Iguazu Falls from A to Z
With ten times the water volume of Niagara, 275 contiguous falls along almost two miles of columnar basalt cliffs, an unremitting flow of outsized rainbows, and a uniquely rich biosphere, Iguazu Falls is one of the most magnificent sites on earth. Wondering what to do, where to stay, and how to plan ahead? From critically endangered animals to critically important visas, here are exactly 26 things to know before you visit.
A is for Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Presumably, in 1541, the Seville-born explorer became the first European to behold Iguazu Falls.
B is for Butterflies. Broad-banded swallowtails, black-patched metalmarks, blue-frosted catones... Home to over 250 confirmed butterfly species, the national parks are a visiting lepidopterist's dream.
C is for Capybara. Meet the world's largest rodent. Often weighing in at over 100 pounds, this semi-aquatic mammal is a go-to weeknight meal for the pumas, anacondas, and caimans who share its habitat.
D is for Devil's Throat. As the highest of the individual falls, this vapor-enveloped crescent canyon is the most dramatic drop-off of all and the main event for many bucket-listers. If you only have one day at Iguazu, make sure to visit the Argentine side of the falls, where you can cross a kilometer-long elevated catwalk to gaze directly into the misty abyss.
E is for Endangered. Thanks to decades of logging, the subtropical jungle is steadily vanishing, and with it, the region's indigenous fauna. UNESCO recognizes the Atlantic Forest as "one of the most threatened global conservation priorities." Who are the parks' most vulnerable residents today? Lowland tapirs, jaguars, giant otters, and giant anteaters, just to name a few.
F is for Feline. When it comes to Iguazu's predatory cats, pumas and jaguars are just the beginning. The parks are also home to ocelots, margays, jaguarundi, and the southern tigrina.
G is for Guaraní. Part of the Tupi-Guaraní family of languages, Guaraní is the third most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas (after Quechua and Mayan dialects) and an official language of Paraguay, where it is still spoken by more than half of the population.
H is for Harpy. One of the rainforest's largest and most threatened raptors, the harpy eagle is powerful enough to take off with full-grown sloths and monkeys weighing upwards of 20 pounds. (Psst! Looking for a private tour of the bird-speckled canopy? Reach out to Marcelo; he will introduce you to swifts, tanagers, flycatchers, and parakeets!)
I is for Itaipu. Straddling the Paraná River (and the border of Paraguay and Brazil), the binational hydroelectric dam was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, along with the Empire State Building, the Chunnel, and the Panama Canal. Its construction, completed in 1984, employed 40,000 workers—149 of whom lost their lives—and cost $18 billion dollars. With a flow equivalent to 40 times that of Iguazu Falls, itself, the Itaipu Dam supplies Paraguay with most of its annual energy while powering the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
J is for Jesuit Ruins. Archaeology enthusiasts may wish to explore a series of ornate 17th-century Jesuit missions or "reductions" left behind by some of the New World's most ambitious Spanish missionaries. Situated in the southern jungles of what is today the Argentine province of Misiones, the UNESCO-protected ruins of what were once semi-autonomous Catholic communes feature religious, educational, and agricultural infrastructure designed to facilitate the evangelization of the Guaraní.
K is for Kid-friendly. With critters galore and Disney-worthy scenery, Iguazu is a knockout destination for young travelers. Especially when you have a kid-approved gyde like Eder or Nanny on your team. These family-travel heroes can help you craft an adventure that speaks to every member of your crew and make the logistics a breeze.
L is for Lower Circuit. Visitors to the Argentine side of the falls will enjoy taking in the scenery from the park's Upper and Lower Circuits. The Lower Circuit or "Circuito Inferior" is a mile-long footpath that descends toward the base of the falls with strategically positioned lookout platforms en route. (Catching a boat to Isla San Martín? Ferry rafts depart from the pier at the bottom of the trail.)
M is for Monkey. Puma may be a rare sight, but both parks offer prime primate-spotting. Keep your eyes on the canopy for troupes of vociferous capuchin monkeys and maybe even a black howler.
N is for Name. The Spanish and Portuguese words "Iguazú" and "Iguaçu" come from the original Guaraní place name, meaning "Big Water" ("y" = "water" + "guasu" = "big").
O is for Orchids. The parks are home to some 85 species of wild orchids, some so tiny you'd breeze right by them in the absence of a seasoned scout. (Don't worry, our plant whisperer Lilian knows exactly where to seek them out!)
P is for Pastry. You're probably traveling to Iguazu in search of next-level natural beauty, not a next-level culinary scene. But don't underestimate the pleasure of Guaraní pastry. Made with cassava or tapioca flour, eggs, water, and cheese, the gougère-like "chipá" is ubiquitous, highly snackable, and naturally gluten-free.
Q is for Quote. "Poor Niagara!" a wonderstruck Eleanor Roosevelt allegedly quipped.
R is for Ring-tailed Coati. Otherwise known as the park's savviest scavenger, the oversized subtropical raccoon is omnivorous, omnipresent, and the opposite of bashful. Keep your backpack zipped and a close eye on your sandwich.
S is for San Martín Island. Accessible via ferry-raft from the Lower Circuit of the falls, Isla San Martín is home to a network of trails offering privileged views of both Salto San Martín and the Devil's Throat, not to mention a picnic-worthy sandy beach. The catch? Crossings to the island are subject to water levels and are frequently cancelled due to unfavorable conditions.
T is for Triple Frontier. Iguazu Falls is located in a bustling, ethnically diverse tri-border region where the Iguazú and Paraná Rivers converge, uniting the countries of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil.
U is for Upper Circuit. The Upper Circuit or "Circuito Superior" is a series of trails, bridges, and catwalks that allow visitors on the Argentine side of the falls to view the cascades from above. Expect rainbows aplenty and sweeping views. Trying to find a trail less traveled? Ask Leandro about off-the-beaten-path hiking opportunities within and beyond the national parks. He'll help you plan an unforgettable walk in the jungle.
V is for Visa. Planning to visit the Brazilian side of the falls? Better start working on that visa application!
W is for Where to Stay. Lodging options at Iguazu include palatial resorts, riverfront villas, historic estancias tucked deep into the rainforest, and full-service hotels within steps of the falls. Yes, you even can elect to stay inside the Argentine and Brazilian national parks.
X is for Xiphocolaptes Albicollis. A native neo-tropical bird whose name begins with the letter "x" you ask? Add the white-throated woodcreeper to your Iguazu checklist.
Y is for Yerba Mate. Have you tried the region's signature caffeine fix? In addition to the dried leaves of the native shrub ilex paraguariensis, you'll need a drinking gourd called a mate, a metal straw called a bombilla, a thermos full of hot water, and a couple of friends (mate is meant to be shared!). First enjoyed by the Guaraní, the tea-like beverage still figures prominently in the routines of Argentine, Paraguayan, and Brazilian consumers, many of whom wouldn't leave home without the necessary brewing accoutrements. As the birthplace of mate culture, Iguazu is an excellent place to experience the ritual for yourself. Ready for a tutorial? Nuxa will show you how it's done.
Z is for Zoo. There's only one way to guarantee you'll get your face-time with the parrots, toucans, and macaws. Plan to visit the Parque das Aves (bird park!) on the Brazilian side of the falls. Home to 150 bird species, the aviary also offers a closer look at some of Iguazu's most iconic reptiles and butterflies.