So amidst my myriad of posts about unemployment and self-discovery, I have realized it has been quite a while since I have written a good old fashioned travel story. Its time for a change of pace.
As many of you know, this past February I took a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for carnival. We danced in the parade, jumped off a 2,000 foot cliff and saw a futbol game in one of the most storied stadiums in the world. I’d say we had a good time, but I think that would be a bit of an understatement.
After a week and a half of Skol, cachaca and next to no sleep, we were ready for a change of pace. Luckily, we had pre-arranged a flight and hotel in the sleepy little town of Foz du Iguacu, near the Argentinean border.
This was a town unlike any other I’ve seen. It almost appeared as though it was stuck in time. Empty condo buildings littered the landscape from the boom, and subsequent bust of years prior. The streets were empty save for a few store owners, and there certainly weren’t any other gringos around. In all, it wasn’t exactly what I expected from a locale that can receive up to 25,000 visitors a day during the peak season.
So why would all of these people come visit such a seemingly boring place?
Answer: To see one of the most spectacular natural features on the face of the planet.
Iguazu (or Iguassu, or Iguaçu) Falls has been nominated as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. At over 2 miles long, and featuring nearly 300 separate waterfalls, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
This is the place that made Eleanor Roosevelt exclaim “Poor Niagara.” And if you have ever seen Niagara Falls, that’s saying something.
Generally most visitors spend two days in the area, one day to see the Brazilian side, and one day to see the Argentinean side. From Brazil you can see picturesque panoramas and take in the falls in their entirety. It takes only a few hours to walk from one side to the other, but the view of “Devil’s Throat” at the end of the hike makes for one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen.
It actually only takes half a day to see the falls from the Brazilian side, so this leaves you with time to see some of the regions other sights. Before heading to the falls we visited the “Parque de Aves”, or bird park. I have to admit, I was surprised at how cool it was. One of my goals for the trip was to “take a good photo of a toucan.” Well you can be the judge below, but I was proud of myself (even if it wasn’t in the wild).
We also were able to add another country to our list and head over to Paraguay for a few hours. The town of Ciudad del Este was a far cry from Foz du Iguaçu. As soon as we crossed the bridge, we were met with a bustling metropolis of counterfeited goods.
I had never actually visited a place where you could get quality fake stuff, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed; this is evidenced by the $4 Ray Bans and $8 Breitling watch I took home with me.
If fake stuff isn’t your deal, you can also head to Itaipu Dam. When built, it was the world’s largest dam (although the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze in China surpassed this). We opted not to take the tour out to the dam, and instead went to Paraguay, but I have heard it is worth the trip.
The following day we headed over to Argentina. It generally takes more time to see the Argentinean side, as things are a bit more spread out, but you can also get MUCH closer to the falls. I didn’t know what to expect as I walked the half mile across the wetlands to reach the top of Devils Throat.
Devils Throat is the most furious section of the falls where on average over 400,000 gallons of water a second pour onto the rocks below. I left drenched, yet with a complete understanding as to why people would make the trek to South America just to see this. Rather than go into too much detail here, you should just take a look at the photos. Or an even better idea would be to head over to Live Uncomfortably and see the video that Derek put together of his trip to Iguazu (I am also hoping to integrate a Flickr page to this site soon, so I will post more photos of the trip then).
The last night we were in Foz du Iguazu, we decided that we needed to go out and experience some of the local night life, which was surprisingly quite vibrant. It could have been a lot of fun too, you know, if we spoke Portuguese. Instead we were shunned by pretty much every single person we approached. Of course this could also have something to do with the fact that the club, which we thought was 21 and over, was actually 16 and over. Maybe some of the people we approached really were as young as they looked…
In retrospect, with a little more research we would have learned about the Hostel Inn, which is out of the city and much closer to the falls. Apparently it was originally a casino and resort, which was turned into what I’ve been told is one of the best backpacker’s hostels in Brazil. And I can guarantee it was better than the Foz Plaza Hotel, which is nowhere near as lavish as it sounds (although they had a fantastic free breakfast).
The trip was much more than I ever could have expected. Aside from spectacular scenery, I was exposed to a way of life that I never would have experienced otherwise. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Have you been to Iguazu Falls? Tell us about it in the comments!