Iguazú National Park is one of the must-see’s in Argentina. It is located on the border between Argentina and Brazil, at short distance from neighbouring Paraguay as well. Besides lush rain forest and fascinating animals, the park features the world-famous Iguazú Falls, Argentina, adjacent to its counterpart on the other side, Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. It has been designated as both one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and as UNESCO World Heritage.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 23 JAN 2020
When planning our South America trip we absolutely wanted to include Iguazú Falls! We had heard and read so much about the awe-inspiring falls in the Atlantic rain forest that we simply had to seize the opportunity to come and see them for ourselves. With a bit of magic we got Iguazú National Park incorporated into our flight itinerary with a 2-day stay at the subtropical location!
Our challenge has been to decide whether to see the falls from the Brazilian or the Argentinian side – or both! Most of the falls are located on the Argentinian side, whereas the Brazilian side is known for having the most spectacular, complete view.
Iguazú National Park / Iguazú Falls in Argentina
The tallest fall is 82 metres (269 feet) which outcompetes Niagara Fall where the longest drop is about 50 metres (164 feet). It is also a lot wider. The waterfall system contains between 150 and 300 separate falls, depending on season.
The rain forest is the largest remnant of the Paranaense subtropical rain forest, which is part of the Interior Atlantic Forest. Once it was a much larger forest, untouched by civilisation. With time the forest area has shrunk due to logging, agriculture and plantation forestry. During the last centuries consciousness about its uniqueness gradually has increased, and in 1934 it was eventually declared a national park.
The rich biodiversity counts more than 2000 species of plants, 400 species of birds and about 80 mammals. As a true primeval forest it is today absolutely outstanding. It is therefore not strange that it has become a favourite destination for both domestic and international tourism and perpetually draws thousands of visitors every year.
During our trip planning phase we have crawled through dozens of reviews of both the Argentinian and Brazilian parks and opportune places to stay in to get the best rain forest experience. Finally, also our time frame at Iguazú taken into consideration, we have chosen to limit ourselves to the Argentinian side. It seems to be there we can get the most in-depth-experience with several trails, a train ride in the jungle and a surround-experience with falls both below, above and behind us. For the brave ones a boat ride under the falls or to San Martin Island can also be included!
The ultimate wish has been to stay inside the very park so that we can get the most out of our time at the falls – right from sunrise until tiredness takes over in the evening. We have therefore checked a number of hotels, hostels and lodges near the Iguazú Falls in Argentina, to compare prices, transport times etc.
The Gran Meliá Iguazú (affiliate link to Booking.com) has outperformed all the others – despite the costs of staying there, and we finally have made a reservation! For one night! Only!
First night is hostel accommodation!
When stepping out of the aircraft at Aeropuerto Internacional Cataratas Del Iguazú, which is in fact rather an airfield, we immediately feel the change of climate. There is a noticeable contrast between the colder air in Buenos Aires, we come from, and the warmer, more humid rain forest climate at Iguazú.
The cascades at the Iguazú Falls in Argentina
After disembarking the plane we look for the taxi stand inside the airport building. As there are five of us, we need two taxis to the Tangoinn Bed & Brewery (affiliate link to Booking.com). It is a luxury hostel between Iguazú National Park and Puerto Iguazú featuring a gigantic outdoor swimming pool on the premises right beside the green rain forest. This is our first night accommodation at a much more affordable rate than the hotel inside Iguazú National Park.
It is off season, and the place appears strikingly deserted. Only a few backpackers and the accommodating staff meet us at the reception. Beforehand, we have reserved a private room, but, judging from the occupancy rate, we probably could have had one even without a reservation!
We are tired after travelling and therefore it comes as an agreeable surprise that the hostel actually features a real restaurant! Before long we indulge in the most delicious Argentinian style pizzas.
At the front desk I stumble on a note about transport to Iguazú Falls in Argentina. As it appears, the hostel can organise a taxi for 5! The fare is even fixed – and way below what we paid on arrival.
Safari hotel inside Iguazú National Park
The taxi driver shows up in the morning as expected and takes us directly to the Argentinian Iguazú Falls. Everything works like a charm, and soon we have both entrance tickets and are dropped right in front of Gran Meliá where we will do an early check-in at 9 a.m. In this way we needn’t carry around more than absolutely necessary inside Iguazú National Park.
Suspecting that he is one of the few taxi drivers with a taxi for 5, I enquire about the possibility of him coming back to take us to the airport on the Brazilian side the next day. He promptly agrees and even gives a very low price! It is only a fraction of what we have seen that a taxi usually costs from Gran Meliá to the Brazilian airport!
When entering the hotel, it is not an exaggeration to say that we get a bit overwhelmed by the staff’s outfit. We cannot help getting associations to a safari tour in Africa … but we are notably in Argentina in a very prestigious hotel. They all wear khaki shorts and jackets in best safari style! Not omitting the odd safari hat!
We are instantly exposed to a distinguished service. The bellboy insists on taking our ‘luggage’ to the rooms. We just have our tiny hand luggage sized backpacks which we could easily carry ourselves – so far we have done that every single day on our South America trip! However, there is a certain etiquette to adhere to – and it should not be breached! We pass our lightweight luggage to him and he places it on a hotel luggage trolley and draws it towards the lift. It is unnecessary to say that he of course expects a suitable tip when leaving us and our modest 7-kilo rucksacks behind in our rooms!
