The Iguazu waterfalls in South America are one of the continent’s most famous sights. But why? Let’s start with a few facts about Iguazu falls and answers to some commonly asked questions.
Later in this article, I’ll share with you my top tips for making the most of your visit to the falls, including when to go, how to avoid the crowds, and which extra attractions are worth your money.
Iguazu Falls Facts and FAQs
Are Iguazu falls a wonder of the world?
Yes, they are! Until recently, when people spoke of the “wonders of the world”, they were generally referring to the seven wonders of the ancient world, most of which don’t exist anymore.
Then, in 2007, about two thousand years after the ancient seven wonders were first defined, a global vote was held as part of the New 7 Wonders of the World campaign. The seven wonders selected in that campaign are all man-made wonders, and they include the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Next came the New 7 Wonders of Nature campaign in 2011, and Iguazu falls was selected as one of these natural wonders.
Are Iguazu falls worth it?
Absolutely! As someone who has spent the better part of 20 years traveling and has visited 111 countries and countless waterfalls, I can honestly say that the Iguazu falls are the most spectacular waterfalls I’ve ever seen. A visit to the falls is an absolute must-do on any South America itinerary.
Are Iguazu falls bigger than Niagara?
Yes. The Iguazu falls are both taller and wider than Niagara falls. The longest drop in the Iguazu waterfalls system is 82 meters (269 feet), whereas Niagara falls are only 50 meters (165 feet) tall. In terms of width, the Iguazu falls are four times wider than Niagara falls.
Are Iguazu falls safe for tourists?
Yes. Iguazu falls are a very popular tourist destination, and there is no reason to fear for your safety. In Puerto Iguazú and Foz do Iguaçu, take the same precautions as you would in any city.
The biggest danger is probably the coatis. They look cute and cuddly, but they will bite and scratch you to get at your food if given the chance. The heat can be pretty intense too at certain times of the year.
Occasionally, when the water flow is especially high after an intense period of rain, certain sections of the park may be closed because the walkways are too slippery and therefore dangerous. This happened during my first visit to the falls, in 2009, when the Garganta del Diablo in Argentina was closed for this reason.
Are Iguazu falls in Argentina or Brazil?
Both. The Iguazu falls stretch for 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) along the length of the Iguazu River, on the border between Argentina and Brazil. Almost 80% of the falls are on the Argentine side, even though more than 95% of the Iguazu River Basin is on the Brazilian side.
However, this means that when visiting the Brazilian side you have fantastic panoramic views of all the falls on the other side.
Are Iguazu falls in Paraguay?
No. Ciudad del Este in Paraguay is not far away, just across the Paraná River from Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, but none of the Iguazu falls are located within Paraguay’s borders.
Paraguay does have another set of falls, called the Monday Falls or Salto del Monday, that empty in the Paraná river nearby. If the Monday Falls were located anywhere else in the world, they would be a major tourist attraction. Sadly, they simply cannot compete with their world-famous neighbor across the border.
What Else is There to See Nearby?
If you're looking for nearby places to visit in Brazil as part of a larger trip, I recommend the Pantanal wetlands and the eco-friendly city of Curitiba. The Pantanal is the best place to see jaguars and other wildlife in Brazil, and Curitiba has lots of lovely parks and an incredible vegan food scene.
Both these places are relatively close by in the grand scheme of things, but keep in mind that distances in Brazil are huge! You're still looking at an overnight bus trip. Luckily, Brazil has some of the best buses in the world, so the journey will be comfortable.
Why is Iguazu falls famous?
Because it is indescribably beautiful. No photo can do it justice; you really have to see the falls to believe it.
A Few More Iguazu Falls Facts
- The name “Iguazu” means “big water” in the Guarani language spoken by the indigenous people of the area.
- There are various accepted spellings of the name of the falls: Iguazu Falls, Iguazú Falls, Iguaçu Falls, and Iguassu Falls. In Spanish, they are called “Iguazú”, and in Portuguese they are “Iguaçu”. In English, they are generally known as Iguazu Falls or, less commonly Iguassu Falls.
- In total, the Iguazu waterfalls system includes between 150 and 300 individual waterfalls. The number of falls varies seasonally, depending on the flow and water level of the river.
- While Victoria Falls in Southern Africa has the largest single curtain of water in the world, the Iguazu waterfalls system as a whole is wider than Victoria Falls. Iguazu is split into many different waterfalls and islands.
