Foz do Iguaçu: The amazing trinational water falls you’ve (probably) never heard of!

I first came across Cataratas do Iguaçu (Iguassu falls)when I was researching my travels to Africa- it was mentioned with Victoria Falls- they both occupy top spots on the list of the world’s largest waterfalls. Strangely, all this while I believed it to be in Amazonas…(which it isn’t!) and amid dense rainforests (which it is!)

São Paulo weekender

My trip to Foz do Iguaçu was the least planned and hence the most exciting one out of all my travels in Brasil! Till the night before, S and I were undecided on if and when we should travel to Iguaçu-located on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. It was Friday night and we were trying to get cheap flights from São Paulo. At 7 am the next morning, S found a cheap flight for 12noon the same day! This meant, we had to leave for Guarulhos airport in 2 hours! It’s far out, compared to Congonhas airport-which is within city limits. (tip: while choosing flights, try and book one from Congonhas, much time and effort can be saved)  We hurriedly packed for a weekend at Iguaçu-my travel hacks for traveling light– saved me! I checked the weather-thankfully it was sunny in Iguaçu for the next few days. T booked us a cab with the Portuguese speaking cab company while S made some awesome coffee!

After a rushed toast-cheese-coffee brekkie, we headed off to the airport. Both of us were super thrilled- it was that feeling of anticipation and excitement at the thought of the adventure awaiting us! We reached the airport early and had time to enjoy the sun after a week of cloudy days.

Foz do Iguaçu

Foz do Iguacu. At the airport.
Foz do Iguacu. At the airport.

The sunny and clear day worked out well for us- on our flight we got a clear view of the vast South Atlantic rainforests, dense green cover as far as the eye could see and then suddenly we spotted the cataratas…there it was,white mist rising from the falls- along the snaking Rio Iguaçu. Such a wonder of nature…

On the waterfront (!)
On the waterfront (!)

We stayed at Hostel Natura, it’s on the city outskirts. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer place to stay at..its far from the madding crowds, tucked away in farm lands on the Argentinean-Brazilian border. It has a small reservoir with grassy banks, a gazebo with hammocks, slacklines in the lawn and an open deck & bar! I promptly went for a swim in the reservoir, and we had beers out on the deck whilst watching the gorgeous orange-spangled sunset.

A quiet moment..
A quiet moment..
The reservoir at Hostel Natura
The reservoir at Hostel Natura
The gazebo
The gazebo
And the deck,with a view!
And the deck,with a view!

Cataratas do Iguaçu

They served us a wonderful breakfast of home made bread, cake, fruit and freshly brewed coffee! It was a relaxed start to a hectic day ahead of waterfall exploration! The Parque Nacional do Iguaçu (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is a 30 minute bus ride from the main road (which is a 20 minute walk up) The road leading up to the falls is perfect for a long run or bike ride. It was a sunny day and there were many bikers riding upto the border.

The first view point. We stood in queue to get this picture !
The first view point. We stood in queue to get this picture !

The open top bus takes you from the ticket counters into the park upto the start of the falls. Its a beautiful walk along the Rio Iguaçu and the Cataratas do Iguaçu. The falls are located 27 km down stream from the confluence of the Rio Iguaçu and the Rio Paraná.

The name ‘Iguaçu comes from the Guarani (native Brazilian language) word ‘Yguasu’ which means ‘big water’. Folklore has it that a deity planned to marry a beautiful woman named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in canoe. In a rage, the deity sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall.

Butterflies and Garganta do Diablo

The bus dropped us off at the first view of the falls, there are view points all along. There were many Coatis (raccoon like creatures found in parts of South America) all along the walk way. Inspite of the warning signs of their sharp canines and inclination to bite, many tourists were feeding and touching them. The lovliest part of the walk by the falls were the exotic butterflies. From midnight blue to red & black to mint green and sulphur yellow.. myriad colors and varieties. The butterflies (fluttering by) and the gorgeous view of the falls made for an exotic walk!

At Garganta do Diablo.
At Garganta do Diablo.

About a kilometer down, a walk way extends right into the largest chasm of the water fall- Garganta do Diablo (the Devil’s throat). The 270 degree view of the waterfalls is breath taking. There are clouds of mist rising from the thundering falls and rainbows forming at various spots as it was a sunny day out! It’s a bit crazy that people don ponchos at the start of the walkway because getting wet in the mist and drizzle of the falls, especially on a hot day, is super fun :)

Garaganta del Diablo
Garaganta del Diablo
By the visitors’ centre at Garganta do Diablo.

Its a pity that right by the Garganta do Diablo, there is a huge building with a cafe, a souvenir shop, an elevator shaft and lobby..It’s a curious structure to have in the middle of a waterfall surrounded by dense rain-forests! But the view from the top most floor of the structure is quite something. We spent a few hours in and around the Garganta do Diablo, just soaking in the breathtaking view of  falls and the water crashing into the river through the canyon below. Watching the water rushing over the plateau and falling about 90 meters is a heady experience…almost mesmerizing.

Rainbow in the mist.
Rainbow in the mist.

Lunch with the bees

It was lunchtime so we headed over to the restaurant building. As expected the food was expensive and poor quality but the fresh fruit juices made up for it! The restaurant has the advantage of location. Its right by the river, perched on a raised platform extending over the waters right before it flows over the plateau into the chasm. We had the bees and butterflies for company at our lunch table!There were at least 20-30 bees and butterflies buzzing around, climbing into our drinks, rolling around in the mustard and ketchup..! A twenty minute lunch turned into an hour long effort to eat and drink without swallowing a winged creature!

Lunching by the Cataratas
Lunching by the Cataratas

After lunch we decided to walk the 10 km back to the entrance of the national park. It was a wonderful walk through the dense greenery, and the myriad butterflies we saw along the way.

Angry birds!

Parque das Aves. Don't go here!
Parque das Aves. Don’t go here!

As we exited the national park, we saw the bird park right across- Parque das Aves-– we made the mistake of buying tickets and going in..its absolutely heartbreaking to see gorgeous and exotic Amazonian, African, Asian birds..in cages! Macawas, Harpy Eagles, Peacocks, Scarlet Ibis, Turacos..even Ostrichs were in small enclosures. I felt like I was in the movie ‘Rio’ and these were the caged ‘angry birds’!

Birds in enclosures.
Birds in enclosures.
More birds in enclosures.
More birds in enclosures.

Dusk at Iguaçu
Just as we were getting out of the bird park..the last bus was leaving for town. We ran helter skelter and managed to hop on. Dusk was falling and we were to tired to walk back..it was about 15 km away.
The bus dropped us at the main road and we started walking to the farm. It was a cloudless night sky. The constellations were clearly visible. I remember thinking that it had been so long since I’d seen stars this clearly.. Felt like I could reach out and pluck them!
On the way , we heard singing and strumming of a guitar. The locals were winding down after the day’s work and the evening game of football. We picked up some guaraná sodas and settled down to listen. Such soulful singing… coupled with some tipsy dancing by the friendly neighborhood shopkeeper!

After a while, we continued on our way through the orchards and farms back to our hostel…humming the tunes we’d heard…

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