Next adventure then… We flew in the morning from Jorge Newbery Airport (AEP) near the centre of Buenos Aires. Waaaay easier and cheaper to get to than Ezeiza airport, this one services mainly regional flights. I always find small airports a far less stressful experience. Less places to find, shorter distances to walk, a generally more pleasant experience.
We arrived in Puerto Iguazu airport bang on time- If you’re flying within Argentina then LAN is definitely the best option, with better on-time performance and a generally more user-friendly outlook than Aerolineas Argentinas. I had to change two flights whilst there, and with LAN it was a simple process of calling for a free change, Aerolineas Argentinas to their credit did have an English-speaking operator however it took 30 minutes on hold and a large, slightly random fee (which didn’t actually seem to fit the fare rules, but hey) to make the amendment.
Straight away, the wall of jungle heat hit us. Puerto Iguazu is a town that only really exists for two reasons: The Brazilian/Paraguayan border and, possibly more importantly, the hoofing great waterfall up the river. You can really see from the air, and work out from the ground, that the whole place has just been hacked out from the jungle. The airport and main road are obviously just big clearings!
Home for the next 5 nights over Christmas was the Loi Suites, a relatively new 5-star hotel in the heart of the Iraipu reserve… Slap bang then, in the middle of the jungle. Ideal. Mum soon got into the swing of relaxation. It’s not easy at first when you’re used to being perpetually on the go, but actually when provided with the tools to do so such as sunshine, loungers and a series of inviting pools, it’s easy enough to get the hang of.
Loi Suites is every bit as luxurious as you’d hope for a five star establishment on the pricey, but not ridiculous end of the spectrum. Stylish, comfortable rooms, comfy beds, the best rainfall shower I have ever, ever used and the fact that everything just…works. A rare luxury when you dabble at the budget end of the spectrum as I do. Hell, I consider even a private room intense luxury.
The blocks of rooms and lodges are linked by a cool series of bouncy suspension bridges through the gardens. There are a few walks around the grounds and also a link path to the slightly scary river below.
The next day we decided to head out to see the main attraction in Iguazu, the spectacular falls. You can visit them from both sides, in Brazil and Argentina, with a very different ‘Feel’ to each. Transport is definitely not a problem around here and is surprisingly reasonable, with fixed fares covering the different sites: From the Loi Suites it was 450ARS (about £22) for a return trip in a taxi to the Argentine side, and about 550ARS (About £27) to the Brazilian side. The taxi was 270ARS (£14ish) from the airport to the hotel. There are also shuttle buses from the airport and to the Argentine falls, however if there are 2 of you then it really isn’t much different to the taxi fare.
The Argentine side of the falls is less developed than the Brazilian side, and arguably a slightly calmer atmosphere, with more emphasis on nature and conservation. You can get to the various sites either on the British-built toy railway or by wandering around the nature trails, such as the Sendero Verde and Sendero Macuco. We opted for the former, since the heavens opened the minute we arrived! Rain in this climate comes and goes pretty quickly, but is intense whilst it’s here.
Our first stop was the Garganta del Diablo (“Devil’s Throat”- the middle of the falls). I’d missed this on my last visit due to extremely high water levels, so it was good to be able to catch it now. You reach the viewing platform via a good kilometre of boardwalk over the wide river. You can hear the roar of the water from the train station, and as you get closer it gets more and more apparent…
It’s hard to take good photos of either the Garganta or, indeed, yourself standing by the Garganta. The former because of the vast amount of water threatening to engulf your camera, and the latter due to looking, no matter how hard you try, like a drowned rat. Those are our excuses anyway…
At least I got to see a good specimen of my constant slight amusement on holiday. The subject: Korea/Japan/China vs. The Sun. The lengths that they will go to remain white in the face of a tropical climate are quite remarkable. In this case some sort of crazy adapted t-shirt affair. In the past I’ve seen all sort of other contraptions such as highly annoying parasols and the ever-present pollution masks. In Hong Kong it was virtually impossible to purchase sun cream of less than Factor 100…
Along with the falls, there are loads and loads of amazing butterflies and birds throughout the park. The trick is just to catch them unawares, and to be quick on the shutter. A good macro setting also helps…
Along with the less threatening wildlife, the parks on both the Brazilian and Argentine sides are home to numerous Coatis (Quatis in Portuguese) which, whilst undeniably cute, apparently get seriously feisty around food… Eeek, claws! Rabies risk! Rabies risk!
Along with the Garganta del Diablo stop there are plenty of other parts of the falls to see and admire: The Paseo Superior trail which walks along the top of them and the Paseo Inferior, unsurprisingly below the falls. There are also jetboat trips which leave from the quay on the Paseo Inferior which are great fun and take you right nude the falls. Mum’s brave pills weren’t out for this one, but I did it last time I visited and had good fun… Well recommended.
I was again thwarted in my efforts to visit Isla San Martin- The chunk of rock to the left of the picture above- Since the water levels were too high for the boats to cross (And crucially for people not to get washed off the observation platform!) Never mind, next time…
So then, the big day came. It’s strange that Christmas Day isn’t really a big thing over here, it’s all about Christmas Eve. We skipped the gala Christmas Eve dinner at the hotel.
