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published on June 02, 2007

Misiones Province, Argentina: Iguazú Falls

by Wayne Bernhardson


Sidronio Henrique Gomes de Araujo
BrazilMax’s Bill Hinchberger at the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat)
Editor’s note: We usually stick to Brazil on BrazilMax, but since many visitors to the Iguassu Falls region also visit the Argentinean side, we’re going over the border ourselves – in two parts. This section deals Iguazú Falls and the town of Puerto Iguazú. Another deals with the region of the historical Jesuit Missions. Both are excerpted from Moon Handbooks Argentina, published in 2004. Veteran guidebook author Wayne Bernhardson is a leading expert on Argentina. The prices listed have probably changed and are for reference only.

PARQUE NACIONAL IGUAZÚ

In the Guaraní language of the Tres Fronteras region, Iguazú means “big waters,” and the good news is that the thunderous surge of Iguazú Falls - perhaps the planet’s greatest chain of cascades - continues to plunge over an ancient lava flow, some 20 kilometers east of the town of Puerto Iguazú. Its overwhelming natural assets, including the surrounding subtropical rainforest, have earned Parque Nacional recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The bad news is that Argentina’s APN, the state entity charged with preserving and protecting this natural heritage, has buckled to rampant Disneyfication. The falls, its core attraction, have become a mass-tourism destination that might more accurately be called Parque Temático Iguazú - Iguazú Theme Park.

While they’ve done something right in limiting automobile access - cars must park in a guarded lot and visitors must enter the park on foot - the concessionaire has turned the area surrounding the falls into an area of manicured lawns, fast-food restaurants and souvenir stands, connected by a cheesy narrow-gauge train. Around the falls proper, clean-cut youths with walkie-talkies shunt hikers out by 7 p.m. - the perfect closing hour for a theme park - unless you’re fortunate enough to be a privileged guest at the Sheraton, the park’s only accommodations. The exception to the rule is the monthly full-moon tour, which is well worthwhile.

That’s not to say commercial greed has completely overrun nature - the park still has large extents of subtropical rainforest, with colorfully abundant birdlife along with less conspicuous mammals and reptiles. All of these animals demand respect, but some more so than others - in 1997, a jaguar killed a park ranger’s infant son; pumas are even more common, and poisonous snakes are also present.

In 1541 Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of the most intrepid Spaniards in the New World, was the first European to see the falls. But in an area populated by tens of thousands of Guaraní Indians prior to the European invasion, he can hardly have discovered them, despite the assertions of a commemorative plaque.

Parque Nacional Iguazú Natural Landscape

According to Guaraní legend, a jealous serpent-god created Iguazú Falls by collapsing the riverbed in front of the fleeing lovers Naipi and Caroba; Naipi plunged over the ensuing falls to become a rock at their base, while her lover Caroba became a tree forever condemned to see, but unable to touch, his beloved.

A less fanciful explanation is that the languid Río Iguazú streams over a basalt plateau that ends where an ancient lava flow finally cooled; before reaching the end of the flow, small islands, large rocks and unseen reefs split the river into multiple channels that become the individual waterfalls that, in sum, form the celebrated cataratas, some more than 70 meters in height.

At this point, in an area stretching more than two kilometers across the Argentine-Brazilian border, at least 5,000 cubic meters of water per second roar over the edge onto an older sedimentary landscape, but the volume can be far greater in flood. With the water’s unstoppable force, the falls are slowly but inexorably receding toward the east.

Some 18 kilometers southeast of the town of Puerto Iguazú, and 1,280 kilometers north of Buenos Aires via RN 12, Parque Nacional Iguazú is a 67,000-hectare unit that includes a roughly 6,000-hectare Reserva Nacional—the presence of which has led to rampant commercial development in the immediate vicinity of the falls.

Parque Nacional Iguazú Flora and Fauna

Misiones’s high rainfall (about 2000 mm per annum) and subtropical temperatures create a luxuriant forest flora on relatively poor soils. Unlike the mid-latitudes, where fallen leaves and other plant litter become part of the soil, here they are almost immediately recycled to support a dense, multilevel flora with a variety of faunal habitats. The park’s roughly 2,000 identified plant species are home to almost innumerable insects, 448 bird species, 80 mammal species, and many reptiles and fish as well.

