We had a great time in Foz do Iguaçu and kept busy since there were so many things to do in the area. The largest attraction and the reason that we visited was to see Iguazu Falls which can be seen in both Brazil and Argentina.
Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam Tour
Our first full day in Foz do Iguaçu predicted rainstorms in the afternoon. Not wanting to visit the waterfalls when it would be raining, we looked for other things in the area to do. Even though the Itaipu Dam was not on our radar initially, we decided to make the journey to see it.
Our plan was to go on the Special Tour but we did not have long pants or closed toe shoes, which were requirements for going on the tour. We then decided that we would go on the Panoramic Tour which was shorter and less expensive at 27R or $6.50 each, but also appeared that it would be less interesting as well.
After we paid, we headed over to catch a bus. Since it was a panoramic tour, we wanted to be seated on the upper level. The first bus only had room on the lower level so we waited 20 minutes until the next bus arrived.
When we got on the bus, our guide took a show of hands as to who spoke Portuguese, Spanish and English. Naturally, she had a mix of all 3 languages on the bus so the narration was in several languages and quite short. It was fine, but did not teach us much about how electricity is generated from the dam. Luckily, we had learned a lot about how it works when we went on a tour at the Hoover Dam.
The first stop was at the spillway which is where water goes when the water level is too high for everything to go through the dam. It was very fortunate that we were able to see this as it is only open about 10% of the time.
It was a little challenging to get good pictures since there were so many people all leaving the bus and trying to take pictures at the same time. We were able to get a few good pictures before we headed back to the bus.
Driving on the Lower Part of the Dam
The first pass by the Dam actually brought us along the lower roadway where we were able to see the dam up close. The Special Tour actually stops along this part of the Dam, but the tour we were on just speeds by to give us a quick look at the dam up close.
Driving Over the Dam
The tour took us all around the dam as well as over it. We thought it would be more interesting and that we would see more, but it wasn’t as exciting as we thought. Luckily, we were sitting on the passenger side of the bus after the spillway which put us in the best spot to take pictures as we crossed over the dam.
At one point on the tour, we actually were driving in Paraguay. As US citizens we have to pay $160 each to enter Paraguay so we hadn’t planned to make it over the border. I guess this tour was as close as we will get to visiting Paraguay. I don’t know if it counts though as our feet never touched the ground.
The second stop was so lame that I didn’t even get off the bus. It was a view of the reservoir which just looked like a brown lake. Andy got off, took 1 picture and returned to the bus.
The final stop was at the dam viewpoint. The best part of this stop was that you could take as much time as you wanted before catching any bus which returned to the visitor center – well if you aren’t there at lunch that is.
We were told that a bus comes every 15-20 minutes and to stay as long as we wanted. About 15 minutes after we arrived, a man approached us and asked if we wanted to return to the visitor center. We said we would probably wait for the next bus in about 15 minutes to which he replied since it is lunch, the next bus isn’t for another 45 minutes. We laughed to each other since it seems that just about everything in South America shuts down at lunch, then packed up our gear and headed back to the bus.
Thoughts on the Tour
After the tour we both agreed that had the spillway not been open, the panoramic tour wouldn’t have been worth the time and money. I really wish that we had known about the pants and shoes requirement for the special tour as I think that would have been the most educational and interesting tour offered.
Iguaçu Falls – Brazil Side
Getting to the Falls
Since we were staying in Brazil, it made sense to visit the Brazilian side of the falls first. We walked 2 blocks from our guesthouse where we could catch a bus directly to the falls. Unfortunately our timing was off since we missed a bus by about 10 seconds and had to wait 20 minutes for the next one to come. The bus was a bargain at 3.20R or 75 cents since the falls was a good 30 minute drive.
Our Time at the Park
When we arrived, we paid our entry fee of 56.30R or $13.75 each with our credit card, then headed into the park. Since the park is pretty spread out, there were shuttle buses which drive you to different points in the park.
We got off the bus at the Path of the Falls stop. There was a single path that you took all the way but it wasn’t too much walking. I was happy that we were pretty well protected from the sun by trees which grew along the path. We still had on SPF 50 and were happy that we did since we saw a number of people who looked like they had gotten fried.
The only time that we got wet was when we took the trail over the water to the Devil’s Throat viewpoint which was the end of the trail. The wind was blowing mist from all of the falls and we were pretty wet by the end. We had brought ponchos with us but decided that since it was hot it would feel good to get a little wet, plus if we didn’t wear them, we wouldn’t have to deal with wet ponchos. There were gift shops near the falls that sold ponchos and quite a few people were buying them. Since our GoPro was waterproof we took a few pictures at the Devil’s Throat but knew that they wouldn’t be great since there were so many people around us and the mist was getting all over the lens.
The most challenging part of the trail was staying away from the Quatis, a raccoon like animal which was all over the park. There were signs everywhere saying do not feed them or touch them as they can scratch/bite and possibly transmit rabies. We stayed as far away as possible but other tourists would gather around the animals, taking out their cameras and getting as close as possible. I kept thinking that someone was going to get attacked. For some reason, the park had trash cans which had an open front – this made it very easy for the animals to get into the trash cans to pull out food. I’m not quite sure why they have not upgraded their trash cans to the bear-proof style that doesn’t allow animals to get into them.
