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.