Iguazú Falls

Multi-country overland South America vacations, especially those focusing on Argentina and Brazil, will often cross the border at the Iguazú Falls, just a two hour flight from Rio de Janeiro or from Buenos Aires. As an introduction to Brazil, you could hardly hope for a canvas more dramatic in scale or spectacle than this majestic natural marvel.
This is the largest falls in South America, the result of a volcanic eruption, although local legend has it that the horseshoe-shaped canyon was cleaved by a furious deity, spurned by the girl he loved. If true, he must have been pretty angry, because the Iguazú Falls are simply colossal. The falls is actually a cluster of cascades, over 270 in total, and some of them up to 80m in height. The main action happens at the Devil’s Throat, a long and narrow chasm down which about half of the turbulent Iguazú River’s flow hurtles, throwing up dense clouds of vapour.

‘Poor Niagara’

It is said that when the then First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, first laid eyes upon the Iguazú Falls, she was heard to say “My poor Niagara!” And really, who could blame her for feeling that the iconic American falls would pale in comparison to this phenomenal sight, which is taller and twice the width, and where the landscape seems to be reshaped every day depending on the river volume and speed, or the weather conditions. If you’re prepared to deal with the rain, the falls is at its most impressive during the wet season between December and February, but unlike Victoria Falls, say, which can thin to a trickle at certain times of year, Iguazú is spectacular all year round.
If you hope to catch the famous rainbow over Devil’s Throat in your viewfinder then your best bet is to admire it from the Brazilian side where you can capture the full sweep. Keep an eye out also for the tiny swifts ducking in and out of the falls – they nest behind the tumbling curtain of water to stay safe from predators. The Argentinean side offers a closer – and wetter – view with boat rides to the base of the falls.

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Argentina holiday, Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls

Argentina vacation, Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls

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Activities around Iguazú Falls

Foz do Iguaçu is the gateway to the falls in Brazil, with Puerto Iguazu its Argentinean counterpart. Many itineraries will spend a day or so in the area as there are so many (usually optional) activities available, and many of them can be booked from either city.

You might take a thrilling Zodiac jet boat right up to the base of the falls, for a good soaking from the spray, take a scenic stroll along the boardwalks, or get your airborne kicks with a helicopter sightseeing flight which ensures sensational bird’s eye panoramas. On both sides of the falls there are walking trails that pass a series of stunning viewpoints and on the Brazilian side, one trail culminates in the heart of the Devil’s Throat itself, a deafening and overwhelming experience.
Other popular activities at the Iguazú Falls include touring the vast Itaipu dam, which amazingly provides almost half the hydroelectric power needs of Argentina and Brazil combined. Or you can head into the subtropical national park that surrounds the Iguazú Falls, home to tree climbing coatis, 200 species of bird and around 2,000 species of plant.
The 1986 film The Mission brought to the screen the fate of indigenous Guarani communities that have lived in this area for thousands of years. The Guarani attribute great spiritual significance to the falls, believing they can hear the sounds of ancient battles in the water. Very few of these communities still exist but some travel providers do arrange visits, where you can learn about their ways of life and of course share a traditional cup of mate, which is boiling water poured over yerba leaves.
Iguassu falls was extraordinary… and the boat ride both terrifying and exhilarating... a must!
– Maria Lawford on a Brazil highlights vacation
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Noel Portugal] [Topbox: Trevor Cole] [Mist and rainbow: Tom Driggers] [Coatis: LWYang] [Boat ride: Mark Hillary]
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