by Elizabeth Willoughby
This exceptionally beautiful horseshoe waterfall in South America is shared by Brazil and Argentina. Named "The Great Waters" by the local Tupi Guarani Indians, these falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As the jeep bounces and lurches along the rutted, potholed track, the ominous rumblings of distant thunder grow increasingly louder, its source masked by the surrounding dense jungle. At the end of the road, a brief clearing. Steamy, subtropical air is slightly cooler and carries the scent of mossy dampness.
We head down a narrow path single file into the gorge, zigzagging through the rainforest over trickling streams and slippery rocks to the river bank. Cool mist escapes the turbulent water upstream and dissipates as it floats by, gently grazing skin, refreshing. And then there it is — beyond the mist the symphony rages — the magnificent Foz do Iguaçu.
Agog, we fumble into an inflatable raft and cast off for the bold ride upriver. Crashing against an oncoming wave, the bow bounces into the air before it smashes down onto the next one. The boat dips in and out of natural rock jetties for a complete exposure to the splendour of the formations. The splashes, the mist and the downpour of over 250 individual waterfalls drench everyone, yet we push on as far up the river as the helmsman dares, then pause at length mid-river for all to absorb the spectacle of the Great Waters, and float round for a calmer retreat with the current.
Seeing the Iguaçu Falls from land is no less impressive. A 136-metre long path weaves its way through the forest along the canyon wall. Choice lookout points ensure incredible views of Iguaçu, its overwhelming size, beauty and power. At the end of the pathway is a catwalk that extends out into the cradle of the horseshoe where the orchestra of plunging waters, floating mist, lush green foliage and dancing rainbows play.
From the air yet another perspective unfolds. A clay-coloured, winding swath slices through an opaque, green canvas until the miry river finally turns back on itself. There, the waters appear white as they plummet 70 metres into the chasm. The light clouds of mist released into the air float along with the river that has once again turned brown.
With a vision of preservation and environmental friendliness, Brazil's National Park has modernised its facilities over the past years. Today, the first class visitor centre provides easy access and uncomplicated trips into the park to visit the Brazilian side of the waterfalls and view the Argentinean side. Lost is a primal sense of discovery, replaced by a bus and safety precautions, but it's better for the environment and the falls are overwhelming no matter how you reach them.
Iguassu's profound natural strength and beauty attracts world wide attention. It is second in Brazil only to Rio de Janeiro as a tourist destination, is found on international agency agendas and has even landed roles in Hollywood movies, such as James Bond's Moonraker, The Mission and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The attention is well deserved.
Iguaçu National Park
The 1¾-hour tour comprises a 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) drive, nowadays a wagon pulled by a four-wheel-drive electric jeep, with a multilingual guide relating facts on local flora, an optional hike down a 600-meter (1,969-foot) trail to the 25-minute boat tour. Open daily, tours leave every 15 minutes.
Parque das Aves
While you're here, don't miss a visit to Parque das Aves bird park, close enough to walk to from the waterfalls park. The over 16 hectares of aviaries are home to over 200 species of birds, many cages so big that visitors walk through them amongst the birds. Pause on the bridges and let the toucans nibble on your zipper; have a seat amongst the colourful, playful parrots. Give yourself at least an hour to meander through the park. It is not necessary to prebook tickets to the aviary.
Images ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2001
This article was published in the Sunday News, Brazil ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2001, and at ©WorldGuide.eu 2008
A good travel piece is fun, informative and factual,
not a place for hackneyed embellishments.
Do contact me to discuss bringing improbable journeys into the realm of possibility for your readership.