How to Visit Iguazu Falls From Brazil & Argentina

I visited Niagara Falls as a kid (and a few times recently, too!), so I thought I knew what to expect from a waterfall. I did not. Niagara is nice, but comparing Niagara to Iguazu Falls is like comparing a 4th grade kickball game to the World Cup. I’m sorry, Niagara, but Iguazu has you beat on many fronts!

Iguazu Falls Argentina

First off, number of ‘falls. Niagara is basically two massive waterfalls: the beautiful “horseshoe” Canadian Falls and the sheer wall of power in the American Falls. Iguazu has about 300 waterfalls. THREE HUNDRED! Sure, some are really small and may even be nonexistent in dryer months, but that still leaves, what, 150 impressive waterfalls?!

Secondly, Iguazu Falls is located within a national park. If you’ve ever been to Niagara, you’ll recall that most of the surrounding area is a tacky tourist trap. This isn’t to say that this area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay is a classy, upscale oasis…but you can’t see a ferris wheel and casino from the waterfall like you can in Niagara. There is only one hotel on each the Brazil and Argentine side that are actually located inside the national park. And they are nice hotels that you should actually stay in.

Iguazu Falls Argentina side

So which side? The answer is “both.” Is that a cop-out? I don’t care. These waterfalls must be seen. Attention must be paid. Spend the two days and experience what it’s like to feel like you’re stepping into your own Jurassic Park.

The Argentine Side of Iguazu (“Cataratas del Iguazú”)

While we flew into the Brazilian side of the falls from Rio, our first stop was on the Argentine side. Our plan was to stay for two nights: one night in each country. This way, we would be able to explore national parks on both sides and get a full Iguazu Falls experience. As mentioned, there is one hotel that is actually located inside the national park: the Sheraton Iguazu. You’ll want to stay here. In addition to being walking distance to the many  trails that will lead you past over 100 waterfalls and unique wildlife, you can actually set out a full hour earlier than the park’s official opening. No crowds. Just you and the falls.

Dave with Iguazu Falls argentina

The Argentine side is not as commercial compared to the Brazilian side. The wooden pathways are unobtrusive and built into the landscape. Much of the journey feels like a nature walk. You’ll pass dozens of named falls and many which are not named. There are upper and lower circuits. You’ll see the same falls from two vantage points. It is awe-inspiring! Once the park opens to the public, you’ll push through the crowds to get close-up. It only gets worse as the day goes on. This is why staying inside the park is so valuable.

Note: Even if you stay at the Sheraton, you’ll still need to pay the park entrance fee to get to your hotel. As of March 2014, the fee is 170 Argentine pesos (approx. $21 and less if you exchange on the black market). 

The Brazilian Side of Iguazu (“Cataratas do Iguaçu”)

Less of the actual falls themselves are located in Brazil, which actually means that the view can be even better from the Brazilian side. Since you cannot drive into the national park on the Brazilian side, you leave your car at a lot by the entrance and take a tour bus to the walking paths that will guide you to all of the scenic spots. This side of the falls seems slightly more commercial, but that does not take away from the beauty. You will be able to get pretty close to the falls via boardwalks that jut out into the water (the Brazilian side does a better job with the viewing platforms). Because the falls themselves are tiered, you can actually overlook the crest of one waterfall while standing practically beneath another waterfall! Be prepared to get soaked.

Iguazu Falls with Viewing Platforms Brazil

Unlike Argentina, which is concerned with pollution, Brazil allows helicopter tours over the falls. We did not partake because of the environmental impact, but I do think the views would be spectacular.

Like the Argentine side, there is a single hotel within the national park on the Brazilian side: Hotel das Cataratas. This hotel is magnificent and so close to the actual falls. Like on the Argentine side, you can enter the walking paths before they are open to the public. You can also stand on the hotel’s lawn and watch the sunset over the falls. Note that you cannot drive into the national park, so if you’re staying at this hotel, they will allow you to park your car at the entrance and will come pick you up.

Iguazu Sunset from Brazil Hotel das Cataratas

Iguazu Sunset from Brazil Hotel das Cataratas

Note: Again, you’ll still need to pay the park fee regardless of where you stay. As of March 2014, it is 41 Brazilian Reals ($18).

How Do I Get to Iguazu?

There are airports on both sides of Iguazu Falls: Cataratas del Iguazú International Airport (IGR) on the Argentine side and Foz do Iguaçu International Airport (IGU) on the Brazilian side. Most likely you will be starting your trip while already in Argentina or Brazil, so you should fly domestically if you can. If you’re already in Brazil, flying to the Argentine side of the Falls could be triple the cost. You can also fly to Guarani International Airport (AGT) in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay (but you should probably just sneak into Paraguay later…).

Car rental is a snap because these airports are not very big. We rented from Hertz on the Brazilian side. Let them know you’ll be entering Argentina because you’ll have to pay for additional insurance. The roads are easy to navigate and the border crossing is not difficult, provided you have your paperwork in order. Remember that Americans need a visa to enter Brazil. Also remember that Americans are required to pay a reciprocity fee to enter Argentina. Both the Brazilian visa and the Argentine reciprocity fee are valid for 10 years. Citizens of many other countries are not required to have visa or pay any fees, so if you have another passport (especially an EU passport), now is the time to use it!

Iguazu Sunset from Brazil Chandra

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