Well this was a fine how do you do! Having just booked a week at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro we scoured all of the travel websites for something else to do in Brazil. It had to be something both interesting and relaxing because we had planned on going all out for Carnival. The place that kept popping up was Iguazu Falls or Foz do Iguaçu located on the Brazil and Argentina border. It also came onto our radar as one of the NEW Seven Natural Wonders of the World. So we booked it and are very glad we did.
Living just a few hours from Niagara Falls we went into this venture with a load of apprehension, after all Niagara Falls feels like a tourist trap. While you can just drive right up and see the falls, you feel like you’re in a city. You’re basically viewing an incredible force of nature while surrounded by something very unnatural.
Luckily Iguazu Falls was nothing like Niagara being located in what is basically a rainforest park with beautiful trails and wildlife. Amazing wildlife. Monkeys, Toucans, several different kinds of Coatis, lizards, giant iguanas, thousands of butterflies, and a selection of colorful birds that would keep any bird lover happy. We saw them all!
Choosing a hotel was more of a chore than usual. The hotel needed to be on the Brazil side of the border because we only have Brazil Visa’s and Argentina has a $160 visa/reciprocity fee that we were not willing to pay for a two night stay. (I will tell you how to visit the Argentina side without paying the fee coming up)
The first idea was to book a natural rainforest hotel in or near the small town that is nearby by the airport. The second idea was to book the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas that is located inside the park. We chose the Belmond 99% based on the idea that we needed to relax. It ended up so much better. The Belmond is the only hotel on the Brazil side that has open access to the park, you can walk down to the falls any time, even during non park hours (9am to 6pm). This made for our favorite part of the entire Brazil trip.
Landing at the Foz do Iguaçu International Airport Brazil we promptly went to the taxi booth and asked for a taxi to hotel. They said they would drop us at the park entrance and the Hotel would pick us up. It cost about $5.50 for the ride and sure enough there was a hotel shuttle at the park entrance.
We arrived at the hotel at around 11am and went through the customary unload the bags and bathroom break. From there we walked out the front door of the hotel to a view of part of the falls. It was completely jam-packed with people and tour buses. It was so congested, to walk 100 feet on the trail took us 1/2 hour and all we saw were people’s backs. At that point even though we were antsy to check out the falls, we abandoned hope and walked back to the hotel where free lunch and the pool awaited us. We knew that at 6pm the park would be devoid of tourists.
At 6pm we were rested and primed to venture back to the trails, this time there was not a soul around. It was only us and it was weird, not as much just weird as it was really really weird. A ways down the path we ran into about 20 Coatis with pups that didn’t seem to mind us walking by as they raided one of the parks strategically placed garbage receptacles. Then it was iguana after iguana, lizard after lizard and you couldn’t find somewhere to look that didn’t have a butterfly in view. Looking up, every once in a while you would see a monkey jumping branch to branch.
It took about an hour and a half to do what was really should have been a 25 minute walk to the Brazil side heart of the falls, the “Devil’s Throat”.
So there we stood, all alone in the middle of that bridge you see in all of the pictures with hundreds of people on it. The roar was so loud you couldn’t hear the other person yell from a few feet away. The mist from the falls drenched our clothes as we stood dumfounded trying to figure out how we could possible be the only people around in the middle of one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world. (If you look real close you can see one of us on the middle of the bridge below)
For three days, we made sure to walk the trails before and after the park closed. It was that cool of an experience. They have boats you can get on to ride right up close to the falls, but we opted out because we felt we got that really close up to the falls feeling by just walking right up to the falls.
As for the trick to get to the Argentinian side of the falls without paying the USA tourist $160 reciprocity fee… It was as simple as booking a tour of that side of the falls from the Brazil side. The tour buses do not stop at the border for passport control. You can go do a day tour and return. You won’t get your passport stamped as being in Argentina, but as long as you know you did it, then who cares. Make sure to make it back on your bus in time or you will have a very painful border crossing back to Brazil if you need to take a taxi.
This is how WE did it.
- Airlines miles used to fly from USA to Rio de Janeiro airport GIG (you must have a Brazil VISA $160 good for 10 years)
- Bought one way plane tickets from Rio to Iguazu Falls (about $156.00 each person)
- Taxi from Iguazu Falls (Brazil) airport to park entrance $5.50
- Free Hotel shuttle from park entrance to Belmond Hotel
- 3 Nights in Belmond (2 would have been easily sufficient)
- Shuttle back to entrance (cab waiting – ask at front desk)
- Cab back to airport $5.50
- Airline miles back to USA from IGU airport.