Impressions of the Iguazu Waterfalls
But statistics and figures don’t tell the whole story. What’s it really like to gaze in awe at more than 200 waterfalls? Or to speed straight towards one in a boat and stay underneath it until your whole body is soaked to the bone?
I’ve traveled around more than 100 countries and have visited A LOT of waterfalls. In my 20 years of traveling, the Iguazu waterfalls are not only the best falls in South America I’ve seen, they are the most spectacular falls in the world.
The first time I visited the falls, though, I was extremely disappointed. In my case, it was because of the weather, but there are also other factors that could ruin your trip to Iguazu, such as the crowds, immigration procedures, or simply missing out on parts of the falls due to poor time management.
It wasn’t until I returned 13 years later that I finally got to experience the full power and beauty of Iguazu.
In this article, I’ll explain how you can avoid disappointment and make sure you get the most out of your visit to the Iguazu waterfalls.
There’s a lot of talk about which side of the falls is better, Brazil or Argentina. The truth is, they each have different things to offer, and if you’re going to make the effort to go the falls in the first place, you really should see both sides.
Allow yourself two full days just for exploring both sides of the falls. If you want to see visit any other attractions in the area, such as the Itaipú Dam or Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, factor in an additional day for that.
How to Get to Iguazu Falls
You have three options for visiting the Iguazu waterfalls: (1) do everything by public transport; (2) go on an all-inclusive tour; or (3) take private transportation, but without a tour guide.
In my view, Iguazu tours are completely unnecessary and take all the fun out of exploring the falls on your own. Large tour groups also clog up the path ways and can ruin the experience for other visitors, so I do not recommend this option.
If you’re staying in Foz do Iguaçu, it’s easy to reach the Brazilian side of the falls by taking the No. 120 public bus, which runs between the city, the airport and the falls. Tickets cost less than four reais.
From Foz, it’s also possible to visit the Argentine side of the falls on public transport, but I recommend taking a private shuttle service instead.
This will save you a lot of time, as you will avoid having to switch buses in Argentina, and your driver can also help you pass through the immigration procedures quickly.
Check visa requirements for your nationality, as these do change. Until recently, Americans, Canadians and Australians had to pay a $160 reciprocity fee to enter Argentina. Brazil visa costs were similarly high, at least for Americans, which made visiting both sides of the Iguazu waterfalls an expensive undertaking.
As of November 2018, if you are American, Canadian or Australian, you can enter Argentina for free. You do need a visa for Brazil, but it can be obtained online an e-visa that you print at home, and it costs about $40. Apply at least a couple of weeks before your departure.
On our most recent visit to Iguazu, Nick and I arranged transport to the Argentine side through Katharina House for just 50 reais per person round trip. This was a great deal, as other hotels were charging 70 to 75. And the 50 reais even included a free caipirinha at the hostel bar!
Our driver, Aníval, drove us and two Brazilian tourists to the Iguazú National Park in Argentina in the morning, waited there for us all day and then drove us back in the afternoon. He was friendly and helped us pass smoothly through immigration.
This costs only a little more than going by public transport and was well worth it for the time and hassle that we saved.
If you go on your own, you’ll have to take a bus from Foz do Iguacu in Brazil to the bus station in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, and then another bus from there to the falls, wasting a lot of time on transport.
And, while the Brazilian side of the falls can be seen in half a day, you really need a full day to fully explore the Argentine side. This is especially true if you plan to take the boat ride underneath the falls, which I highly recommend.
Things to Do at Iguazu Falls
There are quite a few things to do at Iguazú National Park in Argentina, including:
- The Devil’s Throat – the highest and deepest of the falls
- The Circuito Superior – upper walking trail
- The Circuito Inferior – lower walking trail
- The Ecological Train – train that runs between the main attractions
- The Macuco Trail – trail through the forest leading to the only waterfall where swimming is allowed
- The Iguazu Falls Boat Ride (Gran Aventura) – see detailed description below
You’ll need to plan your day carefully to be able to hit as many of these sights as possible. Even then, you won’t be able to squeeze all of these into one day, so you’ll need to choose between the Gran Aventura boat ride and the Macuco Trail.
Alternatively, you could come back a second day, in which case you should ask for a stamp on your way out. With this stamp, you will only be charged half price the next day.
Iguazu Falls Boat Ride
We found that most of the information we had read about the Iguazu falls boat ride was out of date. In the end, the boat ride ended up being the biggest highlight of our Iguazu falls experience, so I’m really glad we took the time to research it and figure it out!
