Having been to Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, and Buenos Aires, the main Argentine attraction left was Iguazú Falls. Supposedly one of the most spectacular sights in the world, I figured it was a fitting end to my Argentine travels. Though I have to admit I’m ready as hell to get out of this dysfunctional, overpriced wasteland of conspiracy theorists. I think I’ve been here way too long and am getting jaded.
As seems to be a common theme on my trip, my intended destination wasn’t the easiest place to reach. Located where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina all converge, the gateway town of Puerto Iguazú is a 19 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires.
The falls can be viewed from the Argentine or Brazilian side, though I’ve been hearing over and over that the Argentine side is more impressive. Maybe that’s just because of my selective hearing and the fact that Brazil makes Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Kiwis get a visa. Either way, I didn’t think it was worth the $210 to get a Brazilian visa just to visit the falls (it’s $50 cheaper if you get it in the US). I’ll do Brazil on another trip.
There are dozens of buses per day leaving from Buenos Aires’s Retiro terminal for Puerto Iguazú, and the journey in cama ejecutiva class (very comfy seats that recline about 160 degrees) cost me approximately $112. I misread the departure time on my ticket and had to rush down to the terminal to catch it, in the process losing and having to replace my admittedly inexpensive metro pass.
The Retiro terminal is a gargantuan labyrinth of ticket booths, food stalls, and departure platforms. Ticket sales and departure platforms are all grouped by region. Going to the northeast to Iguazú? Better not make my mistake and try to get your ticket printed out in the Patagonia section of the terminal.
Despite my panicked worrying that I was going to miss my bus, I arrived at the platform to find that it had been delayed an hour. As I heard in Spain all the time, es lo que hay (it is what it is).
Long distance bus journeys in South America are quite comfortable, especially if you travel with a reputable company. This isn’t as important in Argentina and Chile, where buses go off cliffs with lesser frequency than in Bolivia or Peru, but comfort of seats can vary greatly from company to company.
Upon arrival in Puerto Iguazú, I heard mutterings from the coach attendant about a bus driver strike. My hostel was only a 4 minute walk from the terminal, with prices a fraction of what they are in high season, and I discovered at reception that the strike meant no buses to the falls today. It was a stunningly beautiful and cloudless day, quite atypical for such a high rainfall jungle climate.
“Wait, you speak Spanish. Want to help us find and split a taxi?” asked a pair of Arctic Norwegian women at my hostel that I’d met on the ride from Buenos Aires. The receptionist at the hostel told us 400 pesos ($26) one way would be ideal, but some dude on the street named Pedro offered to take us for 550 pesos ($36) round trip.
Pedro turned out to be a great deal. He claimed to be a taxi driver, even though his car didn’t have taxi written on it anywhere, but he delivered us to the falls at the agreed upon price. He didn’t speak English, so I sat in front and we chatted.
“It’s so good those women have a man traveling with them,” he told me, which I declined to translate for the Norwegians in the hopes of averting an international conflict. Having spent ten weeks in the Nordic countries last summer, I did not think that would go over well. Norway is perhaps the most gender equal country in the world.
Entrance to Iguazú National Park costs 500 pesos ($32). Although it’s only valid for one day, if you bring your passport and register at the ticket office upon exiting you can enter at half price the next day.
There are three main sections of the park:
- Entrance area – There’s really not a whole lot here other than the ticket office and a small visitor center.
- Cataratas (falls) – Views of the falls from lower and farther away. There are two circuits, an upper and lower, where you can walk on elevated boardwalks with many viewpoints. From the lower circuit you can take a boat to San Martín Island.
- Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) – A boardwalk leading to a massive semicircle of roaring waterfalls, one of the more iconic views. This part isn’t visible from the Cataratas section.
Iguazú Falls is almost incomprehensibly massive, and you can’t see all of it from any one point on land. All three of the above stations are linked by train, with departures every 30 minutes in each direction. Apparently sometimes you can walk from the entrance to Cataratas, but the trail was closed when I visited.
I found this section to be the most impressive, and on my second day I spent all my time here. San Martín Island was closed my first day because of high water levels, but I was able to visit on my second day. The island is very close to the falls, and you get wet from the spray quite quickly.
Garganta del Diablo
The Devil’s Throat was impressive, but that’s largely the only part of the falls you can see from here. I visited this section on my first day with the Norwegians and did not return.
On my second day the bus strike had ended. Buses depart from Puerto Iguazú to the park and vice versa every 20 minutes. The round trip ticket costs 130 pesos ($8.40).
Visiting in the April shoulder season was phenomenal, even if it was 85F/29C with high humidity. There were much fewer visitors than in the summer high season, and in the evenings I largely had the park to myself. Lodging was a fraction of what it is in summer, and I was able to get a bunk in a four person dorm in a nice hostel for about $12 a night.
I really lucked out with weather. Both days of my visit were sunny and cloudless, a break in a week of thunderstorms.
Not only are the falls impressive, but the surrounding jungle is also pretty interesting. The bird watching in the area is supposed to be superb, and from the boardwalk I was able to see toucans and hummingbirds.
Overall, I’d say the falls were worth braving the heat, humidity, and days of bus rides to and from the park.