“Poor Niagara!” exclaimed United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when she first saw the waterfalls in person.
With over one million visitors per year, the Cataratas do Iguaçu, or Iguassu Falls, were first discovered by Europeans in 1542, when the expedition lead by Dom Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca descended the Iguaçu river with canopies acquired from the Kaingang Indians (Caingangues in Portuguese) while trying to reach Paraná river. The Cataratas, then, received its first official name: Salto de Santa Maria. However, the Guaraní name prevailed, and the y ɨ (water) e waˈsu (big), or Iguaçu (big water) was born.
This magnificent place consists of 275 waterfalls along 2,7 kilometers (1.6 miles) off the Iguaçu river. At some point, you can be surrounded by 260˚of waterfalls. In 1986, the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu was declared World Heritage of Nature by Unesco.
The experience of seeing and feeling the splendor and the energy coming from the Falls is absolutely unforgettable. As a native of Foz do Iguaçu, the city on the Brazilian side of the Falls, I feel privileged for growing up surrounded by such natural beauty. Lonely Planet – the biggest travel guide in the world – also recognizes this wonder. In 2015, they released the “Ultimate Travel List”, a definite guide of touristic destinations where the Iguassu Falls lies as number 8 on the list, among the top 10 best destinations on the planet. CNN also described it as “unlike any other waterfall on earth”.
Here, I’ll share a must-do list in this fantastic destination:
An incomparable boat trip that brings you face-to-face with the Iguassu Falls. Environmentally friendly vehicles, similar to safari trucks, takes you through the exuberant Iguaçu National Park forest, accompanied by bilingual guides telling you a little bit about the history of the park, and curiosities about the local fauna and flora. When you reach the port, you will climb into one of the speed boats, with experienced professionals taking you down the Iguassu river until reaching the Canyon Falls. There, you’ll feel the power of the falls, raising a mist which forms a beautiful rainbow. Also, be prepared to get soaked!
Prices are $50 adults/ $25 children. Visit macucosafari.com.br
Helisul Panoramic Flights
Imagine flying over the most famous waterfalls in the world, with incomparable views and privileged sightseeing. This is what Helisul delivers, with options of 10 to 35-minute daily helicopter rides over the falls, and a staff of the friendliest pilots willing to give you the smoothest and most unforgettable experience possible. I would suggest taking the last slots of the day when the sunset lighting makes the experience even more astounding.
For more information, visit helisulfoz.com.br
Parque das Aves
Considered the largest bird park in Latin America, there you will find a variety of species – some of them endangered – from all parts of the country and the world. It is a zoo unlike any other since the birds are flying free and you can get up and close to some of them, such as the beautiful Toucan. The structure is also impressive while respecting the birds’ natural habitats and making your visit educational and exceptional at the same time. It is also very child-friendly, and kids will love hearing and learning all about those unique species. You and your family will definitely feel as if you were in a bird sanctuary.
Trilha das Bananeiras | Trilha Poço Preto
The Bananeiras trail is approximately 1,5 km long (0.93 mi), and can be done by hiking or electric car through the Atlantic Rainforest, with a motorboat ride down the Iguaçu river until reaching the pier of Poço Preto. It also includes a stop at the Archipelago Taquaras Island. For the more adventurous travelers, the return can be done by inflatable kayaks down the river.
The Poço Preto trail, a 9 km (5.5 mi) trip through the interior of the Iguaçu forest, can also be done by hiking, cycling or electric car. The path ends at the Iguaçu River, aboard a motorboat passing by the Papagaios Island.
Both routes are perfect for nature lovers. As you stroll by small lagoons, such as the Jacaré lagoon, you can sightsee aquatic birds and exuberant vegetation along the way. Besides, you will have the chance to witness up close some typical species of the National Park’s fauna and flora.
For more information, visit macucosafari.com.br
And for those who want a view from above but are in no need of an airplane or helicopter, Skydive Foz is the place for you. Here, you will find ultra-experienced instructors and all the equipment necessary to have the experience of a lifetime.
For more information, visit skydivefoz.com
The Iguassu Falls have been featured in several movies, including Moonraker (1979), The Mission (1986), Mr. Magoo (1997), Miami Vice (2006), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull (2008), and Captain America: Civil War (2016).
A few useful tips
- At the end of your visit, make sure to stop by the Porto Canoas Restaurant to recharge your batteries while savoring a cocktail or Brazilian snacks with privileged views of the Iguaçu River.
- The largest volumes of water occur between the months of October and March, and these are the best times to see the Falls in all its grandiosity. However, due to summertime in the southern hemisphere, expect a higher number of visitors and very high temperatures during this period.
- If you can, you should plan your visit during the full moon, as the National Park promotes charming luaus, with dinner and nighttime guided trips to the Falls under the moonlight.