at the lounge is fantastic, and free. After 4 days of expensive (therefore used very little) WiFi, I latched onto this like a hungry wolf on an alpaca.
But I could have done without the internet for longer, and a non-tether would not have mattered because a world wonder beckoned.
Glorious Machu Picchu.
Thank you for traveling with PeruRail. We wish you a magical and memorable time.
That was the parting message from staff of the Vistadome train when we finally arrived at the station a bit over 3 hours later. I could hardly sit still. I was as excited as when I was about to see the Pyramids of Giza. But this one made me work for it playing peekaboo in an obscure place in the mountains.
The final ascent up the steep mountain to the entrance took another 30mins by bus. At this point, I felt like I could run to the entrance faster than Usain Bolt.
We did all the necessary paperwork and finally, we were in. (You actually needed your passport to enter and you can get a Machu Picchu stamp afterwards. Do it after because there’d be a momentary swell of pride and happiness to see your accomplishment validated.)
I got a glimpse of it as I rounded the corner, but our guide told us not to get excited yet and to climb higher to see the whole thing instead. When we got to the top, he said with a big smile, “Welcome to Machu Picchu.”
And what a welcome it was.
I was gasping at the top. For air or out of awe? I think both. We sat along one of the ledges to listen to our wonderful guide tell us the stories of the how it came to be, how the Incans planned and strategized, their religion, how they lived, how they died, how to tell importance of a person by looking at architecture of the building he/she lived in. Incans also had ‘commandments’ they lived by : To Love, To Learn and To Work. The last two reminded me of my government. Ha!
My heart sang the whole time – chatting about Incans while munching on biscuits (not actually allowed, but do not leave anything behind and you should be fine) and sipping water. The pleasures of life. 🙂
And we met with a friend too – Biscacha, a local Chinchilla.
There was no way one could stay dry. Some degree of wet should be expected when visiting the Falls. Soaked if cautious; Damp if wrapped up like a mummy. Thunderstorms will exponentially increase the certainty of wetness along the extremities, leaving the rest up to the Falls.
Which was what happened to us when we were trekking along the Upper Circuit in the Argentina side of the Falls. The heavens opened and rain came pouring down. But we were ready with our S$2 rain jackets bought from Daiso! We whipped them out, put them on and congratulated ourselves for being so clever.
But alas, our smugness was shortlived.
There is a 12min speedboat ride that visitors can take to go directly under the Bossetti and the San Martin, two of the larger falls in the area accessed via the Lower Circuit. SJ was looking forward to the ride, me not so much. We trudged down the steps hewn out of rock towards Iguazu River and headed for the embarkation point where our ride was waiting. All this time, the rain continued to fall. I was still dry under my raincoat and was determined to stay that way. As we got nearer, we were given life jackets to wear, and waterproof bags to keep our belongings. “Pffftt, what for?”, I thought since my bag was already made wet by rain on the outside. But I took it anyway.
So with our raincoats on, life jackets strapped tight, bag on lap and butt in seat, we were ready to meet the Falls. Off we went to yells and hollers of the excited.
30 choppy seconds later, I felt a gush of cold creep up my bottom. Rainwater. From the pool that accumulated on my lap that had found its way through the front flaps of the raincoat. Already?! I wasn’t even near the Falls yet. But that was a mild taste of what was to come. I had grudgingly said a reluctant goodbye to staying dry.
5 minutes in, we were completely DRENCHED. Hair, body, clothes, socks, shoes, underwear – Everything. Got. Wet. Dashing in and out of the Falls at high speeds was exhilarating, made more so by the rain pelting down on our faces while bobbing about in choppy mud-colored water. It was hard to keep my mouth closed to the river water because I was yelling so much. Pouring water out of my boots had never been so much fun.
