During a recent business trip to South America, I had the opportunity to spend the weekend at one of the world’s true natural wonders: Iguazu Falls. Located in the interior jungle where the countries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay all meet, the falls proved to be more extensive and breathtakingly beautiful than I imagined.
I flew to an airport just outside Brazil’s large Iguazu National Park, boarded a bus to the historic Hotel du Cataratas (the only hotel within the huge jungle preserve), checked-in and eagerly strode across the lawn toward the falls.
What strikes you first as you approach the eastern brink of the canyon is the noise. In fact, Iguazu is made up of some 275 separate waterfalls arrayed on several levels and stretching nearly two miles. Imagine the roar of dozens upon dozens of side-by-side Willamette Falls. Imagine the rumble, spray and billowing mist generated by multiple Niagara Falls and you begin to appreciate the magnitude of Iguazu.
The Brazilians have built wide wooden walkways along the brink of the canyon affording views across to where fall after waterfall spill over basalt cliffs and into the river below. Towering clouds of mist ebb and flow, settling on glasses and camera lenses. When the sun peeks through the clouds, rainbows form in and above the canyon. It is photographer’s paradise.
In fact, I met an Italian professional photographer working on a book about waterfalls who had just come from Victoria Falls in Africa. I asked how Iguazu compares with Victoria, he said “Ah, these waterfalls are in a whole different league. Nothing in the world compares to Iguazu!”
When Eleanor Roosevelt first saw amazing Iguazu Falls, she is reported to have uttered, “Poor Niagara.” Statistically, Niagara Falls has slightly more volume than Iguazu (64,700 vs. 61,700 cubic feet per second average) but Iguazu is taller — 269 feet compared to 167 feet. Iguazu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Its exotic jungle setting has fascinated photographers and film-makers for decades. It was featured in the film “The Mission”, “Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and other movies.
I spent a day hiking the ramps and boardwalks, snapping pictures of cascades and the peculiar creatures that inhabit the canyon ―monkeys, agoutis, coati, etc. Similar walkways exist on the Argentine side of the river, but I did not have the time (several hours) for the long trip around and across the border. Nor did I have time for the popular zip lines, jungle trails or drenching boat rides that take tourists right under the falls.
The night before I left, I participated in a hike under the full moon to the brink of the falls. Our small group was accompanied by an armed guard, ostensibly to protect against jaguars, pumas and other predators of the night. When we got to the overlook, we were treated to an amazing phenomenon: the Iguazu Silver Rainbow, created by moonlight reflecting off the mist (see slideshow).
My 36 hours at Iguazu Falls were thrilling but too brief. I look forward to returning one day to experience the world’s most magnificent falls from the Argentine side, including the walkway to the Throat of the Devil, Iguazu’s renowned semicircle of thundering falls.