At the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay you can find Iguaçu Falls. A beautiful piece of nature, in an enormous national park, close to the town of Foz do Iguaçu.
We arrive at Foz do Iguaçu by nightbus from Sao Paulo, which took about 17 hours. Luckily, as we mentioned before, buses here are very comfortable, except for the air conditioning which is insanely cold. But it’s sort of possible to get some sleep.
Our Couchsurfing host Bruno gave us a clear description on how to get to his house in Foz do Iguaçu, the Brazilian village close to the falls. We take another bus from the terminal which takes us closer to his house.
The people in the bus are very helpful and they all want to point us in the right direction. If we would have asked I think someone would have walked us up to the house even, but we didn’t of course.
Once we get to the house we ring the door bell and a roommate opens. Bruno lives in a student house with 5 others, so this will be a cozy stay. Bruno is still at work so the roommate shows us to our bedroom, we drop our stuff and decide to go out to explore the town a bit.
Foz do Iguaçu is a small Brazilian city located at the border of Argentina and Paraguay. In the middle of the city there’s a zoo with free entry. Even though it is not a very big zoo, most of the animals have quite a lot of space to move around in their cages. Still it’s kind of sad to see that they are locked up just for our entertainment, especially with this heat. Luckily the zoo is located in some sort of small forest/park so the animals do have a lot of shade. The zoo is run by volunteers and donations provide money for food and maintenance.
Eating out in Argentina
After our small city walk we go back to our house and by then it is only half an hour until Bruno arrives. He welcomes us with open arms and is thinking about taking us out to eat empanada’s in Argentina. Of course we don’t say no to that! Especially not after loving the empanada’s in Ilha Grande and Bruno telling us that they are the best in Argentina.
Apparently a lot of inhabitants of Foz do Iguaçu go to Puerto Iguazú on a regular basis. Puerto Iguazú is the city on the Argentinian side of the waterfall. Here they have nice food and it’s a lot cheaper than Foz. Here it’s rather normal that people cross the border just to have a bite, according to Bruno. So we get in his car and after 10 minutes we are at the Argentinian border. Bruno explains to the man that we are just going in and out of the country for a quick bite, the man nods and we get our next stamp in our passports.
In Puerto Iguazú there seems to be some sort of festival going on. It is a small food festival with music and a lot of market stands in the streets, selling all kinds of traditional Argentinian delicacies. From stuffed olives to all kinds of meat and from empanada’s to delicious cookies.
Swimming in the waterfall and giant beers and pizza
Bruno is the best host ever. Over the time we stayed with him he took us to a waterfall somewhere in Foz. A very beautiful spot to swim and have some beers. We also had the biggest and cheapest pizza and beers I’ve ever seen. We watched the sunset together on the bridge between Argentina and Brazil. We went out dancing, and did a small pub crawl in Foz. Happy times!
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
A lot of Brazilians that live in Foz do Iguaçu go to Paraguay every now and then to do some cheap shopping. They go to a small city called Ciudad del Este, which is just across the border. We have also been here for a day with Bruno as our guide. We drive in Bruno’s car towards the border and find a parking spot, still in Brazil. It’s a less fancy neighborhood of Foz do Iguaçu and according to Bruno this is much like Ciudad del Este.
Because there are a lot of cheap stores for clothes and a lot of Paraguayans that own these stores. The clothes are delivered every morning in huge bags (2 people can easily fit in), coming from São Paulo mostly, and right after delivery there are loads of people going through the bags or even buying complete bags without knowing what’s inside. We enter a store here and dive into a few huge piles of clothes. Each piece of clothing is 1 Real (30 euro cents) and we buy a few nice things. Too bad we weren’t here in the morning, that would’ve been quite an experience.
