Iguazu Falls: A Real Creature Feature

parksignIguazu Falls sits on the border of Argentina and Brazil and is the largest waterfall system in the world. People often visit both sides as it is said they offer completely different experiences of this great natural wonder. In addition to the roaring walls of cascading water, Iguazu also offers visitors the chance to spot a massively varied collection of wildlife from colourful birds, enormous reptiles and cheeky racoon-like creatures.

Getting to Iguazu Falls from the nearby town of Puerto Iguazu is simple. At the bus station return tickets can be purchased for $130 pesos (roughly £6.50) from many of the bus companies located there. We asked prices at every single booth and all quoted the same price and seemingly used the same bus company so you needn’t worry about being scammed. Buses leave the station at Puerto Iguazu every twenty minutes starting from 7:20am and with the same frequency from the falls with the final one leaving there at 8:15pm. Buses can get busy so make sure you get to the station early if you want to reach the park by a specific time. Entry to the park itself costs $500 pesos (roughly £25) and can be paid at the entrance to the falls.

The park is made up of four main trails: the green trail, upper circuit, lower circuit and the Devil’s Throat circuit. Due to puma activity on the day of our visit the green trail and the sizeable lower circuit were closed which meant that we were unable to walk around a large majority of the Iguazu site. The fact that the lower circuit was shut also meant that boat journeys to San Martin Island were unavailable that day. As the green trail is the track that joins the entrance to the main bulk of the falls it meant that we had to join an enormous queue for the (painfully slow) train in order to reach the sights of the park proper. The large number of people in the line meant that we had to wait well over an hour to get to Central Station which was very frustrating. To make matters worse, huge groups of visitors arrived at areas of interest at the same time meaning the important spots that were open were extremely crowded. The activity of dangerous wildlife is not the fault of the people who run the park but, if the majority of the trails are to be shut, it would’ve been nice to have been offered discounted entry. We were disappointed that, after travelling so far and spending so much money to come to the falls, more than 50% of the trails were off limits. Unfortunately, our experiences here simply added to our growing belief that Argentina does not offer good value or indeed good service to foreign visitors.

As we were forced to use the train we decided to stay on it until the end of the track and visit Devil’s Throat first. The track runs alongside a dirt road that cuts through the jungle foliage and would have made for a lovely stroll but, much to our frustration, that too was off limits to visitors. Once we disembarked the train we joined a metal gangway that crossed great swathes of the Upper Iguazu River and eventually led us to the viewing area for the Devil’s Throat part of the falls. Owing to the number of people arriving on the train at the same time the viewing area at the end of the gangway was rammed with people. There were so many bodies here that it is almost impossible to get a good view of the raging falls. People will encroach on your images and personal space without a care in the world and there is no sort of system in place to keep the crowds flowing so expect to wait for a good long while for some of the less courteous folk to vacate a vantage point at the railings. In addition to this, as you are right on top of the falls, the spray that comes from the furious waters blows right in your face making visibility even poorer. Expect to get wet and for your camera to get soaked by water droplets. Thankfully, as the weather was rather hot, we dried off quickly on the way back to the train station.

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Panorama of Devil’s Throat

We headed back to Central Station and then took the only remaining route that was open that day: the upper circuit. I wasn’t much impressed by Devil’s Throat owing to it being so overcrowded so it was with some relief that we found this trail to be far less busy. We were able to freely walk the gangways and take photographs of the four falls it spans without hindrance in most parts of this trail. I found the more distant views of the falls from the upper circuit far more impressive than the extreme proximity of Devil’s Throat as they allowed you to take in a wider and fuller view of the falls without being soaked in the process. The spray and the location of the sun also ensured that there was a rainbow present at nearly every vantage point which made for some special pictures. Seeing the raw power of the river cutting through the lush green of the rainforest below was likewise spectacular to witness and again made for some excellent snaps.

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Panorama of the view from the upper circuit

Even though the main attraction of Iguazu is meant to be the falls, I actually found myself more impressed by the wildlife that inhabits the park. The variety of animals and birds I saw was astounding. From crocodiles to monkeys and toucans to coatis it seemed every time you turned a corner you were confronted with a new species and this, for me, justified the hefty entry fee more than the overly busy trails.

The first encounter of note was near the entrance of the gangway that leads to the Devil’s Throat area of the falls. Here hundreds of butterflies spread their colourful wings and enjoyed the sun’s powerful rays. There were so many different types of butterfly around that it was almost overwhelming. They are certainly not timid, either, so you can fully expect at least a few to land on you during your visit. One woman in particular, on the train back to the entrance was like a magnet to them, attracting one every few moments much to the amusement of her young daughter.

One of the animals that you cannot fail to bump into are the large groups of coatis that roam the park. They can be spotted all over the place but most frequently at the restaurant/fast food area situated near Central Station. Although they might first seem cute, coati behaviour is unpredictable and they can be dangerous. The coatis in the park have grown fearless of human visitors owing to the fact that people have been feeding them for years on end. Now they maraud around this area slashing at bags containing food with their enormous claws and stealing sandwiches and empanadas out of unsuspecting hands. During our brief stop for a bite to eat I witnessed a group of ten to fifteen coatis cause havoc on numerous occasions, the most notable of which were a prolonged tug of war between a woman and a vicious male for her newly opened Subway sarnie and a poor woman getting the shock of her life as a youngster snuck up on her and started slurping her coke on the sly. As long as you don’t entice them with food there shouldn’t be any problems but they are crazy enough to cause you serious injury if you engage with them, so be wary when you see one.

Two of my absolute highlights were sighting a crocodile and a toucan. As we were making our way across the walkway towards Devil’s Throat I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. Much to my excitement, it was the head of a submerged croc slowly making its way downriver. Just in front of the croc was a rocky outcrop and I silently willed it to climb out of the water there so I could see it in all its glory. Amazingly, the crocodile did just as I wished and clambered onto the rock to enjoy some of the day’s sunshine. It was such a fantastic experience for me, seeing this huge creature so close up in the wild.

Near the end of our visit, as we checked out the final area available to us, we noticed a crowd of people looking up into the trees. We joined this throng of people and tried to spot what had caught their attention. Eventually we spotted it between the branches: a toucan sitting serenely, its beak so bright we could hardly believe it had took us so long to discover it! It was hard to get a good photo through the foliage but the impressive bird stayed around just long enough for me to get a shot I was happy with.

Overall, a visit to Iguazu Falls is pricy but ultimately worth it. Hopefully you will visit on a day when the pumas are prowling elsewhere and all the trails are open, making your entry fee seem like better value for money. If you can survive being pushed and shoved, elbowed and trampled on by the huge numbers of other visitors you will be rewarded with some truly memorable views of this furious natural wonder and, if you are lucky, you’ll probably be able to observe more animal species in one day than you have seen in the rest of your life combined.

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Ultimately the falls are worth a visit for views like this

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