Updated on Oct.24, 2011
The Brazilian gateway to Iguassu Falls, which are called Cataratas do Iguaçu in Portuguese, is the city of Foz do Iguaçu. Crossing borders is a must at the park - on the other side is Argentina's Iguazu Park, which shares with its Brazilian neighbor a Unesco listing as a World Heritage Site. The Triple Border, or Triple Frontier of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, is just a few miles away. Here are some of the best things Brazil travelers can do to soak in the gorgeous natural attractions in this unique area of South America.
The best opportunities for viewing nature at Iguaçu Falls are centered at Parque Nacional do Iguaçu. Created in 1939, the park is the second oldest national park in Brazil (the first is Itatiaia) and protects one of the largest preserved forest areas in South America.
Take a double decker at the Visitors Center (departures every 15 minutes) to the Brazilian walkway, which starts in front of Hotel das Cataratas and goes to Salto Floriano, or Floriano Fall. The walkway is about 1.2 kilometers long, or 0.75 miles.
There is a lookout point at the foot of Floriano Fall and another one higher up. Nearby Porto Canoas, the park restaurant, serves regional Brazilian food. Several trails cross the park, home to a great diversity of wildlife.
You will get soaking wet on this ride, so you might want to bring an extra T-shirt wrapped in a plastic bag. Plastic bags are also provided at the dock. Bring your camera even if it's not waterproof; your guide will let you know when it's time to wrap it up.
Macuco Safari tours start at Kilometer 25 of the Cataratas Highway inside the Brazilian Iguaçu National Park. Guided by multi-lingual professionals, they include a 1.5-mile ride through the forest in wagons towed by electric jeeps, an optional short walk and dip in a small waterfall, and an upstream boat ride that gets close enough to Three Musketeers Fall to get everyone splashed. The sturdy boats fit 25 people. They leave every 10 minutes and the ride lasts about two hours.
Macuco Safari can also arrange a 30-minute rafting trip which starts with a transfer from the boat ride to the raft.
Another interesting option is the Iguaçu Explorer, a three and a half-hour trip aboard a 40-passenger boat to the Paraguayan border of the Iguaçu River. A highlight of the trip is a visit to the Moises Bertoni Museum, formerly the home of late scientist Moises Bertoni (1857-1929), a Swiss scientist who settled in the Paraguayan forest with his family and dedicated his life to research in many fields.
A splurge? Yes, but everyone who's indulged says the exhilaration of getting a bird's-eye view of Iguaçu falls is worth 7 reais (about $4) a minute per person. You soar with Helisul, a Foz do Iguaçu company that has been flying over the falls since 1972 and over Rio since the early 1990s. They have a helipoint at the entrance to Parque Nacional do Iguaçu and another by the waterfalls. Choppers seat the pilot and three passengers and only take off if fully booked. The minimum fare is 70 reais - about $40 - per person for a 10-minute spin. A longer outing (35 minutes) costs $400 for up to four people and flies over Itaipu Dam and Foz do Iguaçu.
The front seat offers the best view, but passengers in the back can also take great pictures.
Bird Park – Parque das Aves – is a private enterprise dedicated to wildlife conservation, education and research. Founded in 1994 by Dennis and Anna Croukamp, the park features huge aviaries visitors can go into for a close view of macaws, hummingbirds, toucans, and hundreds of other birds. Paths suitable for wheelchairs wind through lush preserved forest. The park is well-known for its Butterfly House. Other animals at the park include marmosets, anacondas and alligators.
Campo de Desafios (The Field of Challenges) is a company dedicated to adventure travel with several exciting activities in the Iguazu Canyon: canopy walking, rappel, climbing and rafting. Staff members are trained to assist travelers with special needs.
Three walkways await visitors on the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls. A train ride connects the Visitors Center and the walkway to Devil’s Throat – the longest walkway over the river. There is a boat ride between the Lower Walkway – which takes one hour to be covered – and San Martin Island, where visitors have the best view of the Argentinean falls. At the very least, a full day needs to be saved for these wonders.
Itaipu Binacional, the world's largest hydroelectric plant in power output, manages eight biological reserves and sanctuaries in partner countries Brazil and Paraguay. Refúgio Biológico Bela Vista, one of the two sanctuaries in Brazil, protects jaguars, capibaras, anteaters, alligators and other animals that can be seen in captivity conditions that reproduce their natural habitat.
Visits must be scheduled in advance (phone: 45-3520-5642). Visits at 8am and 2pm include a tour of the Itaipu Hydroelectric plant. However, if you are spending a weekend in the area, you may want to see the plant on Friday or Saturday night, when the lights are on, creating one of the most spectacular night views in Brazil.
On full moon nights, you can take a double-decker from the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu Visitors Center to the Porto Canoas site for cocktails and a full dinner to live music. After that, a guided walk leads to the Naipi site, which has a panoramic elevator and brings you closer to the falls. On clear full moon nights, a silvery rainbow forms over the water. Visitors dine at the La Selva restaurant, in Argentina.
From September to December, Brasil das Águas offers a moonlight tour to Garganta do Diabo (Devil's Throat), dinner at La Selva and an optional 4-night stay at the Rafain Palace Hotel in Foz do Iguaçu. The package includes perks such as dinner and a show at an Argentina casino. For more information, call 55-45-3523-1814.
10. Salto Monday in Paraguay
Once you are in the Triple Border, consider stretching just a little farther and visiting Salto Monday, in Paraguay, the next largest waterfall in the area. Salto Monday consists of three waterfalls on the Monday River, the tallest of which drops from about 130 feet. Located in the city of Puerto Presidente Franco, just 12 miles away from the Friendship Bridge, and a couple of miles from Ciudad del Este, they are one of the main attractions in Paraguay's Departamento de Alto Paraná and have long been known to locals as a great adventure and leisure destination.
Every April, the Salto Del Monday Festival celebrates the region's arts and culture, which boast a strong Guarany heritage.