Iguassu (or Iguazu, or Iguacu Falls) is so incredible it deserves its 3 spellings, or more, if you include versions with or without accents. Then there’s Puerto Iguazu in Argentina and Foz do Iguacu just across the border in Brazil, the towns and airports in the midst of the rainforest, stopping off points for the Falls.
The flight into Iguazu from Mendoza was a tad disappointing! I mean, getting out of Mendoza at lunchtime, having fun on the trolley around the airport and arriving in Iguazu in time for supper was great…
…and the flight itself (well flights, we change in Salta) with views of the Andes and northern Argentina, not to mention we save about 36 hours on the road in buses.. is great too! But, greedy us, we hoped we would get the chance to see the almighty falls from the air as we landed but alas the flight was an hour or so late and it was dark. This is what we’d hoped to see!!
It’s pleasantly hot as we come out if the terminal into the night. We take a cab to our hotel – the Palo Rosa which is perfect. Simple little two bedroom cabins tucked away in a jungle setting but on the edge of town, easy walking distance to everything and with a nice pool.
We find we can exchange money for the dollar blue rate too. If we pay cash for accommodation and food, we’ll be about 25% better off! Good thing, as prices are high. As in Chile – we’re just starting to get used to this after the much more affordable Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia! Travelling with 6 on a family gap year, its hard to keep costs down on accommodation and even though the price per head seems good at an average of £15 a night, when its x6 it eats up our budget fast!
Better news still, we hear the dollar blue rate is going up and rates closer to 8 are possible in Buenos Aires (two months on as I post this I learn the rate has apparently just topped 10 in the last week while the official rate remains 5… unbelievable!)
It’s tempting to jump straight in the pool but we’re hungry too, so find a superb steakhouse across the road ‘El Quincho del Tio Querido’ and share a massive steak between the 6 of us! This is the first real experience of truly special Argentine Chateaubriand which Ben has salivated about for weeks. It lives up to its reputation.
We spend our first day visiting the falls on the Brazil side, taking a taxi ride with the friendly driver who originally picked us up at the airport. He picks us up again later for our return too and helps make sure the border procedures are smooth. The town on the Brazil side is bigger and is called Foz do Iguacu and the Iguacu (in Portuguese) Falls.
We get a great overall view of the falls, taking a good 3 or 4 km of walkways, encountering coatis, cute little fox come rodent creatures that apparently can really give you a bad nip and cause havoc at the café/picnic area. There are signs everywhere showing close-ups of gaping bloody flesh wounds – more than enough to make certain the kids will NOT to pet them!
The falls are simply spectacular…
and towards the end of the walk you can walk right out into them and get very wet!!!
Back to Palo Rosa for a swim and supper at the same place as last night, drawn by the amazing Chateaubriand steak with roquefort sauce.
Our second day, we take a trip with Edson, to Paraguay! Recommended by our friends the Bremners, Edson and his small tour company IguassuFallsTour.com are based on the Brazil side and offer all kinds of trips. Over the double border crossing, we arrive in Ciudad del Este, a discount shopping Mecca for Brazilians, though Brazilians are heavily restricted at border controls.
We decide to take advantage of the opportunity and buy another replacement camera as both ours are suffering horrible spotting from dust that’s got inside the lens after 8000 photos or so! We replaced Martin’s in Chile. They are Sony DSC-HX20V models, one of the best compacts on the market. we did a lot of research before we bought and we’ve been really pleased with them and the 8000 or so pics taken to date apart from this problem and so we’ve bought another and can send the others back with Oma for repair as they are still under warranty.
We also pull out a few hundred US dollars with our debit cards to buy pesos back in Argentina! Then it’s time to get back on schedule with the real purpose of today’s trip, the Itaipu dam, 2nd biggest dam in the world, 7km wide, with 20 turbines. It’s vast and very impressive but hard to get away from the stark reality of the huge amount of rainforest and animals destroyed to make it as well as the world’s largest waterfall by volume.
We visit the lovely Saltos del Monday falls – spectacular but we are spoilt by Iguazu a couple of km away, an excellent museum about Paraguay’s history and then Itaipu zoo – built as part of a conservation exerise and housing many animals saved when the dam was built. We see some great animals and get right up close with some of big cats but feel sad they’re living in some rather small and miserable cages.