The tallest trees, such as the lapacho (Tabebuia ipe) and palo rosa (Aspidosperma polyneuron) reach some 30 meters above the forest floor, while the guapoy (the appropriately named “strangler fig,” Ficus monckii) uses the larger trees for support and eventually kills them by asphyxiation. A variety of orchids use the large trees for support only.

Lesser trees and shrubs grow in the shade of the canopy, such as yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis), the holly relative that Argentines, Uruguayans, Paraguayans, and Brazilians consume as tea (grown mostly on plantations in Misiones and Corrientes). Ferns are also abundant in the shade thrown by the large trees.

For most visitors, the most conspicuous fauna will be colorful birds such as various species of parakeets and parrots, the piping guan (Aburria jacutinga), the red-breasted toucan (Ramphastos bicolorus), and the lineated woodpecker (Drycopus lineaturm) in the trees, while tinamous (Crypturellus spp.) scurry along the forest floor. The tufted capuchin monkey (Cebus apella nigritus) is a fruit-eating tree-dweller.

The most commonly seen mammal, though, is the coatimundi (Nasua nasua), a raccoon relative that thrives around humans (do not feed it); the largest is the rarely seen tapir (Tapirus terrestris), distantly related to the horse. Like the tapir, the puma and yaguareté (jaguar) avoid human contact, preferring the denser, more remote parts of the forest, but these wild cats can be dangerous to humans. The most commonly sighted reptile is the innocuous iguana; venomous snakes, while they generally avoid humans, deserve respect in their forest habitat.

Parque Nacional Iguazú Sights

The earliest written record of the falls came from Cabeza de Vaca, who saw them as an obstacle to his downstream progress and reported, with apparent irritation, that “It was necessary . . . to take the canoes out of the water and carry them by hand past the cataract for half a league with great labor.” Still, he could not help but be impressed by the noise and mist:

The current of the Yguazú was so strong that the canoes were carried furiously down the river, for near this spot there is a considerable fall, and the noise made by the water leaping down some high rocks into a chasm may be heard a great distance off, and the spray rises two spears high and more over the fall.

Most visitors come to see the falls, and rightly so, but try to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crush of tour buses from Puerto Iguazú and Brazil. The sole exception to Iguazú’s Disneyland entry hours are the monthly full-moon hikes, guided by park rangers.

Visitors pay the entrance fee at the Portal Cataratas, the gate to the slickly managed complex of fast food restaurants, souvenir stands, and tour operators. The most worthwhile sight here is the park service’s Centro de Interpretación.

Traditionally, park visitors walk along three major circuits on mostly paved trails and pasarelas (catwalks) that zigzag among the islands and outcrops to make their way to overlooks of the falls. The Circuito Superior (Upper Circuit) is a 650-meter route that offers the best panoramas of the Argentine side of the falls, while the 1,700-meter Circuito Inferior (Lower Circuit) offers better views of the individual falls, and also provides launch access to Isla San Martín, which has exceptional views of the amphitheatrical Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), Iguazú’s single most breathtaking cataract.

Most visitors take the Tren de la Selva, the narrow-gauge railway, to reach the trailhead for the 1,130-meter catwalk to the overlook for the Garganta del Diablo; this means an unavoidable soaking while watching the vencejo de tormenta (ashy-tailed swift, Chaeturo Andrei) dart through the booming waters to and from nesting sites beneath the falls. The view almost defies description, though the spray can obscure the base of the falls and even on the hottest days can chill sightseers—bring light raingear, plastic bags to protect cameras and other valuables, and perhaps even a small towel.

Far fewer visitors explore forest trails than the pasarelas, except for the 20-minute Sendero Verde, a short forest walk leading to a small wetland that’s home to birds and butterflies. The six-kilometer Sendero Macuco, a nature trail that begins near the train station, is the likeliest place to spot or hear the tufted capuchin monkey. Mostly level, it drops to the Salto Arrechea, a relatively small waterfall, via a steep, muddy, and slippery segment. Mosquito repellent is desirable.

