Iguazu Falls (Brazil) – Big Water and an Elusive Bird

So Tom and I left Rio just before 5:00 p.m. as the rains began. Our destination was Foz de Iguazu home to the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls. The waterfalls flow from the Iguazu River on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The word Iguazu means “big water” so given that Iguazu Falls make up the largest waterfalls in the world, the falls are aptly named. And while the majority of the falls are on the Argentina side, we have been told that the best views are from the Brazilian side. Tom and I are going to see the falls on both sides so will be able to report back later which side is better.

Now after I had planned my dates at Iguazu Falls, I learned that we would be at the falls during the full moon and the hotel we were staying in, the Hotel Belmond, conducted late night full moon tours of the falls. The condition for the tour being that you can actually see the full moon. Unfortunately, the weather forecast did not appear to be cooperating as it was predicted to be cloudy with a chance of showers. Ugh! We were hoping for a reprieve, but when we landed in Foz de Iguazu it appeared that the forecast was accurate.

Hotel Belmond

However, Tom and I agreed we needed to just let it go since there was not a darn thing we could do about it, so we retrieved our luggage (yes I DID check my bag tags) and met Miguel from the Hotel Belmond who drove us the short distance through the park entrance to our hotel, which is the only hotel inside the Iguazu Falls Park. And the HUGE bonus for paying the price to stay at this hotel … we could go on an early morning tour of Iguazu Falls before the park opened at 9:00 a.m. to the riff raff, so Tom and I and the other fortunate guests would have the park all to ourselves for our tour.

And a little bit about the Hotel Belmond. The hotel was built in 1956 and looks like an old colonial mansion. You can see a small portion of the falls from the front of the building and a tower allows you to see even more. The inside is simply gorgeous with an old wood bar known as the Taroba Bar, a patio bar, a billiard room and a drawing room surrounded by windows looking out on a garden patio. The hotel features two restaurants and service that never ends.

The bar in Hotel Belmond

Anyway, after we arrived and settled in we had a late night dinner and then planned to meet at 7:30 in the morning for a small bite to eat before meeting Miguel who would be conducting the walking tour of the falls at 8:00 a.m.

When I got up and took a look outside, the skies were overcast, but no rain. And the bonus …. I could actually see a small portion of the falls from my room! Anyway, I found Tom, had a quick bit to eat and then joined the others (there were about 15 of us) to start the walking tour of the Brazilian side of the falls. Now the upside was the the cloud cover was fairly high so there was no fog or rain to obstruct our view.

We crossed the street to the walkway, which had been constructed in the 1970s, to begin our walking tour. (If you are not staying at the Hotel Belmond, you are brought to this spot by one of the park buses after you pay the entrance fee at a booth about 1 km away.).

First view of Iguazu Falls

Anyway, Miguel gave us some information about the flora and fauna in the park and as he was talking pointed out that a toucan had landed on a tree branch behind some of us. I turned, saw the gorgeous bird (and my elusive photo), pulled out my camera, turned it on and … damn it! The little devil ducked into a hole in the tree, which is apparently its nest, and all I got was the backside of the bird. My quest continues!

Lots of mist

Anyway, after the brief introduction to the park Miguel led us down the walkway for our first full on view of the falls, which were in a word … stunning. We all snapped pictures and took videos while marveling at the enormous power of the water flowing in front of us.

We learned from Miguel that first European to set his eyes on Iguazu Falls was the Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541. He had apparently been exploring the Iguazu River. Now the reason there are so many waterfalls is that the water is split by numerous little islands that dot the Iguazu River (which probably saved de Vaca from simply going over the falls). Because the water levels fluctuate throughout the year depending upon whether it is the rainy or dry season in Brazil, the number of waterfalls may be as low as 150 in the dry season and as many as 300 in the rainy season.

Iguazu Falls

We continued on the walkway taking pictures and looking at the rugged hillside, which has been shored up to prevent landslides. The hillside lining the river is very rocky and the tree roots have nowhere to grow so periodically trees fall over pulling substantial vegetation and dirt with it. In fact, part of the walkway had been closed for six months recently because of a landslide. Fortunately, the walkway was now open.

The Iguazu River
In front of some of Iguazu Falls

Anyway, as we walked, Miguel would periodically stop and point out something about the trees, the landscape or in one instance a tiny little beehive. In the mean time, as we walked the sound of the falls became louder and louder as we neared the grand daddy of the falls, Devil’s Throat.

Now Devil’s Throat is a long narrow chasm in which about half of the Iguazu River flows. There are approximately 14 waterfalls making up Devil’s Throat, which dumps the river flow about 80 metres (260 feet) straight down into the roiling water below. As a result, the first view (heck any view) of Devil’s Throat is awe inspiring. And the best part of the Brazilian side is that the walkway at the base of Devil’s Throat has been built to allow you to walk into the middle of the river smack dab in front of Devil’s Throat.

Looking towards Devil’s Throat and the walkway
At Devil’s Throat on the walkway

So after taking pictures of Devil’s Throat at a distance, we began the walk downhill to the walkway across the river. The roar of Devil’s Throat grew louder and the mist more steady. Once we reached the river walkway, I took a couple pictures and then Tom and I put on the rain ponchos the hotel had given us all, I put my camera under the poncho and we set off. Initially there was some heavy mist, but as we proceeded towards the middle of the river, the full power of Devil’s Throat was felt. The wind whipped up and the mist was so heavy it actually seemed like it was raining.

Devil’s Throat

However, all of that subsided by the time we reached the end of the walkway. The real power in the middle was left behind and we were able to stand and take wonderful pictures of the gigantic waterfalls and the rushing waters below. And the best part was Tom and I were the last ones on the river walkway after everyone else headed back so we were able to take pictures with no one around.

We then walked back through the Devil’s Throat storm and onto the main walkway where we climbed the stairs and were able to stand beside Devil’s Throat. The noise and power was simply overwhelming.

Looking down on Devil’s Throat
Above Devi’’s Throat
Deviil’s Throat and other parts of Iguazu Falls

We ended the walk along the falls by hiking up to a view point where we were able to see a considerable portion of the entire Brazilian side of the falls and also stand above Devil’s Throat. After the myriad of pictures, Miguel led us back to the hotel where we arrived just before 10:00 a.m. It had been a glorious two hours with not another person in sight.

By now the park was open and the bus parade had begun across the street from the hotel where we had begun our walk. Tom and I opted to go have our breakfast and then relaxed for a bit before meeting back up again at 12:55 for our 1:00 boat tour of the falls with Macuco Safaris.

Just before 1:00 p.m., Macuco Safaris sent a van to the hotel to pick up Tom and me for the boat tour. We were then dropped off at the entry point where an electric truck took us and some other folks 2 km through the rain forest. As we puttered along, we swatted mosquitos until the guide handed out mosquito repellent (no idea why we were so clueless about putting the stuff on before we left, but neither Tom and I were bit).

In the rainforest

The ride turned out to be quite interesting as the guide would periodically point out information about various trees and plants we were passing, including a gorgeous orchid that only blooms for a 1 ½ weeks per year. As luck would have it, the orchid was in bloom and was gorgeous.

At the end of the 2 km ride, we all got out and hiked the last 700 metres to the boat dock. The hike took us through the rain forest where we periodically stopped to look at an animal, a spider web or some special tree. We finally reached the dock area where we donned our plastic raincoats and life jackets. Tom put the rest of our things in a locker while I secured the crappy camera in my jacket pocket. (We had been warned not to bring cameras, but I wanted pictures and didn’t care if the crappy camera got wet.)

Anyway, we had a choice of two different rides: the dry ride or the wet ride (i.e a ride to see the falls or a ride under the falls). Tom and I both agreed we didn’t come all this way just to see the falls. We were going to experience the falls so wet ride it would be.

The elevator taking us to the boat
The boats

We took this elevator ride of sorts down to the inflatable zodiac style boat floating on the river, loaded into the boat and after a few minutes set off. Now initially the ride on the Iguazu River was really smooth, but as we moved closer to the falls, the ride became quite bumpy. The boat driver took us close to the falls we would be travelling under before making a wide sweep and steering the boat towards another set of falls and then bringing the boat to a near stop. I was snapping pictures of the both sets of falls and then a fellow from Macuco Safaris came by and took pictures of each of us. Then it was time to experience the falls.

The falls we are going under
Falls we are NOT going under

The boat driver put the boat back in gear and we all held on as we sped towards the first set of falls. As we neared the falls, the spray became so intense and then suddenly we were right below the falls. The engine was racing, the falls were roaring, the water was raining down on us, and I was laughing and screaming all at the same time. The boat driver performed a donut of sorts with the boat as we spun around under the falls and then raced the boat out of the falls. And just when I thought we were done, we went back for a second go with the driver repeating the swirling under the falls and the falls pounding down on us. How about round 3? Yep. We went back for one more go. By now, I was out of breath from laughing and screaming so loud. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. Simply incredible.

Ready to ride under the falls
The elusive toucan

After the third go, the boat driver began the short drive back to the dock. Tom and I had started talking to two guys from New Zealand who had joined us on the walk through he rain forest (and who I had taken a picture of near the second set of falls). Turns out they had just come over from the Argentina side for the day and had elected to do the boat ride. They had a couple hours to kill before the taxi driver was to take them back to the other side so we told them to join us in our van and then take the walkway to see Devil’s Throat and the Brazilian falls. They agreed and once back at the Hotel Belmond, we walked them across the street to show them the path and to show them the toucan nest. And …. good deed rewarded. Just as we walked towards the tree, the toucan appeared, and then what is this??? A second toucan popped out of the nest. I was FINALLY able to capture my elusive toucan picture. YAY!

Can I come in?
Hey! How do I get in?
Still waiting!
Look at how pretty I am!

Anyway, we said goodbye to the guys and Tom and I went to get cleaned up before meeting for a drink. And as it turned out, my encounter with the toucan was not over. As I was cleaning up, I heard a chatter at my window. I turned and what the heck…. There was a toucan standing on the ledge to my window trying to peck its way in. Seriously. And this went on for about 5 minutes. I was so excited I took over 100 pictures in the span of 5 minutes. (OK I was a little crazy about the bird, but damn it was so adorable. I later found out that it preys on the nests of the little birds in the area and eats the eggs so apparently not so adorable.)

So Tom and I had a fabulous day at the Brazilian side of Iguazu falls. Tomorrow morning we leave the Hotel Belmond at the wonderful hour of 7:00 a.m. for the 45 minute drive across the Argentine border to the Melia Hotel, located in the inside the Iguazu Falls Park on the Argentine side. We will be staying there tomorrow night as we tour the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls tomorrow.