Iguazu Falls: A Cheapskate’s guide to visiting
One of the most impressive natural wonders in the world, Iguazu Falls is where the Iguazu River goes tumbling over the edge of the Parana Plateau. The name comes from the Guarani words meaning “big water” and that description is an understatement. This is not just big water, it is water on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.
The legend goes that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt exclaimed “Poor Niagara!” when she saw these thundering falls for the first time – and you can’t blame her. Approximately three times taller than Niagara and surrounded by a lush jungle setting, Iguazu Falls are a truly awesome sight and a must-see while you are in South America.
Having recently marvelled at these falls myself, here is a budget traveller’s guide to making the most out of your visit.
Should you see both sides (Brazil and Argentina) of the falls?
You might be wondering – do I need to see the falls from both sides in order to fully experience them? While I enjoyed seeing both sides and I was glad that I did, there are some reasons why you might only want to see one.
You should see both sides if:
- You are planning on crossing the border anyway.
- You want to be able to get lots of photos from different angles. On the Brazil side you can get big panoramic views of the falls and on the Argentinian side you can get better close up shots.
- You are really interested in the falls and they are one of the major highlights of your trip to South America. Why come all this way to only see one side?
However, you might want to choose one side or the other if:
- You are Canadian or American or another nationality that requires visas for Argentina and Brazil and you don’t plan on going anywhere else in that country. You might not want to pay well over $100 USD just to cross the border for one day.
- You only have a short period of time in the area and you don’t want to devote two days to the waterfalls.
- You’re only a little bit interested in the falls, but not enough to spend two days looking at them.
The Argentina Side
The Argentinian side of the falls can be reached by bus from the small town of Puerto Iguazu. The buses run from the bus station about every 20 minutes or so. The entrance fee to the park was 130 Argentinian pesos, although it is only 90 pesos if you are a resident of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay or Venezuela.
When you buy a ticket it is possible to buy another ticket for a second day for half price. However, this is not necessary – you can see all of the falls in one day easily.
Make sure that you bring bug spray and sunscreen with you – it will be necessary and you won’t want to have to buy it for inflated prices while you are at the park.
Once you get into the park you can choose to take the free train or walk for around 15-20 minutes before you reach the Upper and Lower circuit. These walkways will give you amazing up close views of the falls and offer great photo opportunities. Make sure that you wear rubber soled shoes, because the catwalks can get damp and slippery.
It is also usually possible to visit San Martin Island and the Devil’s Throat section of the falls, but when we visited it was closed due to flooding.
Trips and tours
While you are on the Argentinian side of the falls, there are three options for guided tours. These tours are not necessary and if you are on a tight budget you could skip them, opting to just walk around the platforms and view the falls from there.
However, if you have the money in your budget it’s worth going on one of the trips and tours so that you can make the most of your visit.
There are three options when it comes to Iguazu Falls tours:
- The Gran Aventura – An 8km ride on a 4×4 truck through the jungle, then a 5km boat ride down the river which ends up at the falls and San Martin Island. Takes around 65 minutes and costs 380 Argentinian pesos.
- The Aventura Nautica – A boat ride that starts in front of San Marti Island and zooms you right up close to the falls. You will get soaking wet (they provide you with a dry bag so that you can keep your belongings safe). Takes around 12 minutes and costs 180 Argentinian pesos.
- Paseo Ecologico – A ride on inflatable rowboats through the waters of Rio Iguassu for around 3km, so that you can see the birds and plants. Takes around 20 minutes and costs 80 pesos.
I recommend that the best value is the Aventura Nautica trip. The Gran Aventura trip takes you on a jeep ride through the jungle, but you are not likely to see any wildlife because they will be scared away by the noise of the jeep.
The Paseo Ecologico might be worth it if you are really interested in the flora and fauna of the area, but if you came to see the waterfalls you will not even see them during this tour.
The Aventura Nautica trip is affordable, it offers the best value for money and it offers you the exciting experience of actually going right in the spray of the waterfalls and getting absolutely soaked.
While on the Argentinian side you can also walk to the Arrechea Waterfall, which is 3.6 km each way. It is a peaceful place to relax and it is possible to swim there.
Also, watch out for the coatis! They are creatures that look a little bit like racoons or skunks, with long striped tails and thin snouts.
It’s fun to watch them, but they have been known to snatch food from tourists and give very nasty bites and scratches. Keep a safe distance from them and don’t feed them!
The Brazil Side
The Brazilian falls are located close to Foz do Iguacu. To get there from Argentina take the “Crucero del Norte” bus from Puerto Iguazu, which will cost around 80 pesos and leaves every two hours. Once you are in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil you can take the bus from the local bus terminal to the national park. It runs every half hour and it only costs 4 Brazilian reals.
The way the bus station works is that you pay the person sitting at the turnstile in order to enter the station, then pass through and find the bus labelled “Iguassu Falls” (to the left of the entrance).
The entry cost is 49 Brazilian reals per person. If you do not have Brazilian reals, don’t pay for your entrance fee in Argentinian pesos. The rates are terrible and you will end up paying a lot more. Instead, pay by credit card or use the ATMs at the national park ticket office to withdraw some Brazilian currency.
After you buy your ticket you will get onto a double decker open top bus that will drive you along to the different viewpoints at each section of the park.
Make sure that you pick up one of the free maps that lists the viewpoints along the route. Check out the Cataratas Trail, which will take you around to several excellent panoramic photo spots.
The Brazil side offers some of the most impressive photo opportunities, as it allows you to capture the full magnitude of the waterfalls. On the Brazilian side of the falls you also have the option of taking the Macuco Safari, which is a boat ride up to the base of the falls in a 20 person Zodiac Boat. It includes a ride through the jungle with some information about the flora and fauna, a hike down to the dock and a ride up the river and into the falls. You will get completely drenched during this experience.
We didn’t take the Macuco Safari as we had already taken the Aventura Nautica on the Argentinian side. However, if you would like to learn more about it here is a description of what is included in the trip.
Parque Das Aves
If you have the time, check out the Parque Das Aves – an ecological bird park located right next to the Brazilian side of the falls. Entry is 28 reals and you will be able to see an impressive collection of tropical birds including colourful parrots, toucans and flamingos.
There are large open cages that you can walk through, with the birds flying around you. One of the most amazing experiences was walking through the enormous macaw enclosure and watching these colourful birds swoop overhead.
More money saving tips
- Bring a packed lunch and some bottled water with you to the falls. There are places to eat within the park, but they are very expensive.
- Ruining your camera or phone due to moisture would make it a very expensive trip to the falls. Keep it protect from the spray when you are on the platforms or on the boat trips, or consider bringing a waterproof camera.
- On both sides there will be touts offering to take photos of you so that they can charge you a lot of money for the print-outs, displayed in a souvenir folder. Avoid them, as the photos are overpriced. You can always print out one of your own snaps for much cheaper when you get home.
- You can also buy souvenirs on either side of the falls, but if you want to save money you should not bother. You can find the same types of souvenirs for much cheaper on the main road of Puerto Iguazu or Foz do Iguacu.
- On the Argentinian side you should exchange US dollars at a Cambio (currency exchange) instead of taking money out from the ATM. You will get a much better exchange rate and therefore will have more money to spend on your trip.
Iguazu Falls is one of the most impressive natural wonders that I have seen on my travels and it is an absolute must if you are in the area. Keep these tips in mind to get the best value out of your visit and enjoy exploring the falls!
By Kelly Dunning
Kelly Dunning is a freelance travel writer and digital nomad. She and her partner Lee have been travelling the world for the last 3 years while running Global-Goose.com – a source of information and inspiration for fellow travellers.