The Iguazu falls are the largest system of waterfalls in the world. Situated on the Iguazu River on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná, they separate the river into the upper and lower Iguazu.
We were staying in the city of Foz do Iguaçu in Brasil, having crossed the border from Paraguay in the morning. Foz do Iguaçu is the Brasilian gateway to the falls and so easily accessible by public transport. Stepping off the bus we were blown away at the vista in front of us, a panoramic view of waterfalls spanning from left to right as far as the eye could see. It’s not surprising that it was recently voted one of the new seven wonders of nature.
Throughout the trip we have heard differing views on whether it is better to visit the falls from the Brasilian or Argentinian side. Having enjoyed visiting them in Brasil so much we decided to see them from Argentina the following day. While Argentina lacked the panoramic view of the Brasilian side, it allowed you to get much closer to the action, with walkways of different heights right up to, and in some cases on top of, the falls. A particular highlight was being perched above the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s throat), the largest of the falls at 82 x 150 x 700 metres, which funnels around half of the river’s flow. With around 1,500 cubic metres of water flowing over the falls every second, the seemingly endless stream of water creates a momentous roaring and permanent mist that looms over the abyss, broken only by the occasional darting of some rather daring swallows.
From Foz do Iguaçu we also visited Parque das Aves, the largest bird park in Latin America, with more than 1,320 birds from about 143 different species. Housed in 16.5 hectares of rainforest next to the falls, the birds are predominantly rescued and rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. One of our favourite things about the park was the number of walk-in cages, where you could see many of the birds up close, including a huge cage housing around 30 varieties of parrot and parquet . The sea of colour flying over your head was incredible.
Ciudad del Este—literally translating as the city of the east—sits on the triple border with Brasil and Argentina. It is a peculiar place, with a strange border that you can cross without having to go through immigration. As a result, it is well known as a gateway for all sorts of contraband. We had heard that it was a hectic, dirty and altogether horrid place to be. Never-the-less, we had to go there in order to cross into Brasil and so tried to make the most of it. As we had time to spare, we visited the biggest tourist attraction possibly in Paraguay: the Itaipu hydroelectric dam, situated on the river that divides Brasil and Paraguay. The second largest dam in the world—having been overtaken by the Three Gorges dam in China in 2012—it generates enough power for 75% of Paraguay and 15% of Brasil. It is over 7 km wide and almost 200 m tall. A remarkable feat of human engineering, it offered an interesting contrast to our next stop—Iguazu falls.
Esteros del Ibera in the north east of Argentina is a vast wetland notable for its incredible wildlife and landscape. The marshlands are home to cayman, capybaras, piranha, monkeys, snakes and thousands of different types of birds. Esteros is extremely isolated and getting there was a long and tedious journey—an overnight bus to a small town, followed by a 3-hour drive on a dirt road in a 4×4 to a tiny village called Carlos Pelegrini in the national park, which had no street lights or even proper roads.
It was made completely worth it by the expanse of nature that we had almost completely to ourselves. We were so surprised by the fact that Esteros has such a potential for tourism yet hardly anyone knows it even exists. Luckily for us this meant we saw very few other people. We stayed in a little posada (guest house) who also took us on two boat tours and a walking tour. On the boat tours we saw an abundance of birds: great egrets, great pampa-finch, storks, falcons, red-crested cardinals, southern screamers, and lots more we couldn’t identify! We also saw cayman everywhere, generally lying half in and half out of the water waiting for their lunch to find them. Capybaras were the funniest sight. They are technically the largest rodent and about the size of a Labrador. They also bark like dogs and can be quite grumpy! They graze on the marshlands or hang out sitting in the water. On the walking tour we saw a family of howler monkeys—they are blonde with black faces. When the males reach full maturity at 7-years-old they turn fully black haired.
On our last night there was a huge thunder storm and it rained heavily for about 15 hours. We were worried that the road out of the village would be flooded and we might be stuck for an extra night or two—which often does happen. Miguel, our lovely 4×4 driver, arrived to pick us up and drove us back to the nearest town (120 km away), at parts with no visibility out of the window at all due to the sheets of rain. He reassured us by saying: ‘todo bien’ (everything’s fine)! As we pulled into the bus terminal a bus saw us and asked where we were going, luckily it was heading to our next destination: Corrientes.
Situated 30km north of Buenos Aires, Tigre is a town that lies on the Paraná Delta, consisting of several islands and covering 14,000 square kilometres. It takes its name from the tigers that were hunted there in its early years. Initially it was settled by Europeans who had come to farm the land. Later the port was developed so that fruit and wood could be transported along the Paraná river. One of the islands features a house built for the former Argentinian president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in 1855. Following his death it was declared an historic monument. It now serves as a museum and is enclosed in glass walls for protection. Although parts of the town are interesting it is sadly something of a tourist trap now, with a theme park, speedboats and jet skis ruining what could be a tranquil place.
Puerto Madero is the waterfront area of Buenos Aires. Built in 1897 to allow direct docking for cargo ships, which was not possible due to the river being shallow, it only remained properly in operation until 1911. As cargo ships got increasingly larger, the port became unable to accommodate them and an alternative port was built. Following years of degradation, it has seen a massive regeneration, now featuring bars, restaurants and hotels.
Like many other major cities, Buenos Aires has its own Chinatown. Roughly the same size as the one found in London, it predominantly consists of restaurants, supermarkets and shops selling cheap asian tat. Not exclusively populated by the Chinese, there are also businesses run by Tawainese, Japanese and Thais. Interestingly, it is where most Argentinians go to buy “exotic” food, such as fresh fish, basmati rice and noodles.
We visited La Boca and San Telmo on Sunday. La Boca means the mouth in Spanish, with its name arising from the fact it is positioned at the mouth of the river Riachuelo. It was also the arrival point for immigrants in the 1800s when it was Buenos Aires’ main harbour. The houses are built from cast off ship-building materials, and painted in fun patch work colours. Known as conventillos, they each used to be home to numerous immigrant families, with one family per room, living in very poor conditions. Now they have mostly been turned into shops and restaurants. La Boca is also supposedly the birthplace of tango. As it was a Sunday there were many people dancing in the streets, though this did seem something of a contrived affair aimed at tourists.
San Telmo is one of the oldest barrios (neighbourhoods) in Buenos Aires and as a result one of the most picturesque. On Sundays, cobbled streets play host to an amazing market about a mile long, made up stalls selling food, antiques, handmade jewellery and lots of incense!
On the southern side of BA there is an ecological reserve open to the public during the day, where we spent an afternoon enjoying being away from the noise of the city. On one side you can see towering skyscrapers, while the other opens out to the Rio del Plato and Uruguay. Most of the people there appeared to be either runners, cyclists or teenage couples. There is a variety of plants and wildlife and we were lucky to to spot terrapins and a brief glimpse of a Brazilian guinea pig.
We visited Recoleta cemetery—which is absolutely huge, the larger the mausoleum generally the more important the family. Most of the coffins are posted in shelves, it’s a pretty bizarre thing to see but pretty impressive nonetheless. After we stopped by in this beautiful bookshop which was an old theatre.