We have been in Argentina for several weeks and were excited to have the opportunity to visit Iguazu Falls National Park. Located in northeastern Argentina, it is an amazing place to view incredible wildlife, exploring the many trails, and watching the breathtaking falls. After spending time in fast-paced cities like Buenos Aires, it was wonderful to slow down and be closer to nature again, like we were in Chacra Millalen, volunteering on an organic farm.
Terrifyingly Awesome: Iguazu Falls, Argentina
We were greeted in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina (after a 20 hour bus ride) by dark clouds, cool weather, and pouring rain. It continued to rain all afternoon Friday and into Saturday morning. When the alarm went off at 7am on Saturday morning I jumped out of bed excited to get to the Falls, but it was still overcast. We had decided that if it was raining we would stay a few more days in order to experience Iguazu Falls at its finest, so we went back to sleep.
By the time we got up a little while later the sky was clearing, so we took our chances and went to the falls. It turned out to be one of two magnificent days at Iguazu Falls National Park (Parque Nacional Iguazu).
Iguazu Falls (Cataratas del Iguazu)
Iguazu Falls consists of over 275 separate waterfalls on the Iguazu River. One side of the river and waterfalls is Brazil and on the other side is Argentina. Many people see the falls from both sides, but unfortunately Americans are required to get a $150 visa to go into Brazil so we only visited the Argentine side. (It is reported to be better overall, but with fewer panoramic views.)
We visited Iguazu Falls National Park for two days — hiking the on and off the beaten track trails and taking in the grandeur of the falls.
Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat)
Garganta del Diablo is the largest of Iguazu’s falls at nearly 500 feet wide. To get to these falls there are a series of catwalks nearly a mile long over the river until you get to the falls themselves.
Arriving at the end of the catwalks overlooking Devil’s Throat my initial instinct was to grab hold of the innermost railing and inch back closer to land — the waterfall is literally under your feet.
Once my survival instinct subsided I was astounded by the sight and sound of the falls. The roar of the water rushing over the falls in one I’ll never forget.
The Devil’s Throat waterfall itself is massive and immediately to it’s left (from the Argentine catwalks) are the Union and Floriano Waterfalls making for an seemingly unending series of falls.
Salto San Martin, Mbigua, Mendez and Bossetti
While not nearly as massive as Devil’s Throat, the San Martin, Mbigua, Bernabe Mendez, and Bossetti waterfalls are just as breathtaking. There is a series of upper catwalks which allow visitors to experience the falls looking down over them, and a longer lower circuit of trails that provides panoramic views.
Isla San Martin
We got to San Martin Island, on the Argentine side of the falls, via a short boat ride. From the island there is an impressive front-and-center view of the San Martin Falls. The spray coming off of the falls was so intense on the island that some people wore rain ponchos.
The side of the island facing away from the falls gives little indication of the tumultuous waterfalls that these waters flow through.
Sendero Macuco / Macuco Hiking Trail
On our second day visiting Iguazu Falls National Park we decided to get off the tourist path and hike the Macuco Nature Trail through the jungle. While this wasn’t exactly traditional backpacking South America, we enjoyed a more tranquil part of the park. Although we saw thousands of people while visiting the main park, we only ran into about a dozen during our three hours hiking this trail. It was peaceful with only the sound of bird calls and a few nature sightings.
The Macuco Trail leads about 2.5 miles through the jungle to the Arrechea Stream Waterfall. If you ever get the chance, make the trip to Iguazu Falls and the natural wonders within.
World’s Largest Rodent & Other Exotic Iguazu Falls Animals
After enjoying the fauna on Peninsula Valdes, we were excited to see what lived in this area. Awhile ago I watched a PBS documentary about animals in South America. It featured the capybara — which at 140 pounds — is the world’s largest rodent. The image of a ginormous hamster-beaver-bear stuck with me, so I was psyched to learn capybaras live in Iguazu Falls National Park (Parque Nacional Iguazú). I went on a mission to find one.
Luck was on my side and a capybara did come out to pose for a photo, along with lots of other exotic wildlife — from toucans and kites to coatis and lizards. I was surprised to see such a wide variety of species here.
You can’t tell how huge it is from the photo, but the capybara weighs 140 pounds and can be over 4 feet tall. Think black bear-sized guinea pig. This one was scavenging near Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat), one of the biggest waterfalls in the park.
This caiman — complete with a butterfly on his head — was lounging on a rock not far from the capybara.
It may look cute and innocent, but there were signs throughout the park warning visitors to hide food in the presence of coati, this raccoon relative, because they’ve been known to attack for food. So unlike the folks in this photo, I kept my distance from coatis and their sloth-like claws.
Not the best shot of a toucan, but they don’t stay still for long! You can see its beak pointing toward the bottom of the photo. This isn’t a toco toucan (think Toucan Sam), though we did see a few of those fly by as well. But they were too fast to snap a picture.
I have to admit I was a little bit afraid this very large ant would somehow leap off the ground and bite my hand. But it didn’t and now you can see how huge these ants are. I figure if a normal ant can carry a large leaf on its back, this one can probably carry a small child.
I’d never seen so many butterflies in my life. They were everywhere — in blue, pink, green, solids, patterns — swarming around us as we stepped onto new paths. One even landed on my head and stayed there for a full minute before moving on.
I used a super-zoom lens for this shot of a plumbeous kite, part of the hawk family.
There was a gigantic colony of vultures hanging out on a nearby rock, with dozens more circling in the sky. Eerie. Even scarier is the fact that this photo was captured without the help of a zoom lens.
These 3 foot long reptiles proved they weren’t afraid of people as they sunned themselves near hiking paths. They looked intimidating, though, and we captured this shot with the zoom.
I’m not sure what this is called, but it was about the size of a guinea pig and didn’t seem to be afraid of people.
The second I learned is an agouti and was the size of a small beagle and was much more skittish. It ran across the trail far ahead of us.
Guira Oga: Iguazu Falls Animal Rehabilitation Center
The bus driver saw the sign, slammed on his brakes, and pulled over on the side of the highway to let us off. The Güirá Oga Animal Rehabilitation Center is sandwiched between the town of Puerto Iguazu and the main Iguazu Falls Park entrance. We could have easily missed it, but I’m so glad we didn’t.
As the only visitors there, we got our own personal tour guide. José, the son of a national park tour guide, grew up in Puerto Iguazu and recently returned from university in the province of Neuquen.
To begin the tour, we rode to the head of the trail in a wagon attached to a Güirá Oga truck.
Güirá Oga’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and reintroduce injured or endangered animals to Iguazu Falls National Park. They function as an animal hospital and rehabilitation center focusing primarily on birds, although plenty of cute furry animals are also rehabilitated at the park.
During our hour-long tour, we got to see up close many of the animals we saw at Iquazu Falls, plus others like the Capuchin monkeys and Oso Melero.
The most surprising and confusing part of the tour was when José showed us the nutrition/food preparation building. He told us about how Güirá Oga grows partridges and mice. Despite José’s excellent English, we didn’t understand right away. They breed the partridges and rodents at the center to feed to the other animals.
Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday and during siesta hours we didn’t get to see any of the hospital veterinarians in action, but we learned a lot about the animals and the park during our tour. Güirá Oga does excellent work, and we enjoyed supporting it.
With so many falls to visit at Iguazu Falls National Park in Argentina, we could have stayed much longer. It was a wonderful experience; one we would recommend to anyone. The wildlife at Iguazu Falls was diverse and fun to see as well. And while you are in the area, be sure to visit Güirá Oga Animal Rehabilitation Center, which rehabilitates animals for release to Iguazu Falls National Park.
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