Parque Nacional Iguazú Sports and Recreation

Above the falls, the Río Iguazú itself is suitable for activities like canoeing, kayaking, and other water sports; it should go without saying that there’s serious danger in getting too close to the falls. Below the falls, there are additional opportunities.

The park’s principal tour operator is Iguazú Jungle Explorer, which has an office in the Sheraton and kiosks at the Portal Cataratas and at the Garganta del Diablo trailhead. Offerings include a 30-minute Paseo Ecológico (US$5.50) through the gallery forests and islands above the falls; a 15-minute Aventura Naútica (US$11) that approaches the Garganta del Diablo from below; and the Gran Aventura (US$25) that includes and eight-kilometer forest excursion by 4WD vehicle, a motorized descent of the lower Iguazú including two kilometers of rapids; and visits to the various falls.

Explorador Expediciones offers two-hour trips through the selva (forest) in 4WD vehicles at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 and 4 p.m.

Parque Nacional Iguazú Accommodations and Food

By default, almost everyone will stay in Puerto Iguazú, as the only option within the park itself is the gargantuan Sheraton Internacional Iguazú Resort, an incongruously sited building whose ungainly exterior has a certain Soviet-style presence. That said, it’s the only option for those who covet the privilege of roaming the park grounds after hours, with rates starting at US$69 s or d with breakfast; those who demand views of the falls will have to pay rates starting at US$85 s or d.

The hotel itself has several restaurants, but anyone not eating there will have to settle for the tackiest fast-food clones and the odd parrilla on the park grounds. Better food is available in Puerto Iguazú itself.

Parque Nacional Iguazú: Other Practicalities

Panels at the park’s Centro de Interpretación (tel. 03757/491444, 8 a.m.–7 p.m. daily in summer, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily the rest of the year) give vivid explanations of the park’s environment and ecology; there are also helpful personnel on duty.

For foreigners, the admission charge of US$11 (in 2003) is the most expensive to any national park in the country. Provincial residents paid US$2, other Argentines US$4.50, and residents of other Mercosur countries US$6.50. Entry fees include the narrow-gauge Tren de la Selva and launch access to Isla San Martín. The concessionaire Iguazú Argentina has a website (www.iguazuargentina.com) in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.

From the bus terminal at Puerto Iguazú, El Práctico buses (US$1) operate frequently between 7:15 a.m. and 8 p.m., taking 45 minutes to or from the park.

YACUTINGA LODGE

For those can afford it, an even better way of getting to know the Misiones selva is Yacutinga Lodge, set in a 750-hectare private ecological reserve about an hour east of Parque Nacional Iguazú. While the reserve is much smaller than the park, its remaining (and recovering) subtropical rainforest provides a far more up-close-and-personal view of the natural environment, in remarkable accommodations that are far superior to the Sheraton.

For bird-watchers, Yacutinga offers a list of more than 300 species, plus many mammals, reptiles and butterflies; it also, under the sponsorship of the Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina, operates a small captive breeding program for capybaras. Eight separate nature trails, one of them self-guided and the rest open with local guides, range from 500 meters to eight kilometers (round-trip). There is also a short but fascinating catwalk through the forest canopy, leading to a platform that’s an ideal spot for observing birds and other flora (do not, however, encourage the semi-tame coatimundi, who tries to nibble on your clothes and anything else within reach).

The lodge proper deserves special mention. Using the maximum possible of materials salvaged from the forest, the Argentine owners have created a Gaudiesque combination of tranquility, comfort, and style that amounts to five-star rusticity. The main building is an idiosyncratic architectural masterpiece, with a large living room, dining room, and bar. There are 20 tasteful rooms sleeping up to four people each in five secluded units, but except during major holidays such as Holy Week, the proprietors prefer to have only a small percentage of this capacity occupied to ensure a quality experience. Accommodations are available on a full-board basis only (drinks extra); day excursions are not offered.

Yacutinga also meets many standards for appropriate development as, except for the owners themselves, all 17 employees (including the guides) come from the nearby community of Andresito and from Puerto Iguazú. Insofar as possible, the food is either raised on the reserve or purchased locally; the main exceptions are beverages such as beer, wine, and soft drinks. There is electricity 6–11 p.m. only.