Here’s everything you need to know about the Iguazu falls boat ride options in 2018:
You may come across older accounts from people who took a short, 12-minute boat ride. This is not currently available, because there is construction work on the dock near Isla San Martín where those boat used to leave from. The free ferry to Isla San Martín has also been discontinued, at least for now.
The only boat option on the Argentine side is the Gran Aventura, run by a company called Iguazu Jungle. The adventure starts near the park entrance, where you board an open-top jeep for a ride through the jungle to the river. From there you get on the boat, which takes you to some amazing viewpoints right in front of the falls and then goes directly underneath them. The jeep then drops you back in the center of the park.
Watch the video below to see highlights of our boat trip at the falls.
It’s best to do the boat ride first thing, so you don’t waste time going all the way back down to the entrance later on. As of October 2018, the price was 1,500 pesos, which was about 33 euros. You can also pay for the boat ride in dollars or reais, or with credit or debit card. The 600-peso park entrance fee, however, can only be paid in pesos or with a debit card. There is an ATM at the entrance.
At current exchange rates, 1,500 pesos was much cheaper than the 215 reais charged in Brazil for the Macuco Safari, which is essentially the same boat trip as the Gran Aventura. Inflation is high in Argentina right now, and prices and exchange rates are changing all the time, so check here for the latest price: http://iguazujungle.com/paseo-gran-aventura.php
It’s best to book the Gran Aventura in advance so you don’t have to wait in line. A staff member at Katharina House in Foz do Iguaçu took us to a travel agency in a nearby hotel where we could book the trip without paying any additional charges. You’ll still need to book a time slot when you arrive, though.
While we were buying our entrance tickets, our driver Aníval ran over and booked us a time slot for the Gran Aventura at 9:15am. It was already 9:20 at that point, but that didn’t seem to be a problem. The jeeps and boats seemed to be running pretty much continuously, one after the other.
Be aware that you will get absolutely soaked on the boat. The staff will give you a large waterproof bag to put your things in, but they don’t give you a poncho.
Bring one yourself, or bring a change of clothes and keep them in the dry bag, along with your shoes. I chose to wear just a bathing suit on the boat, which worked out pretty well. I was pretty cold, but the advantage was that I didn’t have wet clothes to carry around afterwards.
Visiting Iguazu Falls South America: 2-Day Itinerary
Below is my suggested two-day itinerary for visiting the Iguazu waterfalls, including both the Argentine and Brazilian sides. The itinerary includes my top tips for making the most of your time in the parks and beating the crowds.
Day 1: Iguazu Falls Brazil Side
In Brazil, the falls are in a protected area called the Iguaçu National Park, which opens at 9am. Even though it only takes a half day at most to see the Brazilian side, to beat the crowds you should leave Foz do Iguaçu at 8am on the 120 bus to be sure of getting there when it opens.
Buy your tickets at the automatic ticket machines; it will be faster than at the ticket windows. Prices vary by nationality.
We managed to get the Brazilian price by accident, just because Nick spoke Portuguese to the staff member who was there helping people by their tickets. You could try saying you’re Brazilian when prompted by the machine, but if you choose English as your language this might raise suspicions.
Once you have your ticket, you will need to board the free double-decker bus provided by the park service. Take the bus all the way to the fourth and final stop, Porto Canoas. You will beat the crowds this way.
From the bus stop, walk back in the direction you just came, and you will reach the top of the viewing platform that looks down on the falls. This is the Devil’s Throat, or Garganta do Diabo in Portuguese, although you can’t see as much of it from here as you can from the Argentine side.
I actually liked the views better from here than from the Argentine side, but I seem to be in the minority on that point.
From the top, take the elevator down to the passarela. This is the part where you get wet! Many people bring ponchos to the Brazilian side. We didn’t, so we got wet, but it was sunny so our clothes dried out pretty quickly.
After the passarela, take a walk along the trilha das cataratas back to the third bus stop. You will pass lots of people walking in the other direction. Remember how I said you would beat the crowds this way?
The first two bus stops are only for additional paid excursions, but these are poor value compared to what you get on the Argentine side for cheaper or even for free.
If you reach the end of the trail and still want more, you can always walk the trilha again, back to Porto Canoas, and take the bus back to the entrance from there. Even then, you’ll be done by lunch time.
