Iguazu Falls Travel Guide: Planning Your Trip

Iguazu Falls, Iguazu National Park, Brazil-Argentina-Paraguay border.
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Taller and wider than Niagara Falls, with 275 cascades spread into a horseshoe shape over nearly 2 miles of the Iguazu River, Iguazu Falls attract nearly 2 million nature lovers and adventure travelers to the "Triple Frontier"—the intersection of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay—every year. Also spelled Iguaçu Falls, they are UNESCO-recognized and together make up the largest waterfall in the world.

The South American spectacle—surrounded by the area's characteristic tropical vegetation—is the result of a volcanic eruption. It's named after the Guaraní word for "great water." Some of the most famous include San Martin, Bossetti, Bernabe Mendez, and Devil's Throat (Gargantua del Diablo), with its perpetual spray high over the falls. The attraction is just 16 miles outside of Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, and 18 miles from Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil, and can be viewed from either country.

Planning Your Trip

There are a few things you should know before planning a visit to this impressive waterfall.

  • Best Time to Visit: The best time to see Iguazu Falls is in the spring or fall. Summer is intensely hot and humid and winter is wet; however, this is when the water reaches an astonishing flow rate of 450,000 cubic feet (12,750 cubic meters) per second, about 800 times the average. If you don't mind a bit of rain, it's an extraordinary time to see the falls.
  • Language: Both sides speak Portuguese.
  • Currency: In this multicultural region, Argentinian pesos, Brazilian reais, and U.S. dollars are accepted. To be safe, though, you should use the currency of the country you're visiting.
  • Getting Around: You can catch a ride directly from the Cataratas International Airport via the Four Tourist Travel shuttle for about $1.60 per person, or by a remis—a taxi, essentially—for about $5. From Puerto Iguazu, a public bus runs from the main terminal every 20 minutes and costs $6. From the Brazil side, buses run every 22 minutes from the main terminal of Foz de Iguaçu and cost $1.
  • Travel Tip: Bring a poncho as you're likely to get wet from the spray of the falls. And don't forget to reapply mosquito repellent and sunscreen after—the hot and humid climate will require it.

Things to Do

There is enough to keep a traveler entertained for two full days at Iguazu Falls, so plan your visit accordingly. You won't want to leave before shopping for handicrafts in Puerto Iguazu markets, walking the jungle trails around the falls, and exploring the surrounding attractions. One necessary stop is the Bela Vista Biological Refuge (Foz do Iguaçu), which hosts two-hour guided tours showcasing its 50 resident animal species (monkeys, anteaters, jaguars, and more). Another is the Jardin de los Picaflores (Puerto Iguazu), a haven for hummingbirds.

  • Visit Iguazu National Park: For a close-up view, walk through the subtropical forest of National Iguaçu Park (covering territory in both countries) to the base of Salto Floriano and take the elevator to the top of the falls, or walk out over the falls at Salto Union. From the Argentina side, you can follow a series of catwalks over the water rushing into Devil's Gorge. Protective rain suits are provided. There are some areas where it is possible to swim in the spray of the cascades, too.
  • Sightsee by boat: Iguazu Falls are packed with adventurous activities from zip lining to a "Green Train" that goes through the jungle, but perhaps the most exciting is riding in a boat at the base of the falls. Jet boats departing from the Circuito Inferior and Puerto Macuco go right into San Martin—prepare to get drenched.
  • Get an aerial view: If you'd rather marvel at the natural wonder from above instead, consider a helicopter ride. These 10-minute flights showcase the grand splendor of Iguazu Falls and cost between $100 and $150 per person, on average. Most often, you can get picked up directly from your hotel room.

There are so many things to do in Iguazu Falls, it would be nearly impossible to see everything on your own account. Check out our guide to the best Iguazu Falls tours for a more thorough experience.

What to Eat and Drink

Argentinian and Brazilian cuisines showcase the finest South American fare there is. The empanadas—portable pockets of sweet and savory fillings—and choripán—a pork and beef chorizo street-food staple—are unrivaled, while the rich and milky dulce de leche makes for a perfect obligatory post-meal treat. Iguazu Falls are, of course, a blend of several cultures, so expect the food here to incorporate flavors from around the continent and world.