After shopping we walk across the bridge to Paraguay. From every corner cars are honking at us and people shouting if we would like to cross the bridge by car. Apparently that’s the thing here, take the people across the bridge for a few dollars. Bruno tells us that there are people here, doing this for a living, driving up and down the bridge all day. But it’s only a 10 minute walk so we don’t pay attention to them and just keep on going. While walking the bridge we see a lot of taxis and cars with only 2 people in it and the back seat stuffed with bags. Also there are lots of people crossing on foot with trolleys and shopping carts full of stuff. Hell, we even see a brand new tractor being towed across the bridge! Bruno tells us that Brazil sells agricultural machinery to Paraguay so Paraguay can produce more agricultural goods to export back to Brazil. Makes sense, right?
Halfway the bridge there’s a motorcycle standing still with a brown package (read: the size of half an elephant) tied to the back of it. The police is standing right next to it, but the driver is nowhere to be found. Drug trade is one of the major problems here but still there isn’t much border control. Some people are picked at random but most of them are left untouched.
The view from the bridge upon the city is bizarre. It has a lot of similarities with Las Vegas. There are only tall buildings with huge neon lit signs advertising brands that no one has ever heard of. There are only 2 reasons to go shopping here. Either to score quality products of these unknown brands, or to score cheap brand products. For Brazilians these are pretty cheap, for us the price difference is not that big, at least not for the items we were looking for.
Bruno practically forbids us to talk to the people here that hand out flyers, if it is somehow possible we shouldn’t even look at them he says. Any form of communication with these people, who probably use the flyers as a cover up to sell drugs, can cause you a lot of trouble.
It’s very hard though not to talk to them, because there’s someone handing out flyers literally every 3 meters. It’s also very unnatural to ignore people that talk to you, because this isn’t in our system. At the end of the day we are delighted to be back in the ‘normal’ world. No more yelling people, or people that want something from you, wonderful! Despite all this, it was an unique experience that we wouldn’t have missed for the world. If you go here though, make sure to speak the language or have someone that does, that helps a lot to get rid of the flyer people. On the other hand, it is a lot easier to ignore people when you have no idea what they are saying, lol.
Bruno told us that the waterfalls can be seen from 2 different sides; the Brazilian side and the Argentinian side. First we’re going to see the Brazilian side of the waterfalls, called Iguaçu Falls.
We take one of the many buses from Foz do Iguaçu to the national park where the waterfalls are and get out at the main entrance. We instantly notice that this is a tourist hot spot because all the signs are in Portuguese, Spanish and English and the personnel speaks English fluently. Entrance to the park is about 65 Real and includes the bus ride to the waterfalls, about 6 miles from the park entry.
During the bus ride there are numerous stops where you can get out of the bus and start your hike through the park. At the end you get to the path that leads to the waterfalls. It took us about 3 hours to see the entire park (but we didn’t do the long walk halfway the bus track). We were very lucky that the sun was out because that revealed a lot of beautiful rainbows.
Even though the sun made it a very hot day, the end of the path was very refreshing. There is a small bridge that leads practically into the center of the waterfall/river. Once you are on the bridge it’s impossible to stay dry with all the water falling all around you. Awesome!
Make sure to watch your belongings and especially your food because the place is full of cute little quati. Cute as they look, they are little terrorists on a mission for food. Very fast with razor sharp teeth and claws. One managed to steal one of the nectarines that fell out of our bag. It was on the floor for less than a second but that was more than enough time for them to snatch it.
Yes, this is a bit confusing, but good to know when visiting the falls. If you see a sign saying Iguaçu, that means the Brazilian falls. Iguazú on the other hand, are the Argentinian falls. It took us some time to figure this out as well. It is especially tricky when looking for the right bus, so pay attention to the details. Before you know it you are in another county.
The next sunny day we got, it was time for us to visit the Argentinian side of the waterfall. This park is a lot bigger and you can easily spend a day here. We took a bus from Foz do Iguaçu to Puerto Iguazú and halfway we were kindly requested to leave the bus to go through customs. Once we got our stamps we could get back in the bus and continue our way. For a moment we were scared that the bus wouldn’t wait, but luckily all went well. There were even a few backpackers in the bus who left all their belongings in the bus while going through customs. Speaking about trust!
