Iguaçu Falls is the widest waterfall in the world, and also boasts the world’s highest recorded water, comprising falls on both the Brazil and Argentina sides. Much of the river basin is in Brazil, though Argentina has 80% of the actual falls.
Iguaçu Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Brazil side was listed in 1986 and the Argentinian side in 1984 – but both countries listed the falls as National Parks back in the 1930s.
The national park on the Brazil side is much larger than the national park in Argentina, comprising over 180,000 hectares, or three times the size of the Argentinian park!
The falls are a popular tourist attraction and are accessible from cities across Brazil as well as Buenos Aires, Argentina. There are two main towns near the park entrance, one in each country, that form the base for most travelers visiting Iguaçu Falls, though some travelers choose to stay in the park itself.
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How to Get From Rio de Janeiro to Iguaçu Falls
The easiest way to travel from Rio to Iguaçu Falls is by plane. You can fly into Foz do Iguaçu (IGU) from Rio and other cities across Brazil. The airport is only about ten minutes drive from the falls.
If you are traveling on a tight budget, it is possible to take an overnight bus from Rio to Foz do Iguaçu, however, it will take a very long time and can be cramped.
The town of Foz do Iguaçu is located across the bridge from Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian side. It is only a few minutes’ drive from the airport. If you are staying in town, you can take a bus to the park entrance where you will meet the national park shuttle. Other options are to take a guided tour which offers hotel pickup.
Best Time to Visit Iguaçu Falls
The Iguazu Falls are located within a humid subtropical southern hemisphere climate, meaning the seasons are switched for those of us in the northern hemisphere. A subtropical climate has two main seasons: rainy and dry.
The best times to visit are April to June and September to November. This is when there will be fewer visitors and better weather.
The summer months – December to February – are crowded and rainier, although that means the falls may be more active. If you are visiting Brazil during Carnival, you might want to take a few days to visit Iguaçu Falls too!
Where to Stay
If you choose to stay in Foz do Iguaçu, I recommend the Bourbon Cataratas Hotel. If you’d prefer to stay within the national park, I recommend the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas.
Bourbon Cataratas Hotel: Bourbon Cataratas Hotel is a four-star resort just a few minutes outside of Foz do Iguaçu. It is situated within a spacious park, with gardens, a pool, and several restaurants. Rooms are spacious and modern. If you are traveling with a family, the hotel offers connecting rooms (always ask!).
Belmond Hotel das Cataratas: The five-star Belmond Hotel das Cataratas is a beautiful, luxurious hotel tucked away into the national park, away from the crowds but only steps from the falls. The hotel features spacious rooms and suites with views of the forest, gardens, pool, or falls. There are several restaurants, an outdoor pool, a fantastic spa, and exceptional service.
Admission Costs and Opening Hours
Exploring the waterfalls from here will take just about half a day to visit. The park is open from 9 am to 6 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm) and as of April 2020 costs about $18 USD (Real 72). Admission costs include access to the park, the use of the bus to transport itself, and access to the main circuit.
I had the opportunity to take part in the Macuco Safari, which is the adventure tour operator on the Brazilian side of the waterfalls. The safari is a wet-and-wild jetboat ride through rapids to the base of the waterfalls. And you WILL get wet! The full experience includes a short train ride through the jungle to the pier, a walk to a nearby waterfall, and a jetboat ride along the river to the foot of the falls.
I recommend wearing a swimsuit for the boating experience, and I also recommend having a change of clothes! There are lockers available at the beginning of the safari and also at the pier. If you rent a locker at the pier, you will be able to have your camera for the short ride through the jungle.
For those less inclined to get wet, there are also bird-watching tours, trekking tours, whitewater rafting tours, and other less strenuous activities. The safari company is located within the park boundaries, at the third stop on the park shuttle from the visitors center.
Another experience offered on the Brazil side of Iguaçu Falls is a helicopter ride. I did this, and it was awesome. If you have seen the falls from the walkways and from the various boats, then a birds-eye view is the only one left. The ten-minute ride takes you over the falls and showcases all angles, and offers a sense of size, of this immense wonder.
Unlike the park on the other side of the border, the Brazilian national park has just one circuit. It is still a half-day experience, though, as the trail winds its way through the native rainforest to the viewing platform at the edge of the falls.
The trail is about 1500m long and is not very hard at all. You’ll see the falls at almost every curve in the park, and so there are several photo opportunities along the way. There are only a few stairs, but if you are relatively fit then it will be easy. If you don’t want to take any steps, you can take the park shuttle to the final stop and take an elevator to the viewing platform.
Wildlife in The Iguazu
There is wonderful wildlife within the Iguaçu Falls park, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Coaties, tapirs, and monkey cai are among the mammals you may find at the park, although both tapir and monkey cai are rare.
There are also yaguarete, or little jaguars, which are common and native to the area but not within the park grounds. Birdlife, especially toucans, are abundant here as well.
Visiting the Argentinian Side of Iguazu Falls
It is possible to visit the Argentinian side of the falls from Foz do Iguaçu, and in fact, it is encouraged as the majority of the waterfalls lie on that side. From the town of Foz do Iguaçu, you’ll need to take either a bus or a private car across the bridge to Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian side.
If you have a driver, it will be much easier as they can assist with translating and managing the immigration process. However, the bus also stops at the border.
Read my post: The Iguazu Falls, a guide to the Argentinian side.
The park on the Argentinian side is much smaller than the Brazilian national park, though it has more walking trails and 80% of the waterfalls. From the town, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus or a private car to the park entrance. Entry into the national park includes access to the park, the circuits, and the ecological train.
As of April 2020, it costs $15 USD (800 ARS) to enter the Iguazu Falls national park in Argentina. The entry fee includes access to the park, the circuits, and the ecological train. The park is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm; the last entry to the park is at 4:30 pm.
Iguaçu Falls is a wonderful place to visit on your trip to Brazil. While it is still a trip away from the major cities, it is an entirely different world. The waterfalls at Iguaçu are the world’s most impressive waterfalls! And the national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site are intricate ecosystems, complete with wildlife and birdlife you will not find anywhere else in the world.
The Brazil side offers adrenaline-pumping activities like the fast and furious Macuco Safari or helicoptering over the falls, both considered once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I know you will enjoy your time in Iguaçu Falls!