Iguassu, Iguazu or Iguaçu – what really is the difference between the falls at Brazil and Argentina?
As I learnt from the World Cup in South America, Brazil and Argentina have something of a rivalry, and this is pretty well exemplified by their joint ownership of the incredible Iguazu Falls. For those who haven’t heard of it, Iguassu is actually a huge section made up of over 150 individual waterfalls across the river which separates Brazil and Argentina and which includes a horseshoe fall known as La Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) – which is about three times wider than Niagara.
Ask anyone in Argentina, and of course they’ll tell you that their side – Las Cataratas del Iguazú – is the best, but speak to a Brazilian and it’s the Foz do Iguaçu which is the greatest. Different names, different sides, and one giant waterfall; but what really is the difference between the two sides of this incredible natural wonder?
Argentina – What They Have
On Argentina’s side of Iguassu, the national park boasts a mix of trails which perhaps provide more different views of the falls. Thanks to the geography of the area, Argentina actually own 80% of the falls – but the layout of the land means you can’t see much of the Brazilian side, while the trail in Brazil’s park provides views of the entire thing.
The only view you can have of the Garganta del Diablo – the enormous horseshoe which is one of Iguassu’s star attractions – is from above; by taking the train up to a trail on the top level of the river and following this out to a viewpoint above the ‘throat’. When I visited in June 2014, this trail was unfortunately closed due to poor weather conditions dramatically affecting the water level and damaging the bridge – but to borrow a description from fellow travel blogger Sarah of www.wadeandsarah.com:
“The spray from the falls rises high enough to look like a smoke stack and it is only once you get close enough to feel the water on your face that you realise what this white mist is. It is 1700 cubic metres of water per second plummeting over a 150m high drop.”
Although I can imagine the view from the top is pretty impressive, I have to confess I think the best way to experience the horseshoe section must be from below – which can only be done on Brazil side.
Instead, Argentina boast access to Iguassu’s other highlight: the Isla San Martin. Ferries run to the island throughout the day, providing incredible views from the very centre of the river – right in the middle of the falls.
Argentina also offers two walking trails to visit the falls. The Upper Trail leads visitors along the river and over the top of the waterfalls nearest to the mainland. The views from up here are incredible, but while you can see across to Brazil their side of the falls is obscured by the shape of the land.
The Lower Trail leads along the lower edge of the land, closer to the river and past some of the more distant individual falls – like Las Dos Hermanas – but it finishes up as close to the main crescent of waterfalls as possible. In fact, at it’s nearest point the trail is around 20m away from the falls, and if you venture far enough along you’ll be completely saturated by the spray of the water – it feels like being on a pier during a storm:
Besides the waterfall trails, Argentina also offers a few walking routes in the forest to take in some of the wildlife – perfect for nature lovers. If you’re staying all day, this is a good way to while away the time until the morning mist fades away and reveals the blue skies, so that you can revisit the upper and lower trails to see the falls in a new light. The Green Trail is the shortest, a nice boardwalk path through the lush Atlantic Forest where you can spot coatis (raccoon-like creatures) as well as lots of birds and insects.
Finally, in addition to all the extra tours visitors can also book a boat tour to get right up to the bottom of the falls.
Brazil – What They Have
With Argentina owning the lion’s share of the falls, and providing such a variety of ways to view them, it’s hard to imagine how Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu park can top that act. Somehow, though, it manages to deliver, starting with a much more modern and better maintained national park. The entrance complex is much bigger and more developed than the Argentine park – with, the British side of me was pleased to note, a more efficient and orderly queueing system for the ticket offices – and once inside the park, visitors hop onto brightly coloured, modern buses for transport up to the start of the trail. These run almost back to back, and include a running commentary about the park’s features in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
The biggest difference aside from the more modern facilities, is that where Argentina offer numerous different trails and routes, Brazil instead have one main trail. This starts quite far back and affords views of the entirety of Iguassu Falls, right over to the Argentina side. The trail winds along the cliff edge overlooking the river and creeps ever closer to the falls themselves, until you can see the Garganta do Diabo (Devil’s Throat in Portuguese) which can only be viewed from above on the Argentine side. The trail then slopes downhill to the level of the lower river, where you can opt to follow an additional boardwalk trail right out over the river and as close to the heart of the horseshoe as it’s possible to get. This trail will get you completely soaked, and provides the most close-up experience of the falls it’s possible to have without paying for a boat tour.