Yacutinga’s food is very good, though if you stayed longer than a week it might seem repetitive. Unlike in Argentina’s pampas heartland, the beef comes from relatively chewy (though tasty) Zebu cattle. Vegetarian menus are available on request, though sometimes the main dish is vegetarian for everyone. The cinnamon rolls at breakfast deserve special mention.

Yacutinga makes accommodations arrangements, but it is not cheap. Passengers get picked up at Puesto Tigre, the Gendarmería (Border Guard) post just outside Puerto Iguazú’s airport; the transfer vehicle is a high-clearance open-sided truck, which allows views of the selva for 45 kilometers en route to Bahía la Blanquita. Here guests board a motorized raft for the last eight kilometers to Yacutinga, seeing the Río Iguazú gallery forest en route. The return to Puesto Tigre is by road on the same vehicle.

PUERTO IGUAZÚ

At the confluence of the Paraná and the Iguazú, Puerto Iguazú is a small riverside town that lives partly from a thriving tourist trade, thanks to its proximity to the famous Iguazú Falls, one of the planet’s - not just South America’s - most spectacular natural highlights. Visitors from all over the globe pass through or stay in town, though fewer cross the border to the Brazilian side of the falls to Brazil’s own national park and the service center of Foz do Iguaçu than in the past because of Brazil’s excessive, almost punitive, visa fees.

As part of the Tres Fronteras (“three borders”) area that includes the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu and the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este, Puerto Iguazú has a dark side as well; on the entire continent, its only challenger in corruption is the tripartite Amazonian border of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.

Here, linked by bridges and other less-conspicuous crossings on the two rivers, residents of the three Southern Cone countries pass freely, sustaining plenty of legitimate international trade but also enormous amounts of contraband weapons, drugs, and money. Money is a particularly contentious point, as Brazil- and Paraguay-based merchants of Middle Eastern origins reportedly have financial links to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, though there have been no terrorist incidents in this area.

This does not mean that the area is unsafe to visit, and most travelers consider Puerto Iguazú positively placid. Devaluation of all three countries’ currencies have made the area inexpensive but, while Foz do Iguaçu probably has the best hotels and restaurants, the Brazilian city also has a street-crime problem, particularly at night.

Puerto Iguazú Orientation and Sights

Puerto Iguazú (population 31,371) is about 300 kilometers northeast of Posadas via RN 12, a paved toll road that is gradually being widened; it is 1,287 kilometers north of Buenos Aires. Note that because of widespread smuggling in the Tres Fronteras area, there are thorough Gendarmería (Border Guard) inspections about 30 kilometers south of town.

Unlike the great majority of Argentine cities, Puerto Iguazú lacks a standard grid with a central plaza; instead, it has an irregular plan of triangles, diagonals, and curving streets. The main thoroughfare is the diagonal Avenue Victoria Aguirre, which enters town from the southeast and becomes Avenida Tres Fronteras. Most services are on or north of Aguirre and Tres Fronteras.

At the west end of Avenida Tres Fronteras, the Hito Argentino is an obelisk that triangulates the Paraná-Iguazú confluence with similar markers in Brazil and Paraguay, both of which are visible from here.

Puerto Iguazú Accommodations

Puerto Iguazú has abundant accommodations and, while they are even more abundant in Foz do Iguaçu, many visitors prefer Puerto Iguazú’s small-town ambience to the larger Brazilian city’s fast-paced and occasionally dangerous lifestyle. Generally, Puerto Iguazú’s best places are on the outskirts of town, on the road to the park.

While Puerto Iguazú gets quite a few visitors all year round, demand is highest during Semana Santa and the Argentine patriotic holidays in July, when prices tend to rise.

Puerto Iguazú Accommodations - Very Cheap

Two campgrounds on the road to the park offer decent facilities for around US$2–3 pp plus US$2–3 per tent: Camping El Pindó (RN 12 Km 3.5, tel. 03757/421795) and Camping Americano (RN 12 Km 5, tel. 03757/420190).

