Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina is one of the largest waterfalls in the world. These waterfalls are truly a stunning natural phenomenon that draw millions of visitors each year. Iguazu Falls are nearly three times as wide as Niagara Falls and Victoria Falls, with a staggering average flow rate of 1,500 cubic meters of water falling every second. That is nearly 400,000 gallons of water PER SECOND.
Prior to going to Iguazu, I had heard A LOT about the beauty of the falls and that it was a must-visit place in Brazil + Argentina, but I knew very little about what the experience would feel like while I visited. I had heard a little bit about the crowds from a friend who visited in 2018, but not much else.
After visiting, I can confirm that Iguazu Falls is even more beautiful than expected; but there were a lot of other surprises and disconfirmed expectations that I experienced during my visit that were disappointing.
I am sharing my insight on visiting Iguazu Falls to help others effectively set their expectations on what the experience will be like. As I often say, expectations are everything with travel. Having realistic expectations helps travelers to avoid disappointment and creates a more honest conversation around tourism. In an age of perfectly curated Instagram photos, I think it is important to share what the reality of travel experiences is actually like, and no where was the Instagram vs Reality culture more obvious to me than at Iguazu Falls.
The Truth About Visiting Iguazu Falls
Things You Probably Know About Iguazu Falls Already
- You can view the falls from both Argentina + Brazil, and the views offer quite different vantage points for experiencing the falls. Brazil is more of a panorama view as well as a walkway into the falls, while Argentina has extensive walking paths over the falls where you can get very close to the cascades.
- The border crossing between the two countries can be done easily overland in via car or bus. Plus, US and most EU passport holders can now enter Brazil visa-free.
- The easiest way to get to Iguazu is one of the daily flights into either the Argentina airport (code IGR) and Brazil airport (code IGU), but you can also access the area by long-distance bus from major cities like Rio and Buenos Aires.
- It is recommended to spend two nights in the area, preferably one on each side.
5 Truths No One Told Me About Iguazu Falls
1 - It's Crowded
Like really crowded.
There is no way around it—Iguazu National Park gets crowded. The falls are one of the most famous and popular attractions in both Brazil and Argentina, so it is no surprise that crowds swell throughout the day. The busiest season for visiting the falls is during the southern hemisphere’s summer months, typically December-March, but the park is open year round so there isn’t really a way to avoid the potential for crowds.
Unlike other national parks that I’ve visited, Iguazu has very structured metal walking paths and access areas to keep visitors safe from the falls. This structure makes it difficult for visitors to spread out since everyone is roughly following the same few paths. As such, you feel the crowds around you. Literally. People will push and shove on the walkways or crowd around the viewpoints, making it very hard to get a nice view of the falls. This is unlikely to be a peaceful national park experience for you.
Best Way to Avoid Crowds
I talk more in-depth on how to avoid this in tip 5 of this Iguazu Falls guide, but the best way to avoid the crowds is to visit the park very early or very late. If you are staying at one of the hotels in the national park, this is made much easier. If you are staying outside the national park, I would recommend getting to the park entrance approximately 30 minutes before the park opens to catch the first train (Argentina) or bus (Brazil). Alternatively, you could come to the park about 2 hours before it closes. Most people visit Iguazu Falls between 10am-3pm, especially the large tour buses, so it is best to avoid those peak hours.
Instagram vs. Reality
2 -- Wildlife Encounters
One of the things that I was excited about prior to visiting Iguazu Falls was the potential for wildlife encounters with rainforest animals like toucans and monkeys. I had heard wonderful stories of people seeing wild capuchins jumping between trees! I did in fact see wildlife during my visit, but I now wish that I hadn’t...
I was incredibly disheartened to see an abundance of poor tourist behavior with the wildlife, including feeding the monkeys and baiting the coatis to come and take photos. There are signs throughout the park warning visitors not to feed the animals and to leave them alone. Unfortunately, there was minimal enforcement by park rangers during my visit, so there were a lot of tourists behaving badly.
I was so upset by one interaction with a woman feeding a monkey and then being told not to, and then continuing to feed the monkey after the ranger left, that it totally ruined my impression of wildlife encounters in the park. Tourism has the potential to be extremely destructive, and my experience at Iguazu directly reminded me of how InstaWrecked travel can be.
Best Way to Avoid This
It is not that hard -- FOLLOW THE RULES posted by the national park and RESPECT THE WILDLIFE. Never, ever, EVER feed the wildlife or try to touch the wildlife. Leave them in peace and simply enjoy the opportunity to see them thriving in the rainforest. A cool Instagram picture is never worth it.
Plus, with accounts like InstaWrecked + PublicLandsHateYou calling out ‘grammers for shitty tourist behavior, there is a good chance you’ll get deservedly chastised for it if you do. If you plan to visit Iguazu, don’t be a bad tourist. Set an example of how to respectfully engage with wildlife.
Instagram vs. Reality
3 -- Entrance to the Park via Kitschy Train
Perhaps the weirdest thing about the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls is the old timey train that visitors are required to take. If you arrive at the main park entrance, you will need to take this train to access all of the falls and walking paths. If you are staying in the hotels on the national park grounds, you will only need to take this train to access the La Garganta del Diablo viewpoint. Regardless, I found this train to be strange and uncomfortable, and honestly, distracting from the tranquility and natural beauty that you expect in a national park.
Picture a child’s chain at a zoo or amusement park. That’s basically what this is. It is a vintage trolley that moves very slowly and uncomfortably. All of the park visitors are crammed into the train, and it runs between 3 stations every 15-30 minutes. Although the cost of the train tickets are included in your park entrance fee, you need to reserve a timeslot on the train in order to be allowed to board, and depending on the crowds, you might find yourself stranded for 30 minutes or more waiting for the next available boarding time.
Best Way to Avoid This
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to avoid this one. If you want to visit the Garganta del Diablo viewpoint, you have to take the trolley. There are no public walking paths to the viewpoint (although you will see people once again ignoring posted park rules and walking anyway). My best suggestion for how to manage this is to stay at the hotels in the national park (more on that in tip 5) so you can minimize your need to use the train. Also, I recommend that get your boarding ticket as soon as you get off the train so that you know when you need to be back and won’t be surprised by a long queue.
4 -- Humid, Rainy, Ever-Changing Weather
This is something that you have probably heard before, but it is worth repeating—the weather at Iguazu Falls is hot and humid with almost daily rain. The climate in Iguazu is pretty stable throughout the year, so this is likely to happen regardless of the time of year you visit. The biggest seasonal variations at Iguazu Falls are the amount of daily rainfall. There isn’t really a warm or cold season, but more a wet or dry season. It is a rainforest after all!
You will have the opportunity to get pretty close to the falls on both the Argentina and Brazil sides of Iguazu Falls, which means there will be a lot of spray and moisture in the air. Plus, sudden rain is a common occurrence. It can go from sunny to pouring rain in a matter of minutes. While getting drenched doesn’t necessarily matter for humans, it REALLY matters for electronics. I had my DSLR camera with me while at Iguazu Falls and we got caught in a sudden downpour.
There are very few covered shelters in the park, so if I had not prepared ahead of time with a waterproof bag, I would have been fucked. My camera would have been completely destroyed. I saw lots of people with ruined phones and cameras who didn’t protect them properly. Not exactly the picture perfect experience they were hoping for…
Best Way to Avoid This
Come to the park prepared! Bring an umbrella or poncho to cover yourself from the rain, and definitely have some sort of waterproof bag for your electronics. Pack yourself sunscreen and at least 1 bottle of water per person, because there are very few places to buy them. Don’t bother with a cute outfit and makeup to look cute in your photos. You’re probably going to look wet and sweaty no matter what you do, so save yourself the hassle and simply enjoy the natural beauty.
Instagram vs. Reality
5 -- Staying at Hotels in the National Park
When I looked into booking hotels for our stay at Iguazu Falls, I discovered that there are actually hotels located inside the national park. I knew I wanted to maximize our time enjoying the falls, and both hotels offered views of the falls from their properties. This seemed like a good fit. I also had a sinking feeling that we might be disappointed by the experience at Iguazu, so I wanted to have an easy place to retreat from the crowds just in case.
I opted to stay at the Gran Melia in Argentina and the Belmond in Brazil, both of which are inside the national park boundaries. At the time of making the reservations, I did not expect our stays to be such an important part our experience, but booking rooms at the Gran Melia and the Belmond was the BEST decision I made for our visit to Iguazu Falls. If there is one piece of advice that you take away from this guide it would be this—if you can, pay the extra money to stay in one of the hotels in the national park. It is 100% worth it.
Why It’s Worth It
At both of the national park hotels, guests have the privilege to visit Iguazu Falls before the park opens or after the park closes. At the Gran Meila, you walk out of the back of the property which is connected to the walking paths of the park. We went for a morning walk approximately one hour before the park opened, and we literally didn’t see a single person. We had Iguazu Falls completely to ourselves!!
At the Belmond, one of the most famous viewpoints of Iguazu Falls is literally in front of the lobby. The hotel also offers free private walking tours to guests after hours, such as a full moon walk or a sunrise walk.
These were by far our favorite experiences at Iguazu Falls, because you can have the pristine, tranquil and awe-inspiring moments looking at the falls in near privacy. The morning walk we did was magical—we saw a rainbow and wild monkeys and took stunning uninterrupted photos of the falls. THIS was what I wanted out of my experience at Iguazu Falls, and without staying at the two national park hotels, I probably would not have gotten that experience.
Do you have questions about visiting Iguazu Falls in Brazil or Argentina? Comment below and I can help answer them!
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