We love chatting all about South American politics with Edson who speaks excellent English, is well read and passionately interested in a whole range of topics. After a fab day he drops us back to Puerto Iguazu and we go to a huge restaurant called Pizza Color for supper where we eat more great steak but lousy pizzas! The girls make friends with some French children and draw pictures for one another:) The restaurant accepts payment in dollars at a 7:1 exchange rate – again very handy!
We have a chilled pool and Skyping day, martin and kids lie in, we Skype with several friends back home and have a lot of fun at the pool, then a late afternoon trip to a nearby animal sanctuary with a wonderful guide telling us the tale of each rescued animal and from there to the Hito tri-border lookout where we stand in Argentina and look across the meeting point of the two rivers at Brazil on one bank and Paraguay on the other!
Then we have another full on day at the Falls – this time on the Argentinian side.
This is the up close and personal side and best kept till last because it’s definitely the most spectacular… Miguel our friendly taxi driver takes us.. First we do the lower trail, then the amazing speed boat ride – drenched! But in 35C heat, fantastic!
Our rain coats were utterly pointless! Some others more wisely brought swimming things and changed. You get a watertight dry bag to store clothes, shoes and valuables! It’s hot, our sunniest day here so far, Lara is pretty unimpressed I didn’t bring her swim stuff along or dry stuff to change into!
After lunch of empanadas and being hounded by hungry coatis, we take the Upper walking trails around and over literally hundreds of falls (they are not the highest but sure are the widest) then take a little train out to the walkways for the circuit walk then train and walk to Gargantuas del Diablo devils throat finale!
Luckily the Bremners had recommended we keep this till last and it really is a fantastic finale! To top the experience, there are thousands of lovely butterflies which just land on us and happily sit on the kids hands, there are turtles perched on the bridge supports and we have a long hot trek across about 8 long walkways over the river to see the loudest most spectacular sight here!
Both the visits from Brazil and Argentina can be done independently, taking a cab to the entrances and following the paths and maps. You don’t need a guide, which makes the visits a little more affordable though the park entrance fees are still quite steep!
Our last day in Iguazu is also our last with Oma. She and the kids spend the day chilling by the pool whilst Martin and I pop back into Paraguay by bus (via Brazil as you can’t go direct). It’s cheap and apparently straightforward, apart from the fact that the bus drives off whilst we’re getting our immigration stamps. Not so serious for us but quite funny to see a poor chap watch the bus disappear with his rucksack on board and perform an impressive sprint about half a km up the street to retrieve it!
We wander into the city centre to try to find an ATM. It’s Sunday and quieter but feels a bit scary withdrawing wads of cash at the ATM in the quiet street. We buy some new sunglasses for ourselves and Lara … get a ton of dollars… then try to figure out where the bus stop is to go back?! We can’t find it, so head back to the immigration control and hope we can catch the bus from there. There’s meant to be a bus every 90 minutes but we wait nearly 2.5 hours, during which time we get a couple of suspicious offers to share a dubious looking taxi. Finally the bus comes and we’re back in time for swimming and a great goodbye supper with Oma , across the road at our favourite steak house with a bottle of our new favourite Los Haroldos Malbec.
25th February. A few hours of sorting and packing and sending as much as possible back with Oma! Her suitcase was crammed with essential supplies and Christmas presents when she arrived. Now we use up most of that space to send back various bits n bobs! Our rucksacks are back to size again, which makes Martin, and indeed all of us very happy!
And then all too soon it’s time for sad farewells and Oma heads off in a taxi to cross the border and catch her long series of flights, first to Rio, on to Madrid and eventually London.
The five of us head off to the bus station and board our luxury VIP bus to Buenos Aires. We’d found a company selling tickets at a good price compared to the rest with a further 20% discount for cash. It really pays to go around the booths checking with everyone and asking about discounts for cash – it’s a bit random but we’ve found it beneficial more than once.
The journey is amazing! This is the luxury coach travel what we’ve read about and looked forward to – it really is first class plus, with meals, wine and wifi laid on, but the huge seats that convert to flat beds, with pillow, sheets and blanket and curtain are what really makes it worthwhile! Ahhh! It’s full price for kids and still works out about £90 each with discounts but for an 20 hour trip as luxurious as this and compared to flying, it’s worth every penny!