Puerto Iguazú has several fine hostel accommodations. Correcaminos Iguazú is a bargain at US$3.50 pp for dormitory accommodations with great common spaces, including a high-ceiling bar with a pool table, and spacious grounds. No longer an official HI affiliate, Residencial Uno (Fray Luis Beltrán 116, tel. 03757/420529, US$3.50 pp with breakfast) is by no means bad and usually has a good crowd, but it lacks the appealing common facilities of the Correcaminos.

Set in sprawling grounds on a quiet block, Residencial Los Amigos (Fray Luis Beltrán 82, tel. 03757/420756, US$3–5 pp) has both hostel-style accommodations and simple rooms with private baths.

The reception can be indifferent at Residencial Lilián (Fray Luis Beltrán 183, tel. 03757/420968), but good value at US$5.50/9 s/d with shared bath; rooms with private bath are slightly dearer. The rooms themselves, with two or three beds each, surround lushly landscaped patios and the two-story building has wide external corridors that provide shelter from searing sun and subtropical storm alike.

Convenient to the bus terminal, Residencial Paquita (Avenida Córdoba 158, tel. 03757/420434, US$7/9 s/d) is a friendlier family hostelry, with personalized attention. Nearby Hostería San Fernando (Avenida Córdoba and Guaraní, tel. 03757/421429, US$7/10.50 s/d) deserves consideration if Paquita’s full.

Puerto Iguazú Accommodations - Cheap

Well-worn Hotel Tierra Colorada (El Urú 28, tel. 03757/420649; US$9/14 s/d) looks better outside than in, with spartan furnishings including firm beds, but it’s quiet, the rooms are sizeable and have a/c, there’s secure parking, and it serves a decent breakfast. The hot water supply is spotty, though, because of a firewood-stoked hot water system and erratic water pressure.

Under new management, Hostería Casa Blanca Iguazú (Avenida Guaraní 121, tel. 03757/421320, US$12/16 s/d) is a plain but comfortable alternative.

Like many of its competitors, the motel-style Residencial La Cabaña (Av Tres Fronteras 434, tel. 420564, US$11/17 s/d) is also well-worn, but boasts luxuriant grounds and a quiet location.

Reservations are advisable for popular, efficient Hostería Los Helechos (Paulino Amarante 76, tel. 03757/420338, US$14/16 s/d), an excellent value that’s often crowded even off-season. The rooms are in a delightful garden setting, with a large pool and other amenities.

Though a little worn and lacking style, Alexander Hotel (Avenida Córdoba 222, tel./fax 03757/420249, US$17/19 s/d) is still comfortable, with lush gardens, a large swimming pool, and secure parking. Rates are fair enough.

Puerto Iguazú Accommodations - Moderate

One of Puerto Iguazú’s best midrange choices is the tastefully modernized Hotel Saint George (Avenida Córdoba 148, tel. 03757/420633, US$26/34 s/d in high season)..

At the west end of town, enjoying views of the confluence, Hotel Esturión (Avenida Tres Fronteras 650, tel. 03757/420100) charges US$29 s or d with garden vistas or US$29/38 s/d with river views; breakfast is included.

Puerto Iguazú Accommodations – A Little Expensive

East of Puerto Iguazú, Hotel Cataratas (RN 12 Km 4.5, tel. 03757/421100, fax 03757/421090, US$40/50 s/d) will win no truth-in-labeling awards - it’s far closer to town than to the world-famous cascades, and the only falls here are the bogus ones that tumble into its oversize swimming pool. Still, the rooms are large and well-equipped, and the rates are commensurate with its facilities.

Puerto Iguazú Accommodations - More Expensive

Editor’s note: The Grand Casino Hotel, as the name implies, maintains a casino.

Puerto Iguazú Food

Al fresco eating is the norm in Puerto Iguazú, at least in the morning or after the sun sets, and every place has at least some outdoor seating. At lunchtime, when many if not most visitors are in the national park, indoor a/c is more than welcome.

For breakfast, try the Fechorías (Eppens 294, tel. 03757/420182), which has sidewalk tables. Its patio particularly packed at dinnertime, Pizza Color (Avenida Córdoba 135, tel. 03757/420206) serves a diversity of pizzas.