If you do want to eat in the park, I suggest bringing your own food. There aren’t many plant-based options at the food court beyond açaí and French fries. There is also a cafeteria and a fancier restaurant that might have more, but they will be overpriced.
In order to better spread out your activities over the course of the two days, you could consider doing the Macuco Safari boat ride here instead of the Gran Aventura boat ride in Argentina.
This will give you more time to explore the many other attractions on the Argentina side. When we visited in October 2018, it was much cheaper on the Argentine side, but check current prices and exchange rates, as these are always changing.
Day 2: Iguazu Falls Argentina Side
To reach the Iguazu National Park in Argentina, take the shuttle service leaving at 8am from Katharina House in Foz du Iguaçu. We did this and were able to start the Gran Aventura by 9:30am.
1. Gran Aventura
See description of Iguazu Falls Boat Ride above. Alternatively, if you decide not to do the Gran Aventura, then consider doing the Sendero Macuco instead, which is 3.5km each way (7km return) through the forest and leads to a waterfall that you can swim in.
2. Circuito Superior
After the boat ride, the jeep will drop in the center of the park, near the Old Hotel Cataratas. From here, take the Circuito Superior trail (1.75 km), which will lead you across the tops of several waterfalls, including the Dos Hermanos, Bossetti, Chico, and Ramirez falls.
Instead of eating at the food court area, take a picnic lunch and eat on one of the benches along the path of here. You will avoid the coatis this way. We brought hummus, vegan cashew cheese, a tomato tofu spread, tomatoes, pita bread, edamame, crackers and paçoca, all of which you can pick up at the Super Muffato supermarket in Foz do Iguaçu.
3. Circuito Inferior (1.6 km)
At 1.6 kilometers in length, this circuit is only slightly shorter than the Circuito Superior. The “inferior” part of the name just refers to the fact lies lower than the upper (superior) circuit. But don’t let the name fool you. In my opinion, the views from this circuit are much better than those from the upper one. You will actually be able to see the falls that you were standing on top of on the Circuito Superior.
4. Devil’s Throat Iguazu
Take the “ecological” train from Estación Cataratas to Garganta del Diablo. The train leaves every 30 minutes, at :10 and :40 past the hour. Tickets are free, but you do need to pick up a free ticket at the ticket desk. Sometimes the staff check and won’t let you on without one.
For most visitors, the Garganta del Diablo on the Argentine side seems to be the biggest highlight of their trip to Iguazu. While the falls are certainly powerful here, and it’s humbling to be right in the middle of them, I honestly preferred the Brazilian side of the Garganta.
For me, beauty trumps power, but apparently, I have weird tastes when I comes to waterfalls.
The return train from the Garganta del Diablo station is on the hour and the half hour. If you’ve arranged transport back to Foz do Iguaçu, you’ll need to take the 4pm train in order to get back on time for a 5pm departure.
Iguazu Falls Attractions to Avoid
There are some attractions in the area that exploit animals for tourists’ entertainment, so be sure to avoid them. They are the Bosque Guaraní Zoo in Foz do Iguaçu, the Zoológico Regional y Vivero Forestal in Paraguay, the Parque das Aves near the Iguaçu National Park in Brazil, and the Bela Vista Ecological Refuge near the Itaipu Dam.
Even though the latter uses the word “refuge” in its name, in reality it’s just a glorified show, where wild animals are locked up in cages and put on display for tourists. The “refuge” is associated with the Dam and is an effort to compensate for the environmental destruction it caused, by “rescuing” animals and educating the public about the environment. It’s really all about PR.
If you want to see wildlife displaced by the dam, there are some legitimate biological sanctuaries nearby, such as the Refugio Mbaracayú on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.
Also keep an eye out for wild animals on the trails Iguazu Falls! We saw a toucan, an agouti, a huge iguana and some smaller lizards, other beautiful birds, and of course loads of coatis!
Apparently, monkeys are pretty common too, and if you’re super lucky you might even spot a puma in the jungle on the Gran Aventura.
Vegan Food at Iguazu Falls
Since we used Foz do Iguaçu as our base for visiting the falls, we ate all our meals there, apart from the picnics we brought with us to the national parks.
While Foz is not Brazil’s most vegan-friendly city, there are a few decent options, and one really stand-out vegan-friendly restaurant.