I imposed a complete activity ban on mum which seemed quite effective. Having eaten at a restaurant in town the night before and stocked up on essentials (wine and beer) we were good to stay at the hotel. Christmas lunch was a rather tropical affair… Picada by the pool.
Boxing Day, and the activity itch started again. Time to see the Brazilian side of the falls. Whilst crossing a border sounds like hard work for the sake of a day trip, actually the Brazil/Argentina/Paraguay border is actually very busy, and very straightforward. It’s no more than 5km out of the town of Puerto Iguazu so easily done by taxi.
We decided to hit all three Brazilian attractions on the same day. Their falls visit is far more commercialised and ‘quick’ than the Argentine side since you basically get a bus to directly beside the falls, and then directly back, so it’s not such a time commitment.
When we hit the queue to buy tickets, it’s clear that it was a bad time- Around 11am-midday seems to be when everyone turns up at once. Having bought the tickets we then saw the queue to get into the place… Nah! A tactical exit ensued to the Parque das Aves, the spectacular bird park across the road.
It’s definitely, definitely worth a visit here. From the moment we walked into the first enclosure, we were accosted by a beaky toucan who loved a bit of shoe.
And indeed a bit of camera…
Evidently this was not a good thing and I think he was known for such shenanigans because one of the keepers quickly shooed him off the path and back into safety. Well, I don’t think he had anything to fear from the visitors but possibly vice versa…
The Parque das Aves claims to have a major conservation role, taking in nearly 50% of their ‘stock’ as abandoned or mistreated birds. You can never quite tell- I mean, look at Sea World’s changing fortunes… To its credit, at the park, the keepers did all seem pretty positive and clued-up, and the enclosures were generally large and bird friendly.
The main attraction of the park is the sheer variety of bird life. I’ll refrain from descriptions… Just pop some photos up. I can’t be doing with angry e-mails from birdwatchers claiming I’ve mis-identified a rare Andean tit, or something.
The park also contained a large butterfly enclosure with unfortunately pretty elusive inhabitants. Despite this, they can’t resist a spot of banana though, so I did capture one of the residents:
On our way out, we had the chance to take a photo with one of the parrot residents. We naturally both jumped at the chance. Out of familial respect I’ll refrain from posting the ‘scared face’ photo. She claims it was because the parrot was sliding down her arm. Yeah right!
Birded up, and onto the falls. Top tip: If there are massive lines when you first come, forget about buying a ticket and then queuing twice, just take yourself over to the bird park. By the time we returned the queues had all but gone. Ideal. They were replaced with sporadic massive cloudbursts, but you can’t have everything!
The Brazilian side gives a better visual overview of the falls, for sure. There’s lots of debate about which is the ‘best’ side which, to my estimation, is nonsense. There’s loads to see on both sides. Definitely do both though, otherwise you’re seeing half the picture. The photo above shows the landing stage for Isla San Martin on the Argentine side. Atmosphere-wise I prefer the Argentine side. The Brazilian side just feels like more of a procession along short paths, whereas the Argentine side leaves you free to roam the trails as you wish. The Argentine side also features fewer large, sharp-elbowed Brazilian families!
However, you do get very, very close to the falls on this side:
There’s also plenty of wildlife provided, as I found last time, that you get to the lizards before horrible grannies come along and poke them with sticks back into the jungle.
This abominable beast, however, was definitely in dire need of a sharp poke. What the hell IS IT? It buzzed us before landing on a branch. Looking like some bizarre combination between fly and prawn, and about the size of a hummingbird, I wasn’t about to stick around and find out. Eek.
So then, having got our fix of the waterfalls from both Brazilian and Argentine land, it was surely time to see them from the air? Helicopter scenic flights are one of those things that people just believe to be really expensive but it isn’t always the case. Certainly not here. Helisul run 15-20min scenic flights from the Brazilian side, right by the visitor centre, for a very reasonable £50 per person. I thought mum was incredibly brave just signing up without question, given her previous FEARRRRRRR of flying… Luckily the helicopter was fairly substantial compared to some I’ve been in, so it was a lovely smooth flight with utterly epic views of the falls. The photos don’t really do it justice but you can only work with what you’re given: Behind glass, odd angles, lots of heads to avoid!
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Puerto Iguazu Duty Free shop, a giant edifice in the no mans land between Argentina and Brazil. What a pointless cavern of luxury. Like an airport duty free shop but just bigger and with similar, if more extensive, stock. Definitely no bargains to be had, and a ridiculous amount of security, random stickers, bag searches and the like to get in. Don’t bother. I think it’s prime attraction is for normally unavailable imported products to be bought by locals whilst avoiding huge import duty.
Given the enormous lines to get back through the Argentine border control (End of the holidays…) we were treated to a display of male Argentine machismo that was both amusing and completely, utterly pointless. Our driver Vicente was a great guy, whom we used throughout the trip, however he decided to engage in a bizarre space war with another hard-headed individual which resulted in an enormous scuff down the side of his car, a chat with the Police and far more stress than was required in the circumstances! Odd. This kind of road ragey, got there first, my space kind of nonsense is one thing I hate about the UK. It’s a shame it happens over here too.
So then, one day left, and I’d kind of planned a return trip to the Argentine falls to walk around the trails, but in the end a mutual decision was made for another pool day. Suited me fine! A sad checkout, and a hop to the airport.
Next stop: Back to the desert