Puerto Iguazú has several parrillas, all of which are pretty good: Jardín del Iguazú (Avenida Córdoba and Avenida Misiones, tel. 03757/423200), conveniently alongside the bus terminal; Charo (Avenida Córdoba 106, tel. 03757/421529); and El Tío Querido (Bonpland s/n, tel. 03757/420750), immediately north of the high-rise Hotel Libertador.

The Hotel St. George’s La Esquina (Avenida Córdoba 148, tel. 03757/421597) serves the best food in town, with starters like jamón crudo (raw ham) for around US$2.50 and entrees like grilled surubí (river fish) in the US$3–5 range. The service, though, can be erratic and even absent-minded. La Rueda (Avenida Córdoba 28, tel. 03757/422531) also serves fine grilled fish but is otherwise unimpressive.

Puerto Iguazú Information

There’s a helpful provincial Secretaría de Turismo (Avenida Victoria Aguirre 311, tel. 03757/420800, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily). The local Ente Municipal de Turismo has offices at the bus terminal (tel. 03757/423006, int. 106, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily) and downtown (Avenida Tres Fronteras 222, tel. 03757/420113, 7 a.m.–1 p.m. weekdays only).

For motorists, ACA (tel. 03757/420165) is on the southeastern outskirts of town, just beyond Camping El Pindó.

Puerto Iguazú Services

Banco de Misiones has an ATM at Avenida Victoria Aguirre 330.

Correo Argentino is at Avenida San Martín 780; the postal code is 3370.

Telecom has a large locutorio with Internet access at Avenida Victoria Aguirre and Eppens, but connections are very slow here. El Cielo is a spacious new Internet café at the corner of Avenida Misiones and Bonpland.

For tours on both the Argentine and Brazilian sides, and into nearby Paraguay as well, try Turismo Cuenca del Plata (Paulino Amarante 76, tel. 03757/421062).

Hospital Marta Teodora Shwartz (tel. 03757/420288) is at Avenida Victoria Aguirre and Ushuaia.

Puerto Iguazú: Getting There

Air services are in flux since the collapse of LAPA, but bus services are reliable.

Aerolíneas Argentinas/Austral (Avenida Victoria Aguirre 295, tel. 03757/420237) flies several times daily to Aeroparque (Buenos Aires), but Aerolíneas no longer operates international flights from here.

Southern Winds (Perito Moreno 184, Local 2, tel. 03757/420390) also flies to Aeroparque.

Puerto Iguazú’s Terminal de Ómnibus is on Avenida Córdoba between Avenida Misiones and Belgrano (tel. 03757/420854). In addition to long-distance services throughout Argentina, it is also the terminal for local buses to Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil) and Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), but note that some nationalities need visas to cross the border.

Sample destinations, fares, and times include Posadas (US$8, 4.5 hours), Corrientes (US$15, nine hours), Resistencia (US$16, 9.5 hours), Buenos Aires (US$24–29, 16.5 hours), and Salta (US$35, 22.5 hours).

Puerto Iguazú: Getting Around

Aeropuerto Internacional Iguazú is about 10 kilometers southeast of town. Several local agencies have combined their services to offer airport transfers as Four Tourist Travel, for US$2.50 pp. A remise costs about US$7.

El Práctico buses to Parque Nacional Iguazú (US$1) operate between 7:15 a.m. and 8 p.m., taking 45 minutes to the park. To Foz do Iguaçu (US$1.10), there are frequent buses with Celeste, Tres Fronteras, Risa, and El Práctico; travelers who must go through border formalities must usually disembark on the Brazilian side and wait for the succeeding bus (of any company) at no additional charge.

Rental bicycles are available on Plaza San Martín.

For car rental, try Localiza (Avenida Victoria Aguirre 271, tel. 03757/423780 or 422436, localiza_igr@arnet.com.ar.)

PARQUE NACIONAL DO IGUAÇU (BRAZIL)

By consensus, the Brazilian side of the border offers the best panoramas of the falls, even if the Argentine side provides better close-ups. Fauna, flora, and services are similar on both sides, but the Brazilian side has fewer easily accessible areas for roaming. The best views are available along the trail leading from Hotel das Cataratas down to the riverside overlook.

