Iguazu Falls – Which Side is Better, Argentina or Brazil?
Iguazu Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. Almost twice as tall as Niagara Falls and only rivaled by Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls, the jaw-dropping Iguazu Falls leaves even the most seasoned travelers in awe (and yes, I’m talking about us). The 82-meter-high cascades of foaming water span an incredible width of 2.7 kilometers. At any one time, there are between 150 and 300 falls depending on the water level. Witnessing the power and noise of the falling water shrouded in perpetual mist is an unforgettable experience, an experience made even better by the incredible jungle setting.
Where is Iguazu Falls?
Located between the Brazilian state of Paraná and the Argentinian province of Misiones, Iguazu Falls sits smack dab in a large expanse of lush, sub-tropical rainforest teeming with wildlife. The area is a haven for more than 2,000 plant and 400 bird species, 80 types of mammals and countless insects and reptiles. The site is obviously a place where TnT feel right at home. It’s easy to see why Iguazu Falls was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011.
The good tourist infrastructure on both sides of the border makes for an easy visit either from Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil or from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. Brazil offers stunning panoramic views while Argentina allows visitors to get up close and personal with the falls (and get totally drenched in the process!) Many visitors choose to visit Iguazu Falls on both sides for those different perspectives. But for some nationalities, crossing the border between Argentina and Brazil can become costly.
Those visa and reciprocity fees add up quickly. As American, Tony had to pay $320 in 2015 to visit both sides of the falls. Fortunately, this no longer applies. Argentina has discontinued their exorbitant reciprocity fee for Americans as well as for Canadians, Australians and British. Moreover, Brazil has lowered their visa fee for Americans to $40 as of 2018.
Still, whether it’s money concerns or time pressure, people always want to know which side of Iguazu Falls is better. Whichever side you are on, is it worth a trip across the border? Well, it probably depends on what kind of traveler you are.
Iguazu Falls in Argentina
While our guide book recommended leaving the Devil’s Throat until the end of the visit, we wanted to beat the crowds and immediately hightailed it to the tallest and most dramatic waterfall in the park. We took a little toy train to the Cataratas train station, meandered a ways through the jungle and crossed the broad Iguazu River on an elevated walkway to the viewing platform. Even from a distance, we could see the mist and hear the roar of Garganta del Diablo (as the fall is called in Spanish).
Amazingly, half of the river’s flow falls down this U-shaped chasm. Standing right at the abyss above the Devil’s Throat, you can feel and see the explosive power of the water. For me, this was a major goosebumps moment (and not just because of the spray)! The viewing balcony also affords great views of the Brazilian side and of the canyon below where huge flocks of great dusky swifts move in unison through a web of rainbows.
Luckily, the falls lie within a national park declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so everything that moves is protected. With over a million visitors a year, we had no great expectations of seeing much wildlife in the park, let alone spotting a rare jaguar or tapir. Surprisingly though, we did see quite a few animals along the paths.
What Animals Can You See in Iguazu National Park?
We came across a spectacular toco toucan with a large orange bill and blue-ringed eyes. We also saw an agouti, various parakeets, plush-crested jays, colorful butterflies, and so many coatimundis we stopped counting. The coatis, members of the raccoon family, were actually quite aggressive in trying to steal food from unsuspecting visitors. I have to admit, it was quite hilarious watching people run from their picnic tables while troops of coatis swarmed in to devour their abandoned sandwiches.
Things to Do on the Argentinian Side
While visitors can see similar animals on both sides of the border, it’s really the closeness to the falls and the more extensive trail system which distinguish the Argentinian from the Brazilian national park. In addition to the Garganta del Diablo Trail, Tony and I explored the upper 1-hour trail along the lip of the falls as well as the lower 2-hour circuit trail which descends down to the river. We also took our time birding and looking for insects on the trails from the entrance.
We would have loved to do the 3.5-kilometer Macuco Trail leading to Arrechea Waterfall, but it was a muddy mess during our visit, so we skipped it. Another set of trails on San Martin Island takes visitors closer to the action, but the island was closed while we were there. So in a rash decision, we hopped on a horribly overpriced motorboat that not only took us closer to but also right into the falls. Wow! I hadn’t seen that coming. I have to admit that was one of the funnest moments we had! (Just look at Tony’s face in the video.)
Iguazu Falls in Brazil
As 80 percent of the waterfalls are in Argentina, the best overall panoramic views are actually from Brazil. A bus takes visitors to the 1.5-kilometer observation trail which boasts breathtaking viewpoints along the way. We saw capuchin monkeys as well as colorful chestnut-eared aracaris belonging to the toucan family. The walk ends at a large platform at Salto Floriano from where visitors have a great side view of the falls.
Things to Do on the Brazilian Side
One of the highlights is the river catwalk which leads onto a platform overhanging the canyon below. We got pretty soaked walking out there, but the stunning views of the Devil’s Throat and hundreds of other falls in the distance made it all worth it. Thundering water, mist in our eyes, rainbows and butterflies added up to a magical moment.
Although we really took our time on the Brazilian side, we felt we had explored the park to the max after only four hours. There simply weren’t any more paths to explore beside the short observation trail. But rather than heading back to Foz do Iguaçu, we decided to combine our visit to Iguazu with a visit to Parque das Aves. This large bird park is near the entrance of Iguaçu National Park.
Visiting the Parque das Aves Bird Park
The bird park is a great tip for bird-lovers and nature fans. Beautifully designed walkways lead through dense jungle and through a number of different aviaries boasting exotic birdlife such as bare-faced curassows from the Atlantic Rainforest and scarlet ibis from the Pantanal.
Our guide Jakline explained that many of their animals had been rescued from bird traffickers. After treating these animals in their clinic, some are given shelter in the bird park, others are released back into the wild. Currently, Parque das Aves’ scientists are working hard to reintroduce red-and-green macaws to Iguaçu National Park where they have become extinct. This made us like the bird park even more!
While many nationals – such as Germans and most other Europeans – don’t need a tourist visa for either Argentina or Brazil, most of the world does. So the decision to visit Iguazu Falls on both sides of the border can often be a major financial decision, especially for long-term travelers. This brings me back to the original question: Which side of the falls is worth seeing most?
And the Winner Is…
Although there was a clear answer for us, we are almost afraid to write it. Honestly, who wants to be responsible for causing someone to miss out on part of the Iguazu experience. While we visited both sides of the border, Tony and I preferred the waterfalls in Argentina for the stunning close-up views and the much more extensive trail system in the national park. In fact, we liked it so much that we returned the next day for a follow-up visit. (By the way, the park offers a 50 percent discount for a second, next day entry.) In my opinion, you haven’t experienced the power of Iguazu Falls if you haven’t looked down the Devil’s Throat.
If Tony had not already had his Brazilian visa for our onward journey to Rio de Janeiro, he probably wouldn’t have gone. I’m glad he did because both sides are significantly different. While we both like the Brazilian side, we agree that the Argentinian side is vastly superior.
I know, some people may disagree with us, but again, it comes down to what kind of traveler you are. If you like it quick and easy, visit the falls in Brazil and combine them with the bird park. If you like to get intimate with the falls and want to explore more of the national park, visit the waterfalls in Argentina.
You are probably still wondering if you’re missing out by choosing sides (pun intended). But here’s some food for thought: Part of those extra visa, transportation or entry fees could be used for additional activities on either side of the border. Take, for example, a boat ride into the falls or a jungle adventure further afield. Either decision is a win-win!
Plan Your Trip to Iguazu Falls
When to Go
Iguazu Falls can be visited all year round. There are, however, seasonal differences in terms of water flow, air temperature, rain, and access to hiking trails and jungle activities. Depending on what’s important to you, you may want to time your stay.
In our opinion, the best time to visit Iguazu Falls is during South American fall and winter, from April through September. While the waterfalls are not at their peak, they are still quite impressive. This period of time offers comfortable temperatures, bluer skies and fewer tourists. We went in May and had a great experience. Although we had some cloud cover, most of the time it was sunny and pleasant.
If you prefer to see the waterfalls at their fullest, head to Iguazu during South American spring and summer, from October through March. Because of frequent rains, water levels are at their peak. However, you have to deal with cloudy skies, muddy trails, high humidity and hot temperatures. It’s also the peak travel time for South Americans, which means crowds everywhere you go.
Iguazu Falls is a popular tourist destination. Visitors have a choice of staying on either side of the border. We prefer the smaller town of Puerto Iguazu in Argentina over the more sprawling city of Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil.
Make sure you book your hotel ahead of time, especially in January and February when locals from Argentina and Brazil flock to the falls. We recommend searching for great Iguazu Falls hotels on HotelsCombined.com, a site which finds the best deals for you across numerous top hotel booking sites, including booking.com and agoda.
Iguazu Falls Tours
Iguazu Falls is easy to visit by yourself. While most tourists prefer exploring on their own, others may feel more comfortable visiting as part of a group. For those, we recommend checking out some of the Iguazu Falls tours offered on Viator, including boat rides, guided tours and helicopter flights. Obviously, sightseeing as part of a group can be a lot more fun. If you plan on staying on the Brazilian side, check out Viator’s tours from Foz do Iguaçu. And if you plan on staying on the Argentinian side, check out their tours from Puerto Iguazu.
Overseas medical insurance is probably THE most important thing to have for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. WorldNomads’ travel insurance covers travelers for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of activities and adventure sports. You can buy and claim the insurance online, even after you’ve left home.