Gran Meliá is a prime site for experiencing Iguazú Falls, Argentina. Already from the hotel we see the clouds of water spray and perpetual mist rising from the falls in the distance. It is the perfect place to stay to be able to listen to the rain forest at dawn when the birds and other animals wake up.
A plethora of interesting animals live in the lush forest. Among others the jungle is home to agile monkeys, cheeky coatis (the South American raccoons), tapirs, anteaters, jaguars, ocelots, caimans and vivid birds like toucans, plush-crested jays as well as a wide variety of colourful butterflies.
From Meliá’s saloons and rooms to the park side you look directly down at the outdoor infinity pool linking the hotel guests to the wild nature.
Actually, the animals here have integrated very well with civilisation. At least the monkeys! Before our bellboy disappears, he lets us politely know that under no circumstances should we leave our balcony door only closed – and not locked. The monkeys rule here, and they are clever. If we don’t take appropriate precautions, we may well end up with a monkey or two entering our room to try the drinks in the minibar! That has happened before!
Likewise, we should keep an eye on the coatis. He doesn’t recommended that we eat in front of them since they will just try to snatch our food!
The Iguazú National Park trails lead to the falls… and animals
Shortly after arriving we set off for adventures in the park. With a map in the hand we now try to plan an itinerary that will include all we want to do. The Green Train of the Jungle takes visitors to the Devil’s Throat or Garganta del Diablo. Tickets are required for this ride, so this is our first priority. It is an enticing train ride through the jungle ending where the trail leading to the potent attraction begins.
We follow the path out to the slightly scary swallowing depths, contemplating the beautiful, yellow and black plush-crested jays on the way. As a precaution against the water we put on our plastic rain ponchos.
When we eventually reach Garganta del Diablo, it seems to be in vain, though. The water spraying hell, where the water abruptly falls down into a gigantic hole, produces shower-like conditions for the spectators on the rim. We all get soaked! After all, it doesn’t really matter. It is not cold and we are just too busy listening to and observing the cascading masses. It is an amazing natural phenomenon of immense dimensions and forces.
We have heard that there are sometimes unique opportunities to spot animals along the Green Trail. It is not long, but twists through the dense forest. We keep looking to register even minor movements through the undergrowth. There are awesome giant ants, but it is not until we are on our way back that we get a chance to view something special.
A group of children with a parent or teacher are in front of us, and all of a sudden they stop and start whispering. We catch the word ‘tapir’. A tapir is precisely what we now spot in between the bushes. It is of considerable size, a lot bigger than we thought. Calmly, it grazes, unaffected by the group of humans in the distance. Just as promptly as it emerged, it disappears again. We are of course thrilled to bits that we got to see it!
Next trail is the Upper Circuit, the easiest of the trails, which enables you to view the cascades from above. We find some locations along the trail where we have an excellent view to a range of enchanting falls in the midst of unique flora. From the rim we also have a view to the boats where people get a surreal experience approaching the falling streams shockingly close. The mighty river is not for the faint-hearted!
Arriving at an open area with a stunning view to the jungle, I all of a sudden catch sight of a monkey climbing and jumping between the tree tops. It moves around in the heights in the most natural way, swinging from one branch to another. Probably a lot faster than it would be to climb through the rain forest on ground level. The monkeys use the tree top highway!
On the Lower Circuit we veritably experience being in the midst of the falls with their powerful water drops! It is like disappearing into eternity. Whatever angle we see them from, they are awe-inspiring!
Gran Meliá in Argentina is to stay in luxury at the Iguazú Falls
Back at Gran Meliá we suddenly get another water issue. There is seemingly no hot water in the shower – which is unthinkable for a 5-star hotel. In the reception they are close to being truly appalled, it has never happened before!
However, it turns out that due to some works going on, the hot water has been cut for a moment. It will be back in a few minutes, and so it is. What now takes us aback is that when we leave our room half an hour later, one of the staff members is waiting right outside our door to verify that the hot water is back! It must be off season!
The touch of luxury at Meliá includes a reception for all guests before dinner time. It is actually very convenient after a long day of rain forest impressions. Finding our nicest (and only!) shirt and dress at the bottom of our rucksacks, we descend to the lounge.
A company of eager waiters receive us in front of a large table with an abundance of bottles and filled wine glasses on the white tablecloth. We cannot believe it. We are the ONLY guests at the reception. To us, this is definitely not a problem. We choose the best sofa and then enjoy our own company and half an hour of mental relaxation with the very best Argentinian wine!
In the morning we wake up to lively bird activity in the tree tops and the most lavish desayuno yet on our South America trip. We can choose between dozens of exotic fruits, we have never seen before, and everything else you can dream of for a breakfast. We can even try the Argentinian, traditional, healthy hot drink yerba mate which replaces the usual coffee or tea. It is served in a special cup, a gourd, with a metal straw or pipe, a bombilla. It is completely different from the mate de coca, I tried in Cusco two weeks ago.
After the sumptuous breakfast we are ready for a morning walk in the jungle. We head for the Macuco Trail which is a longer and deeper hike down to the river, intending to do just the first part of it. If we are lucky we will be able to spot more animals here.
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