Like the Argentine side, its infrastructure has undergone considerable changes in recent years, with private vehicles consigned to parking lots, and shuttle buses carrying passengers to the falls. One unchanged feature is the noisy 10-minute helicopter overflights (US$60 pp) which, complain Argentine authorities, disrupt nesting birds and other wildlife.

The park’s only accommodations are at the Hotel das Cataratas (tel. 45/521-7000, fax 45/574-1688, US$146/168 s/d), oozing a tasteful tropicality that the Argentine park’s concrete Sheraton bunker can hardly conceive of.

Payable in Brazilian currency only, the park admission charge is equivalent to US$1 for local residents, US$4 for other Brazilians, US$6 for residents of other Mercosur countries, and US$7 for all other foreigners. The park is open 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily.

From Puerto Iguazú’s terminal, take any Celeste, Tres Fronteras, Risa, or El Práctico bus over the Puente Internacional Tancredo Neves, the bridge over the Río Iguazú. These buses go to downtown Foz do Iguaçú’s local bus terminal, at Avenida Juscelino Kubitschek and Rua Mem de Sá, where Transbalan city buses leave directly for the park. Park-bound passengers from Argentina, however, can disembark at the junction with Avenida das Cataratas, just north of the bridge, and take the Transbalan bus to the park entrance.

FOZ DO IGUAÇU

Compared with pastoral Puerto Iguazú, Foz do Iguaçu is a frantic, fast-moving center of commerce and construction that’s grown almost uncontrollably as a result of Itaipú dam, a joint Brazilian-Paraguayan effort that’s the Iguazú of hydroelectric projects. Foz has a broader range of services than Puerto Iguazú - with a capacity of 22,000 hotel beds - but lacks the Argentine town’s greenery.

Foz’s unbridled growth has also focused Brazil’s serious social problems here - its downtown streets can be unsafe at night, and its riverside favelas (shantytowns) should be avoided at any hour. It’s also drawn unfavorable attention for alleged connections to Middle Eastern terrorism: when the Brazilian magazine Veja published a report that Osama bin Laden had been seen in Foz some years earlier, local merchants responded with an ironic full-page ad with a photo of the Al Qaeda leader and the caption “if bin Laden visited Foz, it’s because it was worth the trouble.” Municipal authorities, though, were livid about the article, which they called unsubstantiated.

Foz do Iguaçu: Orientation

At the northern confluence of the Rio Iguaçu and the Rio Paraná, Foz do Iguaçu (population 205,000) is immediately north of Puerto Iguazú (Argentina) and immediately east of Ciudad del Este (Paraguay). The Ponte Presidente Tancredo Neves, across the Rio Iguaçu, links the city to Puerto Iguazú, while the Ponte da Amizade crosses the Paraná to Ciudad del Este.

From downtown Foz, the diagonal Avenida das Cataratas leads southeast toward Parque Nacional do Iguaçu and the bridge to Argentina.

Usina Hidrelétrica Itaipú

Other than the Brazilian side of the falls, Foz’s biggest attraction – literally - is Itaipú, the world’s largest hydroelectric project, 15 kilometers up the Paraná from the city. As a cheap source of hydroelectricity, its legacy is a mixed one; its construction drowned the Sete Quedas, a series of waterfalls that rivaled Iguazú in their dramatic scenery and ecological significance.

Eight kilometers across, with a maximum height of 196 meters, Itaipú is nearly three times the height of Iguazú; with an installed capacity of 12,600 megawatts, it can produce more than one trillion kilowatts of power hourly. Since Paraguay’s energy needs are much lower than those of Brazil, Brazil purchases Paraguay’s unused portion.

Free guided tours of the Brazilian side take place at 8, 9, and 10 a.m., and at 2 and 3:30 p.m. daily except Sunday; for more information, contact the Centro de Recepcão de Visitantes (Avenida Tancredo Neves 6702, tel. 45/520-6398) 10 kilometers north of Foz. From Foz’s municipal bus terminal, the Conjunto C bus goes directly to the visitors center via Avenida Juscelino Kubitschek, also stopping at the project’s Ecomuseu (Avenida Tancredo Neves 6001, tel. 45/520-5813, 9–11:30 a.m. and 2–5:30 p.m. daily except Sunday), an archaeology and natural history museum.

