Brazil: Feel the power of Iguazu Falls

By Victoria Collins

More than 270 drops comprise Iguazu Falls on the Brazil-Argentine border, one of the world's grandest water falls.

Brazil's might Iguazu Falls. Photo / Thinkstock
Brazil's might Iguazu Falls. Photo / Thinkstock

When 12,700 cubic metres of water charges over a cliff, every second makes a sound that you feel as much as hear.

It reverberates through your chest and soaks you to your core.

The lesser-known triplet of Iguazu Falls (also Iguassu or Iguacu) is taller than Niagara Falls, in North America, and wider by a kilometre than Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe-Zambian border.

Around us, dripping wet tourists press against the railing, their T-shirts and shorts transparent. They squint through a white cloud of spray for rainbows.

Iguazu is said to mean big water - a name coined by the local Tupi-Guaranies tribe.

Iguacu National Park Argentina and Iguacu National Park Brazil form a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We begin our two-day Iguazu experience on the Brazilian bank, which rightly boasts the best vistas of the 2.7km of falls.

I start with a helicopter ride - a great way to clearly see the falls and surrounding jungle stretch as far as the horizon. Though the soft misted falls far below belie the gut-churning tumult at ground level.

Contrary to assumptions, this mass of water is not born of Brazil's Amazon, but the country's south east Parana area.

Just before the Iguazu River meets the Parana River, it's as though a great fist has slammed down on the river's path, leaving an 80m-deep chasm and a long crack in the earth's crust.

And over the water plunges, bursting in silver chains through gaps in the emerald jungle.

The Iguazu River forms part of the border between Brazil and Argentina, a 1.5-hour flight from both Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires.

From the helicopter I can't tell Brazil from Argentina and on the ground the feeling is the same.

Argentina scored the widest section of the falls and Isla San Martin, which offers just enough shelter from the Devil's Throat to enjoy kayaking, rafting and boating.

We wander the impressively neat boardwalks over tranquil stretches of river.

In no time our first toucans are teasing us, flitting in and out of nearby branches and camera frames.

A family of coati (furry critters related to racoons) also share the boardwalk a while.

Guidebooks will tell you there are also ocelot (wild cat) and jaguar in the area but I've yet to hear of a sighting.

Like in any good suspense story, the boardwalks slowly escalate the drama with grander views of the falls at each viewing platform.

The boardwalks are flat and periodically jut you into the path of cascading water or churning spray for a thorough soaking.

Don't worry about getting your clothes wet. In the heat you will welcome it and you will dry quickly.

It's a good idea to wear your swimwear, especially if taking the boat ride.

The boat ride is one of many ways to experience the falls and one of few that will allow you to reach out and touch them.

Your skipper will take great joy in nudging boats full of screeching tourists under the pounding water.

They'll warn you to be ready to get wet but nothing can prepare you for the utter drenching.

Be sure to remove all loose items such as sunglasses. Waterproof bags are provided for cameras and extra clothes.

The downward force of the water will take your breath away and force your eyes closed no matter how much you try to take in the rare view from behind the falls.

Again, Iguazu will make itself felt more than seen or heard.


GETTING THERE: The Iguazu River forms part of the border between Brazil and Argentina.

There are flights from Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

STAYING THERE: There are a range of comfortable 3-star hotels in Brazil, with room prices from around NZ$85.

PLAYING THERE: If you book through a tour guide or at the falls, you can expect to pay about $60 for a short boat ride or kayak, and $180 for a helicopter flight.


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