"Water is the driver of nature."
Leonardo Da Vinci
Argentina or Brazil? Normally a question to be asked about your favourite for the World Cup but, for travellers in South America, it's more likely to be focused on from which country you're going to visit Iguazu Falls.
If you're unaware of the dilemma, then the essential info is that the Iguazu Falls (or Foz do Iguaçu in Portugese) are in a curious little part of the world. Within an hour's distance from any point, you could travel by bus to Argentina, Paraguay or Brazil. The Falls themselves straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil - and visits are possible on either side.
But, for those travelling on a tight budget, you might only be able to afford one.
We made a point of consulting many travellers who had already visited the falls about which side they would recommend; without exception, Argentina was the pick.
Although Brazil gives you an unparalleled and undisturbed panoramic view of the 275 individual waterfalls crashing over an 80 metre cliff, it is the Argentine side which brings you in direct contact with their immense power of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Upon first sight, your first word uttered is likely to be 'wow' or, similar to visiting American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, "Poor Niagra!"
For although waterfalls in Latin America have become our number one over-rated attraction, whichever country we're in, there's a reason why Iguazu is a constant entry on all those 'things to see before you die' lists.
With well-constructed metal and wooden walkways, similar to those at Perito Moreno Glacier, one can wander through emerald rain-forest, across the rushing Rio Iguazu and stand in awe on viewpoints right on the edge of the precipice. If you aren't amazed by the Falls, you will still be asking yourself for days how exactly some of the infrastructure was built and how many workers must have died (or not earned nearly enough) putting it all together for our pleasure.
Here's our guide to planning a day trip to Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian side, including our top recommendations for making the most of the day.
things to know before your visit
At the time of publication, a day-trip (including round-trip bus) to the park is going to cost at least $360AR (£18/$26 USD) per person, without factoring in your food and accommodation.
This is one of the principal tourist destinations in South America, so it's likely to be busy whichever day or season you visit. At certain viewing points, the crowds can be a little unbearable but, if you are patient and wait it out, they will usually disperse for a few moments allowing you to get a shot or unobstructed view of the Falls. However, as with Machu Picchu, the sheer number of tourists are likely to piss you off at least a little and possibly impact on your enjoyment, so try your best to arrive early morning or stick around until later afternoon to enjoy the site at its least busy.
The park is vast and, between walking the trails and breaks for lunch, you should plan on spending at least 5 or 6 hours there. If you intend on visiting the Brazilian side, keep that for another day.
The main way of navigating the site is on foot and with the 'jungle train'. From the entrance, the first thing you need to do is grab a map and make your way to the 'train station', where the little tourist train will bring you very slowly to the first pitstop. We'd recommend you disembark there in order to explore the Falls via the Superior (viewpoints along upper rim of waterfall) and Inferior trails(longer walk on the bottom end of the falls with the main attraction being the lookout to watch Salto Bossetti and Dos Hermanastrails). All the trails are well sign-posted and marked.
This should comfortably take you 2-3 hours after which you should return to the 'train station', which has bathrooms and an eating area, to continue onto the incredible 'Garganta del Diablo' or 'Devil's Throat'.
The 150 metre wide Garganta is the star of the show if you visit the Argentine side. Made up of 14 waterfalls, the viewing point is right on the edge of the thundering water and, as an experience, it's parts exhilarating, parts terrifying and parts unforgettable. You will get wet.
As we mentioned above, the park and its trails are a feat of architectural, structural and organisational genius and we recommend you explore them all at nice leisurely pace. As you can probably already tell, quite a lot of walking is involved, so we'd recommend that you wear a good pair of trainers or walking shoes. Also, as you're certain to get wet at some point, make sure you've got the necessary to protect your camera equipment (bring plastic bags or rain covers for your backpack).
Included in your entry ticket is the short ferry ride to San Martin Island (board the boat by following the signs on the Inferior trail) for an alternative view of the waterfalls. Unfortunately this was closed during our visit due to high rain-fall. There is also the option to take a 12 minute high octane boat ride which brings you right up to the thundering waters (you will get soaked) - trips depart from the dock for San Martin Island and cost the quite frankly insane $350AR per person (update January 2018: this is now $1200AR!!).
Given the tropical setting, rain is also a likely occurrence (as you can probably tell from our photos, it was a big part of our visit). Try to keep an eye on weather reports prior to visiting Puerto Iguazu as there is no doubt that the Falls would be at their most stunning when the sun is shining.
Food and drink on the site is very expensive (there's even a Subway kiosk!). If you're on a budget like us, then we'd recommend you take a packed-lunch, some snacks and plenty water.
Coatis are both an attraction and a pest at the falls. The little critters are very cute but don't be under any illusions - they will try and steal your food and the have very little fear of humans. In the designated cafe areas, you're likely to see more than a dozen wandering around individually or in a pack. Although everyone's trying to get close and take pictures, please do exercise common sense and precaution - they run the place and they do bite.
Aside from coatis, you might be lucky enough to spot some monkeys playing in the trees. There are also thousands of beautiful butterflies around the park, so keep your eyes open.
How to get to the Falls from Puerto Iguazu
From the central bus terminal in Puerto Iguazu, you will find departures every 20-30 minutes, starting from 7 a.m. Plan to turn up for services at :00, :20, and :40 past the hour but don't be surprised if these vary slightly. Don't worry about buying your ticket in advance for the bus, as you can simply turn up and buy the ticket for the next departure. We went with the company called Rio Uruguay and there were no issues.
The bus will shuttle you and hundreds of other tourists to the park entrance (journey time is around 40 minutes), with a return ticket costing $100AR per person in January 2016 (updated August 2017 - this is now $150AR)
At the park, entry tickets for foreigners costs $260AR per person (update August 2017 - this is now $500AR per person). If you plan on spending more than a day here, then remember to ask them to validate the ticket on exit as this will give you a discounted entry the following day (50% off at time of writing). As mentioned above, this ticket includes travel on the little train and a boat across to San Martin Island, however the boat trip which brings you up close and personal with the Falls costs extra.
To return to town, you'll find the pick-up point just outside the park entrance. Buses will turn up every 30 minutes or so, but just remember that you can only use the company with which you bough the original ticket. If you plan on staying later than 5 p.m., make sure to confirm the last pick-up times before you enter the park.
where we stayed in puerto iguazu
Aside from visiting the Falls over the course of one or two days, there really isn't too much else to do in Puerto Iguazu. That's not to say the town is unpleasant (although it's nothing to write home about), but just that most travellers - long and short term - won't be stopping over for much time.
We stayed at Poramba Hostel, a friendly little hostel a few minutes walk from the bus terminal. The staff were very helpful during our stay, providing information about where to eat and information on visiting the Falls. Located in a quiet residential street, they offer good, spacious dorms and a few private rooms which, although lacking a little in natural light, are more than adequate for a night or two . The best part is the small pool whilst they have also a well-equipped kitchen. Delicious pastries are provided for the free breakfast, alongside tea, coffees and juices. They also have an adorable pussy-cat in residence.
Check out their rates and book a room here.
onward travel from puerto iguazu
Pick your country! From the bus terminal, there are regular departures to the town of Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil (1 hour) from where you can travel onwards to the Brazilian side of the Falls or take an overnight connection elsewhere in the country. Alternatively, there are regular departures to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.
If you're staying in Argentina, then your likely next stop is Posadas (6 hours) from where you can connect to Buenos Aires (13 hours) or Resistencia (6 hours). As bus travel in Argentina is very pricey, keep an eye on flight prices to your next stop are rates are often favourable.