Foz do Iguaçu Accommodations

Foz suffers from an overcapacity of accommodations, with 22,000 hotel beds in a city that rarely hosts more than about 5,000 visitors. That means there are some good deals, but many travelers still prefer the Argentine side for its tranquility.

The HI affiliate is the remarkable Hostel Albergue Paudimar Campestre (Avenida das Cataratas, Km 12.5, tel. 45/529-6061).

Downtown Foz’s best budget option is still the traditional favorite Pousada da Laura (Naipi 671, tel. 45/572-3379, US$3.50 pp). Hotel Tarobá (Rua Tarobá 1048, tel. 574-3890, US$7/13 s/d) also offers good value; the nearby Hotel Del Rey (Rua Tarobá 1020, tel. 45/523-2027, US$11/15 s/d) provides more-spacious rooms and a swimming pool.

Each room at the modern Hotel Bella Italia (Avenida República Argentina 1700, tel. 45/523-5300, fax 45/574-4737, US$40/47 s/d) is spacious, spotless, and well-furnished, and comes with a small balcony. It’s an exceptional value for a first-rate place.

On almost sprawling, luxuriantly landscaped grounds, the five-star Bourbon Cataratas Resort & Convention (Avenida das Cataratas Km 2.5, tel. 45/529-0123, fax 45/529-0000, US$84 s or d) is a legitimate luxury hotel with prices to prove it.

Foz do Iguaçu: Food

For breakfast, pastries, and short orders, try Maria’s and Maria Confeitaria (Avenida Brasil 505, tel. 45/574-5472). For vegetarian specialties, there’s the inexpensive buffet at Ver o Verde (Almirante Barroso 1713, tel. 45/574-5647).

The Brazilian equivalent to Argentina’s parrilla is the churascarria, where grilled beef is the norm. The best choice is Búfalo Branco (Rebouças 530, tel. 45/574-5115), but the popular and cheaper Bier Garten Chopperia (Avenida Jorge Schimmelpfeng 550, tel. 45/523-3700) also serves pizza and cold draft beer.

Brazil has a large Japanese immigrant community, so specialties like sushi are common here. Two good choices are Miyako (Rua Décio Luiz Cardoso 469, tel. 45/523-5724), and the more-expensive Nissei (Avenida Juscelino Kubitschek 98, tel. 45/523-3121).

Brazilian ice cream differs from Argentina’s in that it features many more tropical-fruit flavors in addition to the standard vanillas and chocolates. For a sample, sold by weight, check out Oficina do Sorvete (Avenida Jorge Schimmelpfeng 244, tel. 45/572-1772).

Foz do Iguaçu: Information and Services

The downtown office of the Secretaria Municipal de Turismo (Praça Getúlio Vargas 260, tel. 45/521-1461, 7 a.m.–11 p.m. daily) has capable English- and Spanish-speaking staff, plus maps, brochures, and detailed hotel information.

Câmbio Leocadio (Avenida Brasil 71) changes both cash and travelers checks (with a three percent commission). HSBC has an ATM at Almirante Barroso and Xavier da Silva.

Foz’s post office is on the east side of Praça Getúlio Vargas, at the corner of Avenida Juscelino Kubitschek and Rio Branco. For international phone calls, try Telepar (Marechal Floriano Peixoto, 1222).

The Argentine consulate (Travessa Eduardo Bianchi 26, tel. 45/574-2969) is open 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays. Paraguay’s consulate (Bartolomeu de Gusmão, 738, tel 45/523-2898) is open 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays.)

2004 © Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Handbooks Argentina, 1st ed. Used by permission of the author and Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved. For more info please visit Moon.com.

Order the 2004 edition of Moon Handbooks Argentina from Amazon.com.

A new edition of Moon Argentina (Moon Handbooks) is due to be published in late 2007.

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More about the Iguassu Falls region and Misiones Province in our section on Southern Brazil.

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