Iguaza Falls; A justified World Wonder

I had heard the reviews. I had heard all the relevant adjectives. I had a general idea of what to expect when standing before one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World. But then nothing quite prepared me for the magic and overpowering grandeur of Iguazu Falls.

We had flown into the nearest town – Puerto Iguazu – the day before. A 20 hour bus ride from BA was just not happening; I drawn the line at 16 hours. So after one day of wandering around the fairly non-descript town, the next morning we were up and at the park gates early.

The falls themselves are not actually one continuous curtain of water, but are in fact 275 waterfalls of varying sizes strung out along 2.7kms. We decided to explore the smaller waterfalls first, walking along pathways that took us along the top and bottom of the falls. I began to get excited at the sound of the waterfalls, and then even more so at the first glimpses of the actual falls.

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They were beautiful, and to me looked like they belonged in a fairytale. A fairy kingdom would not have looked out of place sitting atop these waterfalls. While some of the falls were powerful torrents of white water charging downwards, others were almost delicate in the way they tripped and splashed over moss covered rocks. At the bottom of one part of the falls, a perfectly formed rainbow bounced from rock to rock and only added to magic of this place.

I also had in my mind that the jet boat ride beneath the falls would be a brilliant way of getting closer to the falls. So we signed up for the 12 minute trip – which cost something like $30 – and didn’t think too much of it when our ticket seller told us we were going to get wet. I thought he meant  we would catch the spray of the waterfalls, so I expected to get a little damp.

We were warned again by some other travellers, but again I didn’t think too much of it. I didn’t even click when we stepped on to the boat and saw a bunch of Brasilian men and women wearing boardshorts and bikinis. I looked on in slight disdain. “Posers,” I thought. “It’s not that hot.”

About five minutes later, I understood their motives. The boat sped up to one side of the falls and idled as well all took photographs, then swung around and sped to another point and idled again. Then it swung around and made a pass under one smaller waterfall, and we all got a little bit wet. That’s not so bad, I thought. Then the boat swung around one more time and headed back to the first waterfall and proceeded to drive into it. Not near it, not around it, straight into the waterfall. We were thoroughly soaked, I looked like I had gone swimming in my clothes. I may as well have. So while everyone else was cleverly wearing swimming attire, A and I were wearing cargo pants and t-shirts, which were now dripping wet. And given the lack of sunshine, they stayed that way for some time. Wandering along the pathways – wringing wet – we got a more than a few stares and some knowing smiles from other tourists.

But the main attraction was still to come. After drying out a little we hopped on to the park train which took us up to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat). We had only caught a distant glimpse of these falls from the boat, and even then they were difficult to see through all the mist and spray.

A half-hour walk from the train station took us through the wetlands and across a lake, and it wasn’t too long before I could hear the rush of the water. We made our way to the viewing platform, and it was at this point that I became slightly dumbstruck. Big is an understatement, huge is an understatement, massive is better but still doesn’t quite capture the size of these magnificent falls. I’ve never seen anything in nature so awesome in size and power. The intensity of these falls and the sheer amount of water rushing over the edge is such that you do start to feel rather small and insignificant standing before them. Not that statistics mean anything until you’ve see the falls but to give you an idea, on average there is 1,700 cubic metres or 1.7 million litres of water tumbling down those falls every second. To give more perspective, that is equivalent to five Olympic sized swimming pools every 10 seconds.

Watching the falls is quite a hypnotic experience. At the top of the falls is something of a placid blue-green lake – not a raging river – and then the water simply slips off a sheer drop and transforms into an 80m high downpour. So we just stood there watching the falls, watching the water. Sometimes taking photos, mostly just standing back and contemplating the immensity of what was before us. It took quite a while to leave, and personally I didn’t want to.

So what was Iguazu like? Majectic, magnificent, beautiful, powerful, awe-inspiring…yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Pick one adjective, pick five, pick ten. It still won’t come close to capturing Iguazu Falls.

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