TravelByte #28: Iguazu Falls: Niagara on Viagra

Last month I returned from a three week trip to Argentina. My daughter was studying abroad in Buenos Aries- a perfect “excuse” for this mom to fly ten hours to explore the South American country well known for tango, Eva Peron, Malbec, Patagonia, and the truly phenomenal Iguazu Falls. In this TravelByte I will share some personal suggestions for how travelers can stay healthy while visiting Argentina’s #1 attraction, a waterfall whose name derives from the indigenous Guarani language and means Big Water.

Having previously visited both Niagara and Victoria Falls, I was not prepared for my first view of Iguazu. It is widely – and justifiably- recognized as one of the new seven wonders of the natural world. Iguazu Falls comprise a 1.67 mile panorama of more than 275 waterfalls straddling the border of the Argentina province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. Breathtaking is the word on every visitor’s lips- no matter what their language.

Iguazu has the greatest annual water flow of any waterfall in the world and locals like to say that Iguazu Falls is “Niagara on Viagra.” Tour guides share the story that when Eleanor Roosevelt visited, she whispered “Oh, now I understand. Niagara Falls is like a dripping kitchen faucet.” Few visitors would argue with either assessment.

However, this blog is not meant to disparage other world famous waterfalls; rather I want to offer some personal observations and recommendations to help insure that travelers have only good memories when visiting Iguazu…

  1. Beware: humans are not the only visitors- Iguazu Falls is located at the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. It is fed by waters from the Mato Grasso about 700 km north in Brazil. The Falls is wholly located within a national park for which there is an entrance fee. The park is filled with wonderful birds- toucans and parrots everywhere- and also small mammals, large lizards and insects of all sorts. Butterflies were everywhere when I visited- including many strange and beautiful species I had never seen before. Travelers need to take special precautions with two mammals, however: the Coetie and the resident Capuchin monkeys. Coeties are omnipresent everywhere in the park where food is served or consumed. Skilled scavengers, coeties climb chairs, jump onto tables and “snatch and run” with impressive speed. Capuchins scamper out of trees to reach tourists along the walking paths. Signs with gruesome photos are posted everywhere warning visitors to avoid feeding these animals. Despite this public health effort, humans consider these animals cute and adorable. Direct contact results in serious bites that may require suturing. Graphic pictures of ugly wounds don’t seem to be enough to deter some visitors and first aid stations are kept busy. (And while rabies can be a risk in some areas of Argentina, CDC does not recommend the pre-vaccination series for the majority of travelers. Just common sense avoidance.)
  2. Bring your repellent- The environment surrounding the Falls is a dense and lush jungle. And even during the months of June, July, and August (winter in the Southern Hemisphere) temperatures rarely drop below 50 degrees F. I visited in November and while the humidity was mild the temperatures reached 80 degrees F by midmorning. Your travelers may think they can visit the Falls but avoid the thick jungle. They just can’t. The heavy vegetation starts right outside the airport on both the Argentine and Brazilian side and it surrounds the Falls. To avoid insect bites, hotels remind guests to sleep with windows closed, and while malaria has not been reported in the region, yellow fever vaccination is advisable on the Argentina side and now required on the Brazilian. (Visitors staying more than a day often visit both sides as transiting Immigration is quite easy.) Daily use of repellent and protective clothing is recommended. At our hotel the staff were frequently seen spraying the beautiful grounds…I always used DEET 25% or higher and came away with just one bite.
  3. Don’t fall at the Falls-Good walking shoes with non- slip soles are advisable. Thanks to remarkable engineering, visitors can navigate long walkways right over the edge of the Falls and continuous mists make for some slippery conditions. Anticipate significant walking in unshaded and often very crowded areas; the walkway to Devil’s throat, a popular destination, is more than half a mile long. Travelers with gait issues or young children should try to arrive early when the park first opens to avoid crowds and gain easy access to the best viewing areas. Our guide said that the park has had to close early at times due to overcrowding and authorities are now considering timed tickets to deal with the popularity of this incredible place. And the train everyone talks about- it is a little one that brings visitors from the park entrance only to the first walkway. You will still have a lot walking to do. (Special wheelchairs are provided for visitors who need them.)
  4. Prepare for the tropical climate– Iguazu Falls is located in a tropical region; during the months of December through April heat and humidity can be a real issue especially for the very young and older travelers plus anyone with health conditions affected by climate. Daily temperatures in excess of 90 degrees F. are common, so entering the park early when it first opens is a good idea. Our guide was reluctant to have us join him at 8am, but what a difference it made when we saw the crowds streaming in by ten. Clothing that protects the traveler from sun, a good hat, a water bottle, and ample use of sunscreen are highly recommended. Vendors within the park also sell bottled water as well as food items and souvenirs.
  5. Take the boat ride, but be ready to get soaked-Maybe you have taken the Maid of the Mist boat at Niagara? Well, that one goes up to the falls and you do get wet; at Iguazu the boat actually goes right through the falls! And you are soaked through and through. The excursions are very popular and seem to be very well run, but beware that for just a nano second you may feel like you are drowning. Then everyone laughs and laughs- until the boat goes back again for more two times! What a memory! Life jackets, but no towels, are provided.
  6. Watch out for those Selfie Sticks– Argentina and Brazil have not banned their use in the park so watch out for these projectiles. You will feel compelled to take dozens of photos of the torrents of water and everyone tries to capture images of the Great Dusky Swifts who fly right through the Falls to build their nests. Everywhere you turn you seem to see another rainbow. Photo-ops galore. Just don’t turn into those selfie sticks.

So that is my very personal list of dos and don’ts at Iguazu Falls, but one final definite DO -if you haven’t as yet visited this extraordinary UN World Heritage site, do add it to your bucket list. Spectacular!

Gail Rosselot