After the pier-like boardwalk trail at the Garganta, glass-fronted observation lifts transport guests to a viewing platform back up at the level of the higher river. From here, you can take in the thunderous spectacle of the horseshoe, the lower plateu of falls, San Martin Island and right the way over to Argentina. The trail then finishes at another modern, tourist-friendly complex of shops and restaurants which overlook the fast flowing river.
In addition to the main trail, visitors can also pay for additional extras including jungle walks and 4×4 safaris, boat tours, abseiling and rafting. These seemed, on the whole, a little overpriced and not particularly budget friendly – but they definitely looked fun!
To get to the falls from Puerto Iguazu, Argentina’s frontier town, you can take the Rio Uruguay bus from either the terminal or the stop outside the supermarket on Avenida Victoria Aguirre. This costs 40 pesos (about £3 or $5) each way for the 30 minute journey, and buses run twice an hour. As far as I could determine, there is no cheaper option, but a larger group travelling together might save by opting for a taxi: we were offered one for 120 pesos so split between four this is a cheaper and more convenient option.
To get to the falls from Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, you can take a public bus from the main terminal in the town centre (not the international terminal on the edge of town). This costs just 2.55 reals each way (about
60p or $1), and the journey takes about 45 minutes, with buses running every 20 minutes or so. The bus does stop throughout the town so double check with you hotel or hostel if there is a stop nearer to you than the station.
Crossing from Argentina to Brazil (and vice versa) is very straightforward; go to the bus terminal in town and buy a ticket for Foz do Iguacu (15 pesos – roughly £1 or $2). The bus will drop you at border control – which is pretty lax, with no bag checks – and another bus will collect you about ten minutes later to take you into town. Visitors from some countries, like the US and Australia, will need to pay a visa fee when crossing the border – but us lucky UK citizens can enter both countries for free.
Entry to the Parque Iguazu in Argentina cos 215 pesos as of June 2014 (roughly £15 or $26). This includes the Upper and Lower trails, ferry to San Martin Island and a small train up to the top of the Garganta del Diablo.
Entry on Brazil side is a little cheaper, at 49 reals (about £13 or $21) in June 2014, and includes bus transport within the park, the main trail, and the observation lifts.
Both parks have restaurants and gift shops, and the Brazil park also has a souvenir photography service – so take extra cash if you plan on buying any of those.
When to Go
As with most major tourist attractions, avoid visiting on a weekend or national holiday if possible as it can get pretty busy. The trails are fairly narrow and the busier they get, the slower your passage through the park will be.
Early morning and late afternoon are the quietest times of day. Avoid midday if you want to skip the long entrance queues. However, until about 10 or 11am there is a lot of morning mist which can mean grey skies, so you’ll want to either stay all day or just arrive in the afternoon to miss this.
The amount of time needed will of course vary from person to person. To see everything in either park would take at least three or four hours; but you could easily stay there all day. It may be possible to visit both sides in one day, but personally I wouldn’t recommend this as it would be very rushed.
What to Take
Take a raincoat! Ponchos are sold in the park but these are a little pricey. You will definitely get wet: even if you don’t follow the trails right up to the falls, even at a distance the heavy spray hits the forest leaves and falls like heavy rain.
Wear comfy clothes and shoes that dry quickly – flip flops are best.
If you’re on a budget, I recommend taking a packed lunch as most of the food sold inside the parks is fairly overpriced.
Take sun cream and insect repellent, and of course – don’t forget your camera!
So, who really has the best side of the falls? The Argentinians have more falls and more to do, but the Brazilians have the fuller view and a better up-close experience. In all honesty, I would recommend visiting both sides of the falls as for me it’s impossible to pick either as a favourite. But, if you’re short on time or money, or only have a visa for one country, then you can definitely experience the falls fully from either side.
- Brazil is cheaper to enter and much cheaper to get to
- Argentina offers more trails
- You can get a complete view of the whole falls from Brazil, while Argentina provides a closer view on the whole
- Argentina only has a brief ‘up close’ encounter, while Brazil gets you right up to the horseshoe
- The Garganta del Diablo is best viewed in Brazil
- Argentina offers access to San Martin island
- Both sides provide wonderful experiences
This article is based on my experiences in June 2014, and also draws from the experiences of Sarah from www.wadeandsarah.com – also in June 2014. All pictures are my own.
If you have an update to the above info or prices please comment here so we can keep this post up to date!