It’s now been just over a year since we returned from South America and as the last few posts are nearly ready to go and we’re about to start a new chapter in our lives we thought it was time to get a move on closing out the last one………..
After returning from Antarctica we had a couple of days of transit right up to the north of Argentina. Having spent about two months travelling down Chile and Argentina from San Pedro in Chile to Ushuaia in Argentina and then down to Antarctica, it was surreal to travel so many thousands of kilometres in just two flights. We arrived to a warm and humid day in Puerto Iguazú, the main town for access to the famous Iguazu Falls on the Argentina-Brazil border.
We were unsure what to expect from the falls as we’d just come from some mind-blowing scenery in Antarctica and were feeling a little jaded and tired of constant travel. However, we’re really glad we went and we were still very impressed and can understand exactly why this place is on most lists of places to visit in South America.
We were met at the airport by the eccentric and gregarious German (an Argentinian name pronounced something closer to Hairman), one of our Airbnb hosts for the next three nights. We spoke a mixture of Spanish and English with him on the way to the flat, hearing some of his crazy stories and seeing the outskirts of the town as we drove. It was so different from where we’d been a few days previously, sun-baked red dirt roads, brightly painted shop signs and children playing outside, reminding us more of our time in Africa than anything we’d seen in South America. We checked in to our nice, bright and comfortable room and met German’s wife Andrea. They had a lovely terrace overlooking the river and we were welcomed with tea and crackers with dulce de leche and homegrown bananas from their garden.
We went for a walk into the centre and to see the three borders monument at sunset. This is the location where you can see Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina all at a junction in the river. We walked into the centre of town, finding it all very quiet for a Friday night but then remembering we were in Argentina and the night doesn’t start for locals until much later! We found a fairly lively restaurant and had a very mediocre pizza (covered with loads of just-melted cheese and barely cooked veg) but some nice beer to balance things out. We went to get a taxi back and were met with shock that our apartment was so far away, they couldn’t believe we’d walked into town for a whole 3km! Thankfully Andrea had told us how much we should expect to pay so, with much consulting of maps, we managed to get the price agreed in the end.
The Iguazu Falls are actually 275 separate waterfalls, which you can see from Argentina and Brazil. The largest waterfall is the Devil’s Throat on the Argentine side with an 82m high fall. On our first full day we went to the Argentine side. We decided to choose the easy option and got German to drive us and pick us up at the end of the day. He gave us some good tips on how best to see the falls to get the best light and avoid the crowds.
We started with a walk on the low path where we caught glimpses of the water through the forest and eventually came out to a viewing balcony with water spray blowing onto us right next to a waterfall. We continued down to the river level to board our “nautical adventure” boat ride. We unpacked our backpack into dry bags to keep everything safe ready for the boat trip. The boat was great fun, although basically it was just a shower in the waterfalls, we were absolutely soaked! Our boots were wet through and we could ring out everything we were wearing!
We walked back up to a seating area where we could ring out our socks and sort out the backpack again. I was distracted sorting out my shoes when some of the aggressive raccoon-like Coatis approached us. Chris warned me to put the food back in the backpack but I was being slow, and a Coati took hold of our plastic bag of food. Chris luckily grabbed the bag and pulled it away, no loss of food and we managed to chase away the scary creatures! There are warning signs with pretty graphic photos all over the park telling you to beware of the Coatis as they bite and can carry rabies, so we were pretty justified in being nervous! It was a pretty stressful experience and we spent a while after searching for a quiet, Coati-free place to be able to eat our lunch in peace.
We had a really good afternoon walking around the paths on top of the waterfalls. The views and the power of the water crashing down around us was amazing. We saw a snake in the jungle next to one of the paths, and some very large spiders and colourful butterflies around the walkways crossing the river. We took a small train out to the final walkway which led us out far into the river to the fantastic Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) waterfall, a semicircle of water falling and throwing up clouds of spray. The sun on the water made beautiful rainbows in the spray. We stayed here taking it all in until the guards came along to get everyone to leave for closing time.
That evening we had dinner at our Airbnb place, they run a small closed-door restaurant where you order in advance. We had a really nice meal, Chris had the standard veggie option for the area which is wok-fried vegetables with rice. I had a wonderfully cooked steak with vegetables on the side.
