I just got back a few hours ago from an amazing weekend in Pucón, a city about 8 hours south of Santiago. Before I tell you all about that though, here’s that post about Iguazú Falls I promised!
Our trip to northern Argentina was sandwiched between our stay in Buenos Aires. The total travel time from the capital to Puerto Iguazú, the closest town to the national park, is 18.5 hours by bus. Initially I thought this would be unbearable but the time passed by quickly between getting to know my travel-mates and enjoying the gorgeous scenery outside.
*photos above courtesy of Akane :)
Since we left Buenos Aires in the afternoon we had a few hours of daylight left which meant it was worth looking out the window (usually I take overnight bus trips to be efficient with travel time; one downside to that is that you have no idea what you’re driving through). Unlike the desert landscapes we saw during our bus rides in northern Chile here we were surrounded by green fields and farms and tiny rustic villages. I noticed that every single town, no matter how small, had a fútbol (soccer) field with lines drawn in the sand/grass, goalposts and bleachers. It reminded me of something I read in Travels in a Thin Country: A Journey Through Chile. At one point on her bus ride near the city of La Serena in Chile the author, Sara Wheeler, observed:
A football match was in progress nearby; I had been impressed to see that every two-bit village in northern Chile not only had a pitch but a mini-grandstand too. How such tiny, remote villages managed to raise both teams and a crowd to fill the stands, however, remained baffling (60).
When we got off the bus at Puerto Iguazú it seemed like we had walked right into a sauna: the air was hot, humid and sticky. After leaving our things at the hostel and grabbing some breakfast we headed over to the national park. We took a bus out of Puerto Iguazú and were dropped off at the park entrance about 30 minutes later. Since we reached around midday we knew we wouldn’t be able to see it all (you would need at least one whole day to do so), but we were given recommendations by our hostel so we ended up seeing all the cool things:
After seeing the main attraction, we hiked through the forest to check out some other waterfalls:
These pictures don’t really do the falls justice; they are simply breathtaking (think Niagara Falls times a million). Anybody going to Argentina should definitely try to make it to Iguazú. My friend even goes so far as to say that if you had to choose between seeing Buenos Aires and seeing Iguazú, opt for the latter.
After coming back from the park, tired despite not doing anything strenuous, we had a fantastic barbecue dinner in our hostel. The guy in charge of the bar out in the backyard and our chef for the night was from our neck of the woods: a Californian in the housing business who, along with his girlfriend, had left everything and came to live in Argentina right before the real estate bubble burst (talk about great timing). For dinner he made us the most ginormous steaks I’ve ever seen (he said it was “Argentine beef cut American style”). Seriously, these things were massive. And delicious. Oh so delicious.
Here’s what the rest of the hostel (and part of the city) looked like:
In case my pictures depicting beautiful natural wonders and scrumptious red meat (sorry all you vegetarians!) are too subtle, I’ll say it in plain English: go visit Iguazú Falls! If the following points are holding you back, please think again!
- If you think you can’t make it because you’re short on time and/or don’t like long bus rides: you can always fly up–there’s an airport near Puerto Iguazú with frequent bus transfers to the town.
- If you think you aren’t physically fit enough to hike the trails: the main attraction is accessible by train and requires a 10 to 15-minute walk on a series of flat bridges; the other trails aren’t trails in the conventional “dirt track” sense: they’re all cement sidewalks or metal walkways with a few stairs in between.
- If you don’t know Spanish and think you’d be lost without a translator: isn’t it remarkable how many things are able to transcend language barriers? The beauty of the falls is one of them. Besides, it being a national park and attracting hoards of tourists means that any important information is available in multiple languages including English.
- You don’t like the heat: Well, that would suck for you seeing as this area is a subtropical region. But you’re near water! And unlike parks in the U.S. that keep you at a distance deemed safe by the National Parks Service in order to avoid being sued by people who do silly things, Iguazú lets you get really really close to the falls (I’ve noticed that there’s an implied understanding throughout Latin America that eliminates the need for safety signs: don’t do anything stupid). That should keep you cool enough, I should think.
Other pros of visiting Iguazú Falls:
- You get to experience a different part of Argentina. Buenos Aires is pretty and all, but in the end it’s really like any other modern, urban, European city. Sort of a “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” type of thing. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely has its own charms and not seeing it would be a mistake, but Iguazú is another side of Argentina that you don’t want to miss.
- Puerto Iguazú is conveniently located right by Brasil and Paraguay. If you want to pop in on these countries during your visit to the falls they’re just a bus ride away from the town.
My friends and I took advantage of this proximity by seeing the Brasilian side of the falls on our second day in Puerto Iguazú.
NB: If you’re planning on visiting just the national park you don’t need a Brasilian visa provided you take one of the bus shuttles from Puerto Iguazú. If you take a taxi there you will need a visa.
I was looking forward to adding another stamp to my passport but when we got to the customs building at the border all we got were Argentine customs stamps saying we left Argentina. Even though I knew having a Brasilian stamp wouldn’t count as actually visiting Brasil I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed…
The main difference between the Argentine side and the Brasilian side (besides being parks belonging to two different countries) is that the Argentine side provides you with a close-up experience of the falls whereas the Brasilian side gives you a panoramic view. Although smaller than the Argentine side, Foz do Iguaçu had several vista points and other activities to do. Here we had the chance to get super close to the base of the falls. We walked down a series of spiral stairs until we reached the shores of the river below. Once there we got on one of those speedboat things and were taken out into the river and under the falls! Needless to say we were all soaked, but thanks to the warm weather had no problem drying off. These boat rides are offered by both parks and are essentially the same, so it doesn’t matter where you choose to do it. The Brasilian side also offered repelling, which I wanted to try but we didn’t have enough time. La próxima vez!
If you look at just the landscape and scenery, Foz do Iguaçu isn’t any different from Iguazú Falls, which is understandable since they both span the same land. What really got to me was how quickly everything changed to Portuguese. This is also understandable–we were in Brasil!–but it was the abrupt transition that made my head spin. Knowing Spanish well is supposed to be an advantage when confronted by Portuguese and to some extent this was true: reading the signs wasn’t difficult since both Spanish and Portuguese share many similarities. Listening to Portuguese being spoken on the other hand was not so easy. But just like the Argentine park, you don’t need to know Portuguese to get by (although knowing Spanish helps as staff are usually able to converse in both).
Bottom line: if you have time to visit both sides, you might as well do it. If you have to choose one, go for the Argentine side.
Hope this post has influenced your hidden (or not-so-hidden) desire to travel! My next update will be about me hiking up an active volcano…whaaaat?! ¡Chao for now! :)