Restaurants in Foz do Iguaçu
Pop Art + Black Cat Café
This is a vegetarian and mostly vegan café. For lunch, they have three options: a burger, a risotto and an “executive” meal. We had the burger and the risotto, but unfortunately, we didn’t like them much. The brownie and brigadeiro for dessert was the best part of our meal there.
Equilibrio Gastronomia Funcional
This café has a focus on healthy, allergen-free eating. There are at least five vegan dishes on the menu. We tried the stroganoff, the meatballs and the stuffed eggplant.
Of those, the stuffed eggplant was a clear favorite. The stroganoff was more of a mild tofu curry and didn’t really taste like stroganoff.
The chocolate cookies made with sweet potato are also pretty good. They take last orders around 6:30pm, so go early if you want dinner here.
La Bella Pizza
This is a typical Brazilian pizzeria that happened to be near our hotel. You can choose up to three different flavors for one pizza, and the staff will put different toppings on each of the three sections. They’re also happy to make pizza without cheese on request. We chose one third mushrooms, one third palm hearts and one third fresh tomatoes.
Our meal at La Strega was the best we ate in Foz by far. It’s an Italian restaurant with a full-page vegan menu that consists mostly of pasta and risotto dishes.
They also offer a platter of vegan meats, but it’s pretty expensive compared to the other dishes. Nick had the spaghetti all’amatriciana, while I chose the pumpkin ravioli with a sauce of tomatoes, leeks and black olives. Both were delicious!
According to a recent Instagram post, in November 2018 they added even more vegan items to their menu, including appetizers, main dishes and desserts.
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A toda essa galera do bem, nossa admiração e respeito! Para nós, é uma honra tê-los em nossa casa. Em comemoração ao mês do Veganismo, ampliamos as opções em nosso menu, com novas entradas, pratos e sobremesas, para atendê-los cada vez melhor! Sejam sempre bem-vindos! 20% off em todos cardápio vegano durante o mês de novembro. #respeitoavida #gentedobem #govegan
This is an all-vegetarian buffet. Like most buffet restaurants in Brazil, it’s only open for lunch. We never made it there, since we chose to bring a picnic lunch to the parks instead. If you finish early on the day you visit the Brazilian side of the falls and decide to have lunch in town, this could be a good option.
This large supermarket in Foz do Iguaçu is great for stocking up on picnic items. Look for the refrigerated section in the back with hummus, tofu-based spreads and vegan cream cheese. It’s in between the “pizzas e lanches” section and the “fiamberia” section.
They also have vegan hard cheese in a different refrigerated aisle, where the lactose-free dairy products are. And then there’s a health food aisle marked “sem gluten, sem lactose” with fun snacks like seaweed crisps and roasted edamame.
Iguazu Falls Hotels - Where to Stay in Iguazu Falls
We stayed at Iguassu Central Bed & Breakfast in Foz do Iguaçu, not too far from the TTU bus station. The owner Nilton speaks English well and gave us lots of great info.
If hostels are more your style, the nearby Katharina House at Rua Tarobá 952 also seems friendly. This is where we booked our transport to the Argentine side, and we also enjoyed a caipirinha here at the bar, which was included in the price of the transport!
The staff here will be happy to arrange Iguazu falls tours or answer any questions you have about what to do in Iguazu falls.
Iguazu Falls Weather and the Best Time to Visit Iguazu Falls
The falls are in a humid subtropical climate, which means that both temperatures and rainfall are high year-round, although there are seasonal variations.
The humidity and heat are at their most extreme in the summer (December to February), whereas the water level is lowest in winter (June to August). Neither of these is ideal.
The rainy season runs from November to March. This leads to higher water levels and greater flow, but this impressive spectacle will be lost on you if you have to view it through the rain and fog.
Your best bet is to come in the spring or autumn, and to try to time your visit to fall on a sunny day.
The first time Nick and I visited Iguazu Falls, back in 2009, it was almost completely shrouded in fog. I could hear thunderous waterfalls pounding all around me, but I could barely see any of them. It was a huge disappointment!
On our next visit, in 2018, we watched the weather forecast carefully. When we saw that several days of rain were predicted, we postponed our Iguazu waterfalls visit and looked for other things to do in Brazil while we waited out the rain.
It was well worth it! The Iguazu waterfalls are one of the most spectacular sights in all of South America, if not the world.
Depending on the weather, a visit to Iguazu could be the biggest highlight of your trip or the biggest disappointment. If you can be flexible and have the time to spare, hold out for good weather.