In what has become an annual tradition, my friend Sarai and I take a girls’ trip, just the two of us. We take a week and pick somewhere super fun where we can chill, have epic adventures, and bring our particular brand of silliness to other parts of the world. This spring we spent a week in Argentina, and kicked it off our trip with a visit to the majestic Iguazu Falls.
An Iguazu Falls trip wasn’t on my radar at all until I started doing research for this trip, which is INSANE because they’re the largest waterfall system in the world. Parts of the falls are in both Argentina and Brazil, though Argentina has the lion’s share. They’re epic enough that when Eleanor Roosevelt saw them, she exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!” They’re definitely worth a day of your trip if you can afford to get over there, but really I don’t see how you’d spend more than a day in the falls and in Puerto Iguazu.
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This place is breathtaking on a sunny day. The picture above has no filter on it, no manipulation. Pure raw beauty.
But, like many tourist attractions, visiting Iguazu requires some preparation to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. While there’s no “right” way to do things, we were very happy with our planning, itinerary, and timing for the day. So I’m here to save you some trial and error…here’s how it went down for us. I’ve also summarized some of the most important tips at the bottom of this post.
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Getting to the Falls:
We were staying in Puerto Iguazu in a (super cute) Airbnb and we tried to figure out where to catch the bus in town, but failed miserably. So we ended up catching a taxi from the town for 200 pesos (about $15 USD at the time; 230 pesos on the return trip). Obviously more expensive than a bus but also fast, easy, and—split between two people—not the end of the world cost-wise. We got there a few minutes before opening, grabbed a quick coffee from the little shop, and then once the gates opened we power-walked in. I had done my research and we had a plan!
Getting the Most Out of the Falls:
A few important details about your arrival
- It’s worth stopping for a few seconds to grab a map at the information kiosk. There are maps posted fairly frequently, but having your own definitely makes things easier.
- I’d also recommend booking your boat ride before going any further (if you’re planning to do it—and I recommend you do!). There’s also a kiosk on the right not too far into the park, near the information kiosk. It’s inefficient to come back out here, and it gets really busy later. I’d recommend booking the boat ride no later than 1:00 p.m. because it gets so crowded…somewhere between 10a and 12p is perfect. It isn’t cheap, somewhere around $23 USD.
- Unless you’re *really* into guided tours (I’m definitely not), there’s no reason to get a guided tour of the park.
The most important thing to know: the gates open at 8:00 a.m. but the first train isn’t until 8:30.
So as long as you’re willing to walk a little extra instