For one of the greatest sights in South America, indeed one which epitomises this exciting continent, - come to the Brazilian side of Iguacu Falls.
The vista of forty waterfalls stretched along a gigantic cliff face four miles long is earthshaking. Your ears will be deafened, your eyes will be as wide as they can go and you will be happy from being drenched head to foot in the spray from this wonder. It is almost too much for the eye to take. The power of nature is overwhelming here - parrots sqawk, butterflies land on your hand to suck up the sweat, currents and eddies swirl violently and 100 year old trees tower above you inhabited by capuchin monkeys and brightly coloured toucans.
For as much a part of the experience of the falls is the national park itself which stretches for tens of miles in every direction. Visitors can sit and watch coatis emerge out the forest and beg for food. These strange racoon like creatures snuffle around with their stiff brush-like tails high in the air. The spray from the falls has created a wonderland inhabited by brightly coloured birds, animals and insects. Vegetation that is unthinkable on the flat Parana plain grows in profusion here is this paradise of perpetual sunlight and light rain. And as you drive from the parks entrance you may be able to spot wildlife - hawks perch on the grass verge, butterflies flit around like little jewels and lizards lay out catching the sunlight.
I have covered how to get to the Brazilian side in another entry. As you travel down the road to the Cataratas hotel on the southern side is the base for the Macuco rides which are not to be missed. This is only a five minute walk to the visitors centre which means you can partake before catching your bus back to town. The bus will pull up at the visitors centre, the start of the trails is 500m back at the grand Cataratas hotel. Whatever happens, as soon as you step out of the vehicle the awesome sound of the falls will hit you. The low growl of hundreds of waterfalls will draw you in like a magnet. Your first view may be obsured by vegetation - but when you see it in its entirety - WOW!!!!
Across the horizon is a giant tier of waterfalls - forty in all - gushing white water. This is backed by a tropical forest which really does role away to the horizon. The forest also grows between the falls, not to mention next to them, above them and underneath them and seems to glow with greeness. Underneath is a colossal plateau over three miles wide, the falling water from forty waterfalls hits this, is torn up, then flows off the escarpment in another ten waterfalls into the river gorge below (see photo). But this is just in front of you - as you turn to the west there are another five or six waterfalls gushing into the gorge and blocked by an island covered in vulture-like birds. Below you is the river gorge which whooshes westwards into the Rio Iguacu. This in itself is fed by another twenty waterfalls.
To begin with you just stop and stare with your eyes trying to pick off individual detail. What struck me was how primeval it looked - like something out of the age of the dinosaurs. This was confirmed by our guide pointing out jacare (caiman/alligators) lurking on the river bank one hundred feet below us.
We followed the cliff eastwards and gazed across to Argentina and the magnificent falls. The Brazilian side is famous for giving an overall view of the falls which it did by giving vista after spectacular vista as we moved along the trail. As our viewing angle changed we could see the Isla San Martin which contained the flocks of buzzards/vultures. Also we could see the grand climax of the falls - the Giganta di Diablo - at the beginning of the river gorge and the Rio Iguacu being sucked into it's great horseshoe from below. When you see the river from above it is a sort of chocolate colour from the nearby sediment. As it actually passes over the lips of these falls it can for a second seem coppery before plunging down into a white spray. They have set up little viewing platforms every hundred yards along the trail.
While we were gawping at the cataracts a blue/green butterfly landed on the back of my hand and it's probocis tried to break my skin. Iguacu has hundreds of species of butterfly, some of which are poisonous, and there were many flitting around the trail. The effect of this was magical and one German woman posed with "schmetterlings" balancing on her hands. I think it must be the salt in the sweat that attracts them.
As we headed eastwards the views got better and better (see photo) and we were all grinning from ear to ear. There was now two levels of waterfalls in a vista which was miles long. In between waterfalls were rocky islands covered in green vegetation as well as jagged rocks and rushing rapids. But the Giganta di Diablo (Devils throat) just got bigger and bigger and the billowing spray from 12 waterfalls pouring into a horseshoe rose hundreds of feet into the air. Over 1,750 cubic metres of water a second pour over the Giganta di Diablo and from beneath these falls seemed like mountains of white water rearing above us. The trail now led down to the bottom of the river gorge and the banks of the river where a wooden walkway extended into the lower tier of the Devils throat.
It felt that I was now in a enveloping canyon of rushing water. The walkway (see photo) traced the lip of a huge waterfall before it plunged into the river gorge. Above us, across from us and below us was tearing white water and the spray took your breath away. My glasses instantly were covered in water as we inched our way across the walkway, and I gripped the handrails as I reached the viewing platform in the middle of the horseshoe. I marvelled at the plant life clinging precariously to life at right angles to the gushing waters.
Above me was a truly huge waterfall - over 100ft high - with it's waters having a coppery hue as they poured over the edge and where they hit the river was lit with beautiful rainbows. Everything was obscured in spray and I was being deafened by noise. My hair and clothes were soaking and spray streaked down my face but I was loving every second.