The region is known for its chipa guazu (salty corn pie), sopa paraguaya (savory sponge cake), and seafood (river fish, especially). Iguazu's best from-the-ocean fare can be sampled at Restaurante Tempero da Bahia, a slightly upscale Brazilian eatery that also hosts regular musicians. The place to try Brazilian-style barbecue (aka churrasco) is perhaps at Rafain Churrascaria Show, a carnivorous haunt with frequent music and dance performances.

For international flavors, there's Foz do Iguaçu's La Maffia Tratoria, whose owner is both Italian and Brazilian. The thematic, "Godfather"-inspired interior is perpetuated by a mouthwatering menu of pasta, meats, and wine.

Apart from the plethora of sit-down restaurants, you'll find an abundance of sidewalk stalls serving choripán and empanadas in the markets.

Where to Stay

Being such a tourist-popular region, the Triple Frontier has no shortage of hotels. Visitors of Iguazu Falls have a choice of Argentina or Brazil, even—each is a similar distance from the falls, but the latter is said to be more scenic and generally cheaper. You can visit both sides of the falls on a single trip—and some do—but be prepared to face some red tape at the border. For convenience's sake, it may be best to pick a side and stick with it.

  • Belmond Hotel des Catarates: In Brazil—the side known for its panoramic views versus Argentina's bird's-eye views—has perhaps the most extravagant Iguazu Falls hotel of all: the a pink, five-star rainforest hideaway with on-property views in the national park. The amenities (a pool, spa, gardens, its own buffet, and more) are almost as much of a selling point as its unmatched location.
  • Continental Inn: A mid-range luxury option in Foz do Iguaçu is this four-star hotel, which has pools and a sauna and is much closer to things in town.
  • Awasi Iguazu: For a taste of luxury on the Argentina side, this hotel provides an intimate, all-inclusive option with only 14 villas. Excursions to the falls are included in the price, which starts at $1,000 per person.

There are hostels on both sides, from the more upscale CLH Suítes Foz do Iguaçu and budget-friendly Suite Cardoso in Brazil to the top-rated Iguazu Falls Hostel in Puerto Iguazu. For more options, check out our guide to the top places to stay in Iguazu Falls.

Getting There

Getting to Iguazu Falls should be a relatively easy matter. After choosing which side to stay on, you'll want to book a flight to the nearest airport, either Foz do Iguaçu Airport (IGU) in Brazil or Cataratas del Iguazu (IGR) in Argentina. It's best not to attempt crossing the border immediately after arriving or before departing—definitely not before departing—as it could take a long time to cross the border (assuming you succeed in crossing at all).

  • How to Get There From Buenos Aires: The easiest way to get from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls is to take a two-hour flight from El Palomar (EPA) to IGR, then take a 16-minute taxi or shuttle to the falls (or your hotel). Flybondi runs the route at least once a day.
  • How to Get There From Rio de Janeiro: The flight from Rio de Janeiro-Santos Dumont Airport to Iguazu takes about three and a half hours, while a flight from Rio De Janeiro-Galeao takes only about two hours. Both arrive via IGU and have several airline options departing throughout the day.
  • How to Get There From Sao Paulo: Sao Paulo is just over 500 miles from Iguazu Falls and the flight to IGU takes an hour, 40 minutes. LATAM Airlines, Azul, and Gol serve the route regularly, but LATAM is the cheapest, with flights on offer for under $100.
  • How to Get There From Asuncion: Although Asuncion, Paraguay, is one of the closest starting points, it's also one of the most difficult and expensive, as there are no direct flights from its airport (ACU) to IGU or IGR. Instead, you have to fly to Cuidad del Este and catch an hour-long taxi ride to the falls. If you would rather rent a car, the drive takes about five hours.

Money Saving Tips

South America is generally a cheap continent to travel in, but not all countries are equally budget-friendly. Brazil, for instance, is said to be one of the most expensive, even though it does have a number of cheap hotels and cities.

  • Take the bus: Although taxi rides and guided tours offer the coziest option for getting to the falls from Puerto Iguazu or Foz de Iguaçu, the bus will always be the most economical option. Buses run to and from the attraction frequently and cost about $1 to ride.
  • Dine in town, not at the park: The average person can eat on about $6 a day in Argentina. Street food (even restaurant food) is notably cheap in this region, but bear in mind it tends to be wildly overpriced in the national park (because this is the only nearby food option). It's best to fill up before venturing out of town or to pack food for the day.
  • In Argentina, exchange your U.S. dollars for pesos at a currency exchange rather than taking money out of an ATM.
  • If you're in the market for a souvenir, buy one at one of the markets in town rather than in the park.