The bus stops at a traffic light and informs us where to go. From Puerto Iguazú it’s one more bus to the entrance of the park. On the other side of the road we can take the final bus or take a taxi. Most of the times there’s a taxi right at the bus stop, charging the same price as the bus for 3 people. Try to find more people to share your taxi with and it will even be cheaper than the bus.
At first we were a little skeptic when the taxi driver approached us, but the bus rates are written in the bus stand so you can always check it. Together with a similar skeptic Brit we get into the taxi and the driver turns out to be a very helpful and friendly man. He used to be a tour guide at the park so he knows all about it. By the time we get out of our taxi we are all set to go, even with our own map we got from the driver.
When going to the park make sure to bring enough cash, because there is only one ATM machine. Most of the time it has run out of cash because every transaction at the park is cash only. You can exchange your money with taxi or bus drivers but you will not get a fair price.
Entrance to the park is 500 pesos per person (about $30). We brought nearly 1300 pesos for the both of us and that was just enough for the entire day. The bus to the park costs 60 pesos and when you are leaving the park there will be a police man coming into the bus and charge you for tourist tax. This is very remarkable but that is how it works. The tax is not that expensive, if I remember correctly it was no more than 20 pesos.
In the shops at the park you can also pay with Real and most likely also in dollars and Euro’s. We bought ourselves a few overpriced postcards and almost some stamps. One piece of advice though, don’t get your stamps in the park. they were 75 pesos a piece in the park. We bought them later at the post office for 7 pesos!
From the park entrance we walk about 600 meters towards the train station. We get aboard the Jungle Train which takes us into the park at 10 km/h. In the park there are 3 tracks you can follow. All of them require you to take a slow train from the entrance. At the first train stop (Falls Station) you can either follow the Upper circuit (orange) or the Lower Circuit (blue).
You can also take the train to the next station (Devil’s throat) to take the Devil’s Throat Circuit (red).
We decide to get off at the final station, Devil’s Throat, although we did have to get out at Falls Station and then stand in line again to get back in. Once we get out of the train we follow a small path, which mainly consists out of bridges, that leads to the waterfall. Devil’s Throat is absolutely amazing. You can almost feel the power of the water, it’s truly mesmerizing. We get a little bit wet, but not as much as on the Brazilian side. To get to this point it’s like a survival run. You have to pass a lot of strollers, wheelchairs and grandma’s with walkers. It’s actually a shame that they build this huge path in the middle of what used to be a piece of beautiful nature. Of course it was worth it, but we’re more off-the-beaten-track-people.
We get back to the train to get to the first stop, Falls Station. From here there are 2 routes; one let’s you see the falls from below, the other one from above. Both tracks offer amazing views and secret falls you hadn’t seen yet. Again, these tracks are quite busy. Make sure not to take the ramps, because most people do. Luckily these tracks are longer than the one to Devil’s throat, so it doesn’t feel so crowded. There are several places where you get wet on these tracks, but they can be easily avoided if you want to. We were splashing around in the water of course, to cool off a little bit.
There’s a fourth route on the Island of San Martin, but this one was unfortunately closed when we were there. Sometimes they need to close tracks because of puma sightings. It seems that you don’t want to run into these animals.
If one of the tracks is closed you can try again the next day with a 50% discount. Just get your entrance ticket stamped at the exit. You could also try to sell this ticket to your ho(s)tel friends to make them cheaper for the both of you.
What side to choose?
We thought both sides were amazing and both are definitely worth the money. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss one of them and therefore would recommend everyone to go visit both sides. I did think the Argentinian side was a little bit more spectacular, so go to the Brazilian side first. This way, you’ll be amazed two times. One thing is for sure, you will love this! Niagara Falls is nothing compared to Iguazu, so we are very happy that we’ve been there already, haha.