Apparently Foz do Iguaçu is a bucket list destination if you live in Brazil. It is second only to Rio de Janeiro in terms of attracting the most visitors in all of Brazil. Though we’d never heard of it before we decided to get on the bandwagon and put it on our list and succinctly put a tic in the box.
Foz do Iguaçu: Facts
Foz do Iguaçu are waterfalls of the Iguaçu River on the border of Argentina and Brazil. Together they make up the largest waterfall system in the world and is one ofnew “seven wonders of the world”. The falls divide the river into upper and lower Iguaçu. Most of the river flows through Brazil but most of the falls are on the Argentinian side. To put it in perspective the falls on the Iguaçu river have a flow capacity three times that of the Niagara falls. The falls are 60 to 90 meters high stretching 2,7km but interrupted by numerous islands and in places by one or two steps. Each side has its own network of trails and viewpoints. Most people do both sides as they offer totally different view points.
In 1549, a spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, found the falls while travelling down the river. Very impressed, he named them “Quedas de Santa Maria”. Later the name changed
Back then the region was almost uninhabited and it wasn’t until 1910 that the Village “Vila Iguazu” was founded. In 1914 Foz do Iguassu was pronounced a city.
In 1916, Alberto Santos-Dumont, visited the region and, impressed with the beauty of the region, suggested the government pay more attention to the area. Up until 1917, the region was owned by Jezus Val. The state bought the land and, in 1939, created Parque Nacional do Iguaçu
Our take on Foz do Iguaçu
We were so happy when our friends Magnus and Elisabeth told us they were coming to visit us in Brazil. They will be our second long time guests since moving here. (My sister had a layover in São Paulo and rented a car to come in and see us. She only stayed for 36 hours but was nonetheless our first official guest).
So as part of their visit we decided to do Foz. They spent a few days in Buenos Aires Argentina before flying to São Paulo on nov 12th a Monday. Around the same time we took a taxi from Araraquara to São Paulo and met up with them at the airport.
When we booked our tickets we were booked on the same direct flight but then kept getting notified that our flights had changed so we ended up on separate flights. We had to fly via Rio de Janeiro which is a detour and they got moved to a later direct flight.
While waiting for our flight in Rio the kids found a hotdog stand and founds themselves in heaven. They miss Swedish classic hot dogs. The joy was short lived for James though who’s hotdog Peter dropped before James even got a whiff. Peter fixed it and all was well again in the world of James.The flight from Rio was an hour late so we arrived on Tuesday “de madrugada” which is Portuguese for the time period between midnight and the wee small hours of the morning. Checked into our hotel, The Continental Inn Hotel, and got some sleep before setting out on our first day at the falls.
Day 1: The Brazilian side of Foz do Iguaçu
After a hearty, albeit Brazilian, breakfast we walked to the nearest gas station to get some water bottles. From there we took Ubers to Cataratas (the falls). The Uber ride took about 15 minutes during which the kids and I talked to the driver and got some tips on where to go for dinner. He suggested we do the bird park first before it gets too hot which we did.
Parque das Aves
Opposite the Visitors center on the Brazilian side is the bird park or Parque das aves. The park is an ecological sanctuary and you can take a self guided tour and see lots of exotic birds…If you like birds. It was a nice stroll through tropical vegetation and even I (not an avid bird lover) found enjoyment at looking at the beautiful vibrantly colorful birds. Seeing Tucans is always really cool.
After the bird park we crossed the road to the Cataratas Visitors Center and were hijacked by Macuco Safari who managed to sell us boat tips to the falls. (Turned out to be the kids favorite part of the trip.) After lunching on various esfirras and sandwiches we moved on to catch the park bus to the falls. The bus takes visitors through the national park to the falls and has various stops along the way with sets of trails to walk. We started with a walk along the river which gave us our first view of the waterfalls. Everywhere there were these little bear like animals. One of them smelled a piece of bread in Alexander’s stroller. In the process of stealthily extracting the morsel the bear tipped over the stroller, with Alexander in it. Not his favorite moment. He got a bruise on his forehead but was otherwise fine.
One of the stops was our safari. We got on an electrical “Jeep train” that took us through the rainforest to the docks making me feel like I was in a Jurassic park movie just waiting for a T-rex to bound through the bushes.
After locking our dry stuff (the stuff we wanted to remain dry) in a locker we went to the boats waiting by the docks. Peter managed to step on a bee which I think was attracted to my homemade bugrepellent…
The boat trip was fun and we got totally soaked when going under the waterfall. When we got back, Magnus and Elisabeth went for their soak in the falls during which Alexander passed out in my arms totally exhausted from the day’s excursion.
We were the last people to leave the safari center and took the bus and Ubers to get back to the hotel. Elisabeth then stayed home with Alexander, who was tired out, while we went to a classic Churrascaria for some meat. Back at the hotel, with miles in our legs, hours on our feet and meat in our bellies we settled down for a good nights sleep.
Day 2: The Argentinian side
Compared to the Brazilian side, going to the Argentinian side was a little bit of a hassle. It was a rainy day so we got a late start. Booked a taxi through the hotel for R$350 to take us across the border and back again. Had to make several stops to get Reals so we could exchange them for Pesos. At the boarder we had a little trouble with our passports because our Brazilian visas have expired and we are in the process of getting new ones.
The Argentinian side offered more walking along the river and the opportunity to enjoy the falls and the rainforest at our own pace. The Brazilian side, in comparison, felt more organized and exploited.
There are 3 trails to walk. The upper trail is a walk bridge that crosses the wide river and leads to the top of the most dramatic part of the waterfalls; “Garganta do Diablo” or Devil’s throat. And it was terrifying. It was mother nature in full, glorious, force. James was really scared and immediately wanted to turn around and go back to safety. He felt as though he was going to be pulled over the railing and down the falls (I felt this as well).
The other 2 trails let you walk further down the river where you could enjoy a view of the falls from further away though still high up. The walk ways where made in the mountains edging the river so the falls where at eye level looking down on the river below where the water went crashing down. We all agreed that the Argentinian side was a better experience.
Olivia, what did you think of the waterfalls? “Supercool. It almost felt like the water was going to flush me down.”
Olivia, what was the best part of the trip? “The boat. I love to be splashed.”
Tips for doing Foz do Iguaçu
There are domestic airports closer to Araraquara like Campinas and Ribeirão Preto that fly to Foz do Iguaçu. However, the tickets are so much more expensive than those from Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo so it can be worth it to drive the extra miles and park the car at the airport.
1 day per side is reasonable if travelling with kids. Once you’ve done the falls all the other sites pale in comparison. We thought 2 days was perfect.
We chose not to spend a lot of money on the hotel. Our only requirements were good location, included breakfast, good caipirinhas and clean rooms. The Continental Inn Hotel provided all that. It even had a pool but we were out from morning until late dinner so there was no time to use it anyway.
Getting around is really easy with Uber though a taxi was better for the Argentina trip as the driver helped us through passport control. The hotel arranged for the taxi van and cost us R$350 for the entire day.
Bring enough cash to cover entrance fees in Argentina. Credit cards are accepted everywhere with two exceptions; the currency exchange offices and the visitors center on the Argentinian side.
Packing for Foz
We opted to pack light on this trip. The kids had a backpack each and Peter and I travelled with a weekender each.
The kids used everything I packed for them. Shorts, T-shirt and sneakers is appropriate for the walking. Some said that it was a tough hike, especially for kids. It was more like an easy stroll! On both sides. Not, however, always suitable for a stroller. But it worked, we had to lift it down stairs sometimes.
I packed shorts and leggings for walking, I preferred the leggings. I had one outfit for 2 dinners. Good thing we went to different restaurants… Sneakers and flipflops are really all you need. Bringing 5 bikinis was totally unnecessary… I used one. Wore it under my shirt on the boat trip. The phone case however was great! It hung safely around my neck and I could take pictures without it getting wet. They can be bought on the street anywhere.
Final note; on our last day my linen shirt was taken by mistake by the laundry and our toilet stopped working and yet we still had to pay an extra service fee upon checkout. I was not ok with that. I did get my shirt back though.
So, its hard to find someone with that kind of intensity. You touched my hand, I played it cool and you reached out your hand to me.
-Fleetwood Mac “Seven wonders”