Ciudad del Este Stories and Tips

Crossing the two borders: the Practicalities of Iguacu Falls

The Rio Iguacu from the air Photo, Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

If you fly down to Iguacu make sure you sit on the left hand side of the plane.

As you approach the city the pilot banks the aircraft to give a stunning view of the chocolate brown Iguacu river 4,000 ft below. From this height you can see the great swathe of the National Park rolling away to the horizon with it's tropical rainforest stretching for tens of miles. The chocolate brown of the Iguacu weaves it's way through this jungle with the promotory of Brazil on one side and the curve of Argentina on the other. We could see a mighty rift in the earth, spume rose from it's depths and the cascading white of the falls could be seen from the plane. The whiteness of the falls contrasted with the reddish brown of the meandering river and green jungle to create an amazing spectacle (see photo).

And this was just a prelude of what was to come.

Whilst Niagara is only a short bus ride from Toronto and Victoria in easy reach of Bulawayo - Iguacu is a long way from the tourist mecca of Rio de Janeiro. In my opinion, no visitor who comes to Brazil should miss Iguacu Falls but there is the practicalities of reaching them which is quite tricky. The bus from Rio costs $50 and takes 24 hours stopping at Sao Paulo and Curitiba.

No trains really reach it from Rio de Janeiro state so that leaves air as the best way to reach the Falls. Airfare with VASP or VARIG comes to about £100 return and there is one plane a day from Rio de Janeiro. As well as the spectacular approach described above it is probably the best solution for those travellers who are short of time. The little airport at Foz de Iguacu is very busy and about a mile from the town costing about 10 reals. There are buses just outside which will drop you outside the local bus terminal on Avenida Kubitschek.

I would recomend a package to see the falls. There are numerous tour operators in Ipanema and Copacabana and competition keeps prices low and quality high. I bagged a tour with 'Shangri-La' for £166 ($276) which included flight, accomodation, park entry, tours and dinner - which is an absolute bargain. The tour was run by Ipracom Travel (travel@ipracom.com) in Rua Visconda de Piraji in Ipanema. The advantage of this is being with like-minded tourists (providing you can speak each others languages) and you don't have to worry about travel and border formalities. But if you want to do it independently you can book accomodation at the tourismo in the airport when you arrive. Taxis and buses just cost a couple of reals and cheap hotels abound in Foz de Iguacu.

Some people tend to base themselves at Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. This is a much smaller town with much less tourist facilites. Foz de Iguacu is almost a city and is laid out in a grid pattern, it is perfectly safe to wander around in. And the favela which is down by the river is a long way from the tourist area. In fact Foz de Igacu has a good choice of hotels, bars and restaurantes and you must try one of the churasaria's while you are here. The streetlife is just as exciting as anywhere else in Brazil and down here on the borderlands people are much more friendly and natural then the cities of the north.


Getting to the Brazilian side.

Put aside at least an afternoon for the Brazilian side. The spectacle of the overall panorama of the falls needs time to take in. It can be reached by public transport from Foz de Iguacu or on a pre-arranged tour. Most hotels in Iguacu will have their own tour agencies or know of someone who runs them. With a tour you don't have to worry about transport and admittance but will be constrained by time and may be more rushed then you want to be. If you do it independently then you are your own master (or mistress?) and can spend hours lingering at the falls. Both have advantages.

You can get to the falls simply by your own transport. A taxi from central Foz will be just twenty reals and five reals more per hour for waiting. They will drop you off at the park entrance which means you still have a long walk along the Avenida Cataratas to the start of the Falls trails. Buses are cheaper and go right into the centre of the Brazilian park at 2 reals from central Foz de Iguacu. They run from the Terminal Urbana (city station) which is opposite the military barracks along Avenida Kubitschek along the northern part of the city centre. This is easily walkable from your hotel if you are staying in the city and the green plush buses run every twenty minutes. They will wait at the entrance whilst you get your 8 real entry to the park and then disgorge you at the visitor centre - a short walk to the start of the trails. And to get back, simply wait at the same place and pay your 2 real fare.

Getting to the Argentinean side

This is much trickier, involving a border crossing - but still can be done. On my flight back to Rio I chatted with a Spanish traveller who had done both sides independently. He had done the Argentinean side in one day whilst staying in Brazil but this required some forward planning and a change of four buses. Here's what to do...

From the terminal urbana in Foz de Iguacu look for green buses with Puerto Iguasu on the front. These are heading for the Argentine border so DON'T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT. Also check you are not one of these nationalities who requires a visa for Argentina - UK, US and EU citizens are OK but we had an Indian tourist on our tour and he had to get a visa to visit Argentina even for the day. The bus costs only 2 reals and heads west along the BR-77 to Argentina. Interestingly when you cross the Ponte Trancedo Neves bridge where the Iguacu is calm and flat the vegetation you see on the other side is Paraguay.

At the border unless you are of Argentine or Brazilian nationality you will have to get out and go through customs. The bus will leave without you - but don't panic - you can use your ticket on the next bus which will be about twenty minutes later. Now you are in Argentina the bus will drive into the town of Puerto Iguasu. Here you get out and look around for a bus marked Puerto Canoas which stops at the entrance to the NP - these run every hour. The bus will drop you at the entrance and it is a short walk to the visitors centre and the start of the miniature railway to Garganta di Diablo. Taxis from the bus station cost 40 pesos.

And of course to get back to Brazil you have to do it all in reverse including getting off the bus at the border and catching the next one. An early start is needed for a full day at the falls and you will probably fall back on getting taxis to and from the border. The advantage of taking a tour is that the guide will do all the border formalities for you while you sit in the vehicle. I get very nervous around any kind of borders as I was once trapped on the wrong side of the Mexican/Texan border with no visa to get back in America (it's a long story...) but at the Argentina border I was especially nervous. You see......I am British..

Argentineans are a lovely people I am sure but I kept my mouth shut and head down just in case. The rest of our tour laughed at me as there was a big sign just inside the border declaring

'LAS MALVINAS EST ARGENTINE' (The Falklands are Argentine).

I pulled my cap over my face, sank into my seat and affected an Irish accent...


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