The Brazilian side was way more manageable. You get sprayed by 2700 cubic meters per sec of falling waters at Devil’s Throat when you walk the bridge to the main observation point. Very safe with a raincoat. It is an understatement to say that the view from here is spectacular. I have never seen so many rainbows in one place. 🙂
Expecting hot weather, we were pleasantly surprised by the cool summer breeze that greeted us in the morning when we stepped out of the hotel lobby onto the sidewalk leading into Avenida Paulista, Sao Paolo’s business district. Though it was a Sunday, the avenue was abuzz with all sorts of activity: Vendors of craft/antiques flea markets were setting up shop next to the Museum of Art Sao Paolo (MASP); Enthusiastic joggers and cyclists were zipping by this way and that; Eager pets taking their morning strollers for a walk.
Then there were Others
What broke the normalcy of the scene was the large community of hobos who decided that they would share the same address as the skyscrapers of the commercial artery – the occupancy rate was about one every 100m or so. I am not known to exaggerate. They disappear come midday, but their presence was very much felt.
We were warned to be careful by so many. I can see a bit of why that is now. We didn’t feel particularly threatened, though we were more alert than usual and did not carry with us any more than necessary for fear of adding on to the already decent crime statistics. Also, we made sure to get off the streets when night fell. Erring on the side of caution seemed the right thing to do.
People in Sao Paolo
That said, we found Brazilians, or rather Paulistanos, to be very warm and friendly. Smiles and holas are extremely common amongst strangers passing one another in the streets. Landing the plane safely will garner loud, appreciative applause. A smile and nod across the breakfast table will earn you a pat on the back moments later. An elbow that accidentally finds its way into your side, will earn you an apology and a quick rub to ease the pain. Paulistanos are entertainingly expressive, particularly when you don’t quite understand what they are saying; And will turn to their iPhones to translate Portuguese into English to get their message across.
The Ruas (or Streets; I added the ‘s’ for plural and hope it works the same way in Portuguese)
Other than Avenida Paulista, there were a few more streets that we checked out. Rua Haddock Lobo, the one our hotel is on, is a street with rather interesting eateries and stores that sporadically pop up as you go along. If you continued on, you would arrive at Sao Paolo’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue/Champs Élysées/Knightsbridge, Rua Oscar Freire. In all honesty, it is not the equivalent. But aspiring, yes. In case of interest, this is where the flagship store of Havaianas is found.
Bookworms should not miss Livraria Cultura
Once upon a time the largest bookstore in Brazil, it has since spawned more of its kind around the country. The flagship store in Sao Paolo remains its largest chain to this day, and I think it has plans to spread its wings beyond Brazil. It was crowded when we were there, and the airconditioning was not performing optimally so the air was stale…and some parts of the 3-storey establishment smelled sour. Other than that, it felt as if we were visiting a modern public library that sold instead of lent its books.
Trianon Park is worth a visit
Walking into a strange park seemed akin to an open invitation to be robbed. So we have always steered clear of the dubious shades of large, tall trees and overgrown bushes. But this park that had trees over 300 years old was particularly inviting with police standing guard at most corners. 🙂 Add to that people walking large dogs and small, aggressive, yappy ones loudly announcing the presence of other persons within a 5 meter radius, we thought we could dip our toes in for a bit. We were glad we did. Watching a group of Caucasians practicing Lian Gong (I don’t even know what that is) taught by another Caucasian to Chinese orchestral music and a voice counting 一， 二， 三 in the background was amusing to say the least.
One day is too short a time to really see a place for what it is. But I think we stuffed in what we could, and enjoyed our time there. So, would we go back to Brazil?
A resounding yes.
40 hours later, we found ourselves awake at 5am in our hotel room, fiddling with the WIFI signal and passwords on our devices. It is still dark outside and breakfast is an hour and and half away. But we are finally in Sao Paolo.
SJ likes to people-watch. So he made a beeline to the balcony the moment we stepped in our room. And discovered, to our dismay, that the lock on the balcony door separating our room on the first floor from the outside was faulty. We called the front desk and they sent the the maintenance guy who came in with a screwdriver and had it set right in less than a minute. That was fast. I don’t want to think about how easy that was. In Sao Paolo.
“En garde!”, said the brave, sturdy-looking study table to the balcony door while being pushed to stand guard beside it. The room occupants were not so sure.
Defensive thoughts gave way to heavy eyelids. We fell fast asleep only to wake up too early. But it is a new day, and the streets of Sao Paolo beckons.