Iguazu Falls – Argentina Side
Getting to the Falls
Since we were staying in Brazil, getting to the Argentinean falls was a bit more challenging. We ate breakfast early, then headed 3 blocks from our guesthouse (at the same stop where we caught the bus to the Brazilian falls), to wait for a bus to Argentina. Fortunately our bad luck in just missing a bus was not repeated, in fact, we were able to run when we saw the bus coming and the driver waited for us.
We paid the bus fee of 4R or $1 each and took a seat. When the bus hit the Brazilian border, we got off. The driver got off the bus and was shouting to us in Portuguese that we didn’t need to go through customs. We thanked him but felt extremely uncomfortable crossing a border without getting stamped out, especially since as an American we are a huge target for fees and fines. Once we got our stamp out of Brazil, we caught another bus to the Argentinian border where we got stamped in and then finally arrived at the Puerto Iguazu bus terminal.
Since we had arrived into the Puerto Iguazu bus terminal previously, we knew what to expect. We went to one of the windows that was selling round trip tickets to the falls for 100 pesos or $7.40 each. Argentine Pesos was the only currency accepted and there were not any ATM’s anywhere in sight. Luckily we had extra pesos from our time in Argentina and had stopped by a currency exchange in Brazil to get additional pesos.
Even though there were several windows selling tickets, they were all on the same Rio Uruguay bus. When we got on the bus we were surprised how nice it was – there was even AC, something that we hadn’t had on many short haul buses in the area. We were some of the later people to get on the bus so we had to sit separate, but for a quick 30 minute ride it wasn’t a big deal.
It took us 2 hours to get from our guesthouse to the falls which was not nearly as much time as we had planned for.
Our Time at the Park
Before we had left, we had researched the amount of walking at the Argentina falls which appeared to be quite a bit more than in Brazil. We asked the owners of our guesthouse if the Argentina side was as wet as the Brazilian side and they confirmed it was not. We prepared accordingly, opting to wear our sneakers instead of flip flops as they are more comfortable for long distances.
When we arrived at the park, we purchased our entry tickets which were 260 pesos or $19 each. Unlike Brazil, Argentina did not accept credit cards but fortunately we had read about this online and brought enough pesos to get us through the day. We were given a map which was not very clearly marked, then sent on our way.
Since it was a hot day and we wanted to spend as little time in the sun as possible, we strategized the best route to take. We decided that we would start with the lower trail, then move to the upper trail and finally catch the train up to Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat).
Surprisingly, our best views of the falls were from the lower trail. This was a bit further from the falls but gave us the opportunity to see how vast and just how many waterfalls there were.
The upper trail reminded us more of the Brazilian side since we were much closer to the falls. It was also a lot more crowded than the lower trail. I’m not sure if it was the time of the day or just a more popular path, but it was a bit harder to get pictures.
Garganta del Diablo
While you can technically walk to Garganta del Diablo, we chose to take the train since walking in the sun without any breeze for an extended period of time sounded like an awful idea.
When we arrived, there was quite a line for the train. We joked that they were going to cut off the line right in front of us and as luck would have it, that is exactly what happened. The most frustrating part of not getting on the train is that there were plenty of open seats on the train, people just did a terrible job filling in the seats and the workers didn’t fill the empty seats before the train left. We were then stuck waiting 20 minutes for the next train.
Once we got on the train, we had a short 10 minute ride to the end of the line. From there we walked about 15 minutes without any shade and very little wind to get to Garganta del Diablo.
Along the way we were chatting and got the dreaded “where are you from?” line from a stranger. While I would like to think that everyone is well intentioned and just being polite, we know that is typically not the case. I humored the guy who said that he was from Buenos Aires. After no more than 1 minute of conversation he asked us if we had eaten lunch. I thought that was odd and told that we hadn’t eaten but would probably grab something by the bus station which would be cheaper than inside the park. About 3 minutes later into the conversation he threw in another line “maybe if we grab lunch later”. While I am not sure that he had ill intentions, we wanted to ditch him so when he stopped to take a photo, we kept on walking.
We got a little bit wet at Garganta del Diablo, but nothing like the Devil’s Throat in Brazil the day before. Similar to the Brazilian side, the path was packed with people which made getting a picture nearly impossible. Well actually, it was possible if you paid. There was a professional photographer who had roped off the best view and only they were allowed to take photos there.
After we snapped a few shots, we headed back to the train so we could leave the park.
Getting Back to Our Hotel in Brazil
We knew that we had gotten lucky with public transit on our trip to the falls and did not have that same luck going home.
There were 3 things that happened which were not in our favor:
- We had to wait about 15 minutes for a bus leaving the park
- When we hopped on a bus at the Argentina bus terminal to go back to Brazil, it didn’t leave for about 20 minutes
- When we got out to do customs in Brazil we had to wait an hour for another bus to pick us up and take us to the bus terminal – others that were waiting started to bail and took a taxi, we decided to be cheap and keep waiting
It ended up taking us about 4 hours to get from door to door which was an excruciating amount of time to take for traveling such a short distance. It was the cheapest way to get from point A to point B though so there is always a compromise.
In the great debate of Brazil vs. Argentina falls, we both agreed that the view from the Argentinian side is better. That being said, if you go to Iguazu Falls, you absolutely have to see both sides so you can compare and decide what you like best.
We had a really good time in Foz do Iguaçu. It was really easy to get around, there were plenty of things to see/do and best of all – the prices were so much better than they were in Argentina. Before we arrived, we were really nervous about the language barrier since Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese but since it is such a tourist town and right on the border, we were easily able to get by using English and Spanish.