Visiting Iguazu Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, is a deserving entry on any bucket list. And with over a million visitors each year on both the Brazilian and Argentinian side, Iguazu Falls is clearly on a lot of bucket lists. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit.
The complete guide to visiting Iguazu Falls
As one of the top tourist attractions in the whole of South America, you’ll never be alone when visiting Iguazu Falls. And it can be quite an expensive excursion too, particularly if you’re not South American and so have to pay the foreigner rates. (We’re sure there’s a law against that sort of thing in some parts of the world!)
We visited Iguazu Falls in July 2018 from both the Argentinian and Brazilian side. Each offered not only a completely different perspective of the falls but our experience in Brazil was completely different from the Argentinian visit. We certainly learnt a few lessons so read on to help you plan your visit.
About Iguazu Falls
There’s no doubting the power and beauty of Mother Nature and the photos are no substitute for visiting Iguazu Falls in person.
Made up of 275 individual waterfalls, it spans an area 1.7 miles wide straddling the border of Argentina & Brazil. The tallest of all the falls is Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped waterfall dropping more than 80 meters into a permanent cloud of mist.
The name Iguazu comes from the indigenous Guarani language and means big water. A fair description indeed, although perhaps an ever so slight understatement.
Looking for a bit more culture? Take a look around the Guarani Jesuit missions of Argentina
The best time to visit Iguazu Falls
The Iguazu River flows year round so the waterfalls never stop cascading. And because the falls are almost in the tropics, the weather doesn’t prevent access either. There are high and low seasons though and a rainy and dry season too.
December to January is the hottest time of year and coincides with the Argentinian and Brazilian holidays. This adds up to the busiest time of year so avoid visiting Iguazu Falls then if you don’t like too many crowds or paying higher prices for accommodation.
April, May, October and November have the most rainfall but hey, you’re going to get wet anyway so who cares? June to September have the least rain and aside from a couple of weeks in July, there aren’t too many holidays making it a good time to visit to avoid crowds.
As one the world’s natural wonders, Iguazu Falls is always busy. Even so, whatever time of year you decide to visit, try to avoid weekends and local holidays when a greater number of Argentinian, Brazilian and Paraguayan day trippers visit too.
Visiting Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian side
A visit to the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls brings you into direct contact with their sheer ferocity and power as the unending torrent spills over the cliff edges. The park absorbs visitors along well marked trails and walkways and there’s even a jungle train to transport you to key viewpoints. There are 5 walking trails to follow in the park. Some are busier than others and all offer a unique perspective of the falls and the Iguazu River.
The lower circuit was our favourite of all the trails in the park. There’s a lot of steps but it offers the best panoramic views of the falls on the Argentinian side. The designated lookout points along the trail provide terrific views not only of the panoramic scene but also close encounters with Dos Hermanos, Salto Chico and Salto Bossetti.
The lower circuit is just over a mile long and it took us a couple of hours with all the stopping for photos and taking in the views.
If you plan to take a boat trip, this is the trail to take to reach the jetty too. You need to descend steps cut into the rocks here so make sure you’re wearing decent shoes.
San Martin Island
A boat trip to San Martin Island is included with your admission fee. It’s only a short hop across and you don’t get wet or close to the falls. The views from the island offers another perspective of the falls although you have to climb a lot of steps to reach the view point. If the water levels aren’t right though, the boats won’t sail.
This is the least visited trail on the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls, perhaps because it’s 3.5 kilometres in each direction. The trail leads to one of the more remote waterfalls, Salto Arrachea.
The park rangers often close the path when any of the big cats like pumas have been seen nearby. Apparently, it’s not good for business when customers are attacked by resident wildlife.
The upper circuit is a mile long flat walkway on stilts above the fast flowing river. At various points along the way, the vantage point is from the very top of the cliffs as the water tumbles 60 metres over the edge.
The contrast between the relatively calm surface of the river to the sheer power and ferociousness as it cascades over is remarkable. It’s another unique perspective of the magnificence of this natural wonder.
Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) Trail
Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat is the highlight of the show for any visit to Iguazu Falls. Here, 14 waterfalls cascade in a torrent over the cliff edge. The viewpoint is reached along a sturdy 1 kilometre metal and wooden walkway above the river. Wildlife abound along this route and we saw huge catfish, basking terrapins, hundreds of butterflies and our first sighting of a toucan!
At the end of the walkway, visitors are rewarded with the single best moment as they gaze into Devil’s Throat. Don’t miss this because its breathtaking.
This is a close encounter with Iguazu Falls so depending on the wind, you may get a little wet here from the water spray.
Love waterfalls? Try these for size!
The park on has an aptly named Jungle Train to help visitors travel around the park. There’s only a few stops: Central Station near the main gate, Cataratas Station at the start of the upper and lower trails and Garganta Station at the Devil’s Throat walkway.