On the Sunday we went to see the falls from the Brazilian side. Our taxi service German was going out on the Saturday night and wouldn’t be available to take us, no problem we thought, we’ve done almost seven months travelling, we can do this independently! Well we did manage it, although it wasn’t the most easy journey! We walked up to the bus stop and waited for about half an hour for the bus to come, once aboard the driver confirmed he was going to the centre of town. We were planning to get a bus from the centre direct to the falls in Brazil. Then the bus took a detour via the Argentine border crossing so we decided to just get off early as it was handily on our route. We were stamped out of Argentina and then sat waiting for a bus to the falls. One came past headed for the main town of Foz de Iguaçu in Brazil, we asked the driver if he would take us to the Brazilian border but he said to wait for the next waterfall-bound bus. We waited a while and did some more research about the journey, lots of people were saying you have to demand to stop at the Brazilian border otherwise the buses just go straight through and you don’t get a passport stamp, we weren’t sure but reckoned we should get our passports stamped just in case! So the next bus arriving was also for Foz de Iguaçu, but I insisted that he take us across no mans land. He agreed to do it, although charged us £2 (more than double our previous bus cost) for the 3km journey. Once at the border we jumped out and got our passports stamped very quickly then ran back to the bus, which had nicely waited for us. The driver then dropped us at a bus stop in Brazil for the waterfalls. Whilst waiting for the bus we realised we had no Brazilian Reales currency. This turned out to be fine and we paid in US Dollars, speaking a mix of Spanish and English as we weren’t sure which language would be more understood and we don’t know any Portuguese! This bus took us right to the park entrance, only two hours after we’d set off!
The Brazilian side of the falls offers more panoramic views of the waterfalls, you really get the sense of scale and it was nice to be able to look over to where we’d been the day before in Argentina. The paths on the Brazilian side are much shorter so it didn’t take too long to cover them. One section involved walking right out past one waterfall along the top of another. Learning from the day before we were prepared, we wore flip-flops and wrapped up the backpack with a big plastic bag. We were again soaked by the spray from the falls, it was amazing to walk out so close to the roaring water. This weather was so nice that day so we sat around by the falls drying off before leaving the park.
Our journey back was equally as convoluted as the way there. We attempted to retrace our route but the conductor wouldn’t let us on the bus unless we were going all the way to Foz de Iguaçu town (even though there is only one access road and he would pass directly by the bus stop we had asked for!). We had just missed the direct bus to Argentina so decided in the end to save the hassle and get a taxi, this took us via the Brazilian border (stopping for the all important passport stamp) and across no man’s land to the Argentine border. We paid in Dollars and received a few Brazilian Reales in change. Before going back to Argentina we decided to check out the large duty free shopping centre in no man’s land. It was a pretty bizarre experience, shopping in a big air conditioned mall with decorated themed sections such as the kitchen gadget section themed around London (complete with Tower Bridge and the London Eye). We had a few free samples of duty free spirits and ate an early dinner there. The prices were still pretty expensive so in the end we just bought a couple of bottles of cider (having not had any for a while!). We even managed to pay with our Reales change which was a nice bonus. After all those free samples it was definitely the most happy we’ve been going through a border point. We waited a while for a bus but in the end took a taxi back as we found a nice friendly driver who didn’t charge too much.
We got back to find our hosts cooking, they were disappointed we’d already eaten, but we agreed we would come and try a little traditional food with them later in the evening. We went to pack and decided to start watching a film whilst we waited. In traditional Argentine time we were called to eat at about 11:30pm. We found the restaurant laid out for seven people, this turned out to be us, our hosts and their son, plus the two other guests, two Russian ladies. We were given large bowls of traditional meat stew, Andrea had attempted to pick out the lumps of meat and bone from Chris’s bowl. Chris was very polite and tried some, although we swapped bowls when no one was looking! It was very tasty. Chris managed to get himself invited to view German’s workshop, whilst I sat and chatted to the Russian ladies. The evening had passed with lots of stories, Chris and I mainly just listening, especially when it then turned to singing. We had songs in Portuguese, Spanish and Russian (with a small group chorus for us to learn in Russian). They were beautiful singers, especially Andrea, and they tried to persuade us to follow suit, but we made our excuses and headed to bed. It was a slightly surreal but fun night.
We had to leave for Buenos Aires the next day, another taxi ride with more crazy stories from German (I’ll just say the one about a Bolivian festival with lots of masked women will stay with me a while!), then we were at the airport and leaving the town. We’d had a great time in Iguazú, met some lovely people, and got our travelling mojo back ready for the last three weeks of our trip.