Argentina’s Iguazú Falls for the Adventure Traveler: Not Wild & Free Enough

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Iguazu Falls Argentina Why Iguazú Falls Disappointed MeIguazú Falls is among the most hyped nature destinations in South America, right up there with Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and Patagonia. All the reviews I’d heard about the falls were uniformly glowing — and that’s how I knew I’d probably be disappointed.

To be fair, Iguazú Falls itself is nothing short of awe-inspiring, whether you see the waterfall from the Argentina or Brazil side. The overall experience of seeing Iguazú Falls, however, made me roll my eyes.

Location of Iguazú Falls in Argentina

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Iguazú Falls is located in tropical northern Argentina

Iguazú Falls is located about 20 minutes from the town of Porto Iguazú, Argentina, which is about 17 hours from Buenos Aires (by bus). Although its surroundings are tropical and wild, the entrance to the park seems more befitting of a commercial zoo.

After paying 100 pesos (~ 25 U.S. dollars) to enter, you’ll notice that the land in front of you has been clear-cut as far as you can see. The concrete path is brand-new; even the “scenic” trail you use to walk to the falls (if you don’t take the tourist train) is paved.

Around the time you begin to hear the rushing of the falls, the path ends and you walk onto a plastic-covered, metal-grate bridge. By this time, your surroundings are once again exotic, but somehow the fact that you’re walking over a rock-solid bridge negates that.

If the roar of the Igauzú Falls doesn’t deafen you by the time you arrive at the main viewing area, the steady click-clack of camera and shutters will. That’s if you can get close enough to Iguazú Falls to see it — even early in the morning, the viewing area is packed.

The “Argentina Side” of Iguazú Falls

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The bridge to Iguazú Falls

I probably sound cynical and bitter, but I promise I’m not: I truly enjoyed the 10 seconds I got to see the Iguazú Falls up-close and personal. “10 seconds?” you ask. “Why did you only get to see Iguazú Falls for 10 seconds?”

The answer is two-fold. As I mentioned earlier, the viewing area is packed to the gills its entire opening hours. The second is that the mist rising up from the falls is extremely heavy and damp: My lens instantly fogged; within 5 seconds my entire camera was soaked.

To be sure, most of the other visitors I observed during my short time at the falls itself stayed only long enough to take a picture or two, to gaze dramatically toward the face of the falls, and then leave in short order.

Iguazú Falls was the first large waterfall I’d ever visited: I never bothered with Niagara Falls; I’ve never been to Venezuela to see Angel Falls, or to Zambia to see Victoria Falls. Perhaps “seeing” a waterfall is a rather quick experience by its very nature?

The “Brazil Side” of Iguazú Falls

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Iguazú Falls is beautiful — I think?

I only attempted to see Iguazú Falls from the Argentina side. There is also a Brazilian side, which Brazilians (and approximately half of foreign tourists) insist is “better” than the Argentina side.

I can only hope that it is wilder, more left intact. Indeed, when I make the effort to see nature (rather than staying in cities, where I am comfortable and, oddly, more stimulated), I want to be as out in the sticks as possible. Paved paths = missing the point.

Argentinian tourism officials have apparently determined that making Iguazú Falls accessible to the least adventurous tourists in the world is in their financial interest. If you are even the least bit adventurous, Iguazú Falls may disappoint you.

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
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