The Jungle Train can experience heavy traffic so you may need to wait longer than it would take to walk to the next stop. Judge the queues and if you’re not too tired already, walk instead.
If you do get the Jungle Train to Devil’s Throat, hang back when you disembark. Apart from the few people that walk, everyone gets here by train. If you wait for most of the passengers to go ahead of you and join the back of the queue, you’ll have a less busy experience once you arrive at the viewing platform.
Tips for visiting Iguazu Falls in Argentina
- It’s unlikely you’ll have time in 1 day to explore all of the walking trails in the park, even if you use the Jungle Train to get around. When you leave the park, make sure to ask the ticket office to validate your entry ticket. This will allow half price entry the following day so you can walk the trails you missed.
- We’ve heard some visitors to Iguazu Falls have been asked to present their passports. We weren’t asked but to avoid disappointment, bring it anyway – in a Ziploc bag to keep it dry.
- Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) is a highlight of a visit to Iguazu Falls in Argentina and no doubt you’ll want your photos to turn out well. Try to visit Devil’s Throat after lunch so the sunlight is shining from behind as you view the falls; it’ll make for a better looking sky in your photos.
- If you’re travelling in your own vehicle, especially a campervan or larger vehicle, try to park with the tourist buses. It’s free!
- We suggest walking the Lower Circuit in the morning. It seems visitors are eager to see the Devil’s Throat so head there first, leaving the Lower Circuit relatively quiet.
- If you want to buy waterproof ponchos, buy them outside of the park in Puerto Iguazu because they’ll cost at least 5 times more once you’re inside.
- The Jungle Train, and the upper circuit and Garganta del Diablo trails are all accessible so if you have pushchairs or use a wheelchair, you won’t have any trouble here. The Lower Circuit has lots of steps though.
Admission costs to Iguazu Falls in Argentina
At the time of writing, the admission fee into Iguazu Falls for foreigners is ARG$600 per person. Parking is an extra ARG$120 per vehicle. However, if you can park with the tour buses, parking is free, perfect for large campervans.
The boat trips into the falls are so expensive and recent price hikes render them poor value in our opinion. ARG$1200 per person is the current going rate – for 12 minutes on a boat to get soaking wet. That’s around £30GBP each and equivalent of twice our daily budget.
Where to stay in Puerto Iguaza
Most visitors to the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls base themselves in the town of Puerto Iguazu, about 15 kilometres from the park entrance.
If like us, you’re an overlander and want to camp, you have a few choices. If you need to pitch a tent, there’s a couple of campsites in town called El Coali and Costa Ramon. They’ll set you back around ARG$100 per person per night but we can’t vouch for the facilities.
If you have your own camper, you can stay at the truck stop at the YPF fuel station near the Brazilian border crossing for free. It even has complimentary wifi and the best hot shower I’ve had in the whole of Argentina!
If you need to arrange accommodation in Puerto Iguazu, there’s loads of hotels, hostels and posadas to choose from. Take a look at booking.com to check the latest availability and prices.
If you really want to push the boat out, why not stay at the Melia Iguazu Hotel, formerly the Sheraton? It’s the only hotel inside the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls and half the rooms are available with views of the falls. At around US$250 per night, a stay would have bust our budget though.
How to get to Iguazu Falls from Puerto Iguaza
From the bus station (Terminal de Omnibus) in Puerto Iguazu, look for the Rio Uruguay ticket office. You need to buy a round trip ticket to Cataratas.
If you have your own vehicle or have a rental car, it’s an easy drive along Ruta Nacional 12 out of town and onto Ruta Nacional 101 all the way to the park. Just follow the signposts – it’d be pretty hard to miss it.
As a word of caution, when driving into town there is a junction popular with robbing, corrupt no-gooders. They look as though they have some sort of authority with their day-glo jackets but they actually have none. We knew about this scam so forewarned when they pulled us over.
They asked us for a tourist fee to enter the town as we’re foreign. Smiling through gritted teeth, told them in our finest English we don’t pay scammers and we’ll never pay to enter a town. They let us go. We must have been on their too hard pile!
We know sometimes it’s easier to pay but it’s only because their tactics work these scammers exist at all. Please, please, don’t pay them and help put these people out of business.
Visiting Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side
A visit to the Brazilian side provides the most complete panoramic views of Iguazu Falls. There’s only one trail so it doesn’t take as long as the Argentinian visit. Because of this though, crowds aren’t absorbed so well during busy periods.
Getting around Parque Nacional do Iguaçu
Visiting the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls is straightforward. Once you’ve purchased your tickets at the box office, queue up for the bus. While there’s a never ending line of buses, if it’s busy, you can wait maybe an hour to reach the front of queue. I guess you could walk instead but it’s a 10 kilometre hike to the start of the trail so not ideal for everyone.
There’s a couple of bus stops on the way to the main trail from where you can take optional jungle treks, kayak rides and boat trips. Again these aren’t cheap and prices rise often so check on the website before you arrive to make sure your budget will stretch if this is something you want to do.
The main bus stop is outside the pink building, the Belmond Hotel. Disembark here and follow the well marked trail. The trail in only about 1.5 kilometres. There are some steps and in parts, the walkway can be slippery so wear sensible footwear. Along the trail there are a few perfectly positioned lookout points where you’ll get to appreciate the full scale of Iguazu Falls. These are hotspots for selfie seeking visitors so you may need to queue for uninterrupted views.
The trail ends with a boardwalk over the white water where you will get wet from the spray. The view from the end of the walkway is incredible.
A warning about the busy periods
We made a huge mistake by visiting the Brazilian side on a Sunday in the middle of the local winter holiday. There were so many people along the trail it was almost untrue. The park made no attempt at organising the crowd and it seems many visitors were unable to organise themselves either. Some people pushed and jostled for position, jumping the queue and affecting the experience for most of the people around them.
So a gentle note to all visitors to the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls: there’s no need to push or jostle for position. Everyone is there for the same reason and going to the same place – there’s only one route for crying out loud. So be patient and queue nicely! Yep – we were irritated with the dreadful behaviour of a few!
Tips for visiting Iguazu Falls in Brazil
- The Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls are best visited in the morning while the light is behind you. Again, this makes for the best photographs and when the conditions are right, most rainbows.
- If you really can’t avoid the busy period and your budget can stretch to it, we highly recommend a stay at the Belmond Hotel. Not only do you get a night in complete luxury but you also have access to Iguazu Falls when the park is closed! No queueing with thousands of other visitors and you’ll have time to enjoy the views all you want. We wished we’d done this!
- If you’re travelling in your own vehicle, especially a campervan or larger vehicle, again try to park with the tourist buses. It’s free!
Admission costs to Iguazu Falls in Brazil
At the time of writing, the admission fee into Iguazu Falls for foreigners is R$65 per person. Parking is an extra R$20 per vehicle but if you can park with the tour buses, parking is free.
Where to stay in Foz do Iguaçu
Most visitors to the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls base themselves in the town of Foz do Iguaçu, about 12 kilometres from the park entrance.
We stayed at Camping Internacional in town. It costs R$25 per person per night. With ok showers, good wifi, laundry facilities and close to town it’s a good option.
If you need to arrange accommodation in Foz do Iguaçu, there’s loads of hotels, hostels and posadas to choose from. Take a look at booking.com to check the latest availability and prices.
If you really want to push the boat out, why not stay at the Belmond inside the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu. It’s the only hotel inside the park on the Brazilian side and perfect for beating the crowds too!
How to get to Iguazu Falls from Foz do Iguaçu
Bus line 120 will take you from Foz do Iguaçu to Iguazu Falls and only takes around 30 minutes. You can catch it at the bus terminal or along it’’s route.
If you have your own vehicle or have a rental car, it’s an easy 12km drive along BR469 all the way to the park. Just follow the signposts and tour buses.
How to visit both sides of Iguazu Falls
The Argentina/Brazil border crossing between Foz do Iguaçu and Puerto Iguazu experiences heavy tourist traffic crossing specifically to visit the falls. As such, most of the time the border officials wave buses and taxis through without checking passports. This maybe fine for South American nationals but it’s not fine for everyone else. If you enter either country without going through the border formalities you are effectively in the country illegally. Not a position to be caught in!
If you catch a bus or taxi across the border, even for only one day, insist the driver stops and allows you to get the necessary stamps in your passport. If you need a visa to enter either country, you’ll need to arrange this too. Check with your own foreign office before you travel.
If like us you’re driving your own vehicle, you will need to deal with the temporary import permit (TIP). We travelled from Argentina to Brazil and the process was easy and efficient, although we did need to find the right people and tell them what process we must follow.
On exiting Argentina, we had our passports stamped and handed in our Argentinian TIP. As we crossed the bridge to enter Brazil, we received our passport stamps and sat with a friendly customs chap while he dealt with our Brazilian TIP. We shared a gourd of mate with him as he apologised profusely for the slow systems. After about half an hour, much laughter in Portuguese, Spanish and English without any f us really understanding the other, he issued our TIP.
Oh and as a point of note, if you’re from the UK tell the customs official the country is ”Reino Unido“ on the computer’s drop down list – it took us 10 minutes for 3 of us to work it out.
Read more about the South American obsession with yerba mate
Onward travel from Iguazu Falls
If you’ve entered Argentina at Puerto Iguazu, consider following our Northeast Argentina road trip route in reverse. You can check out our itinerary here and adapt it to suit.
If you’ve already toured Argentina’s Missiones and Corrientes provinces, why not follow in our footsteps and tour Paraguay? We’re about to embark on a Paraguayan road trip as we head north towards Brazil’s Pantanal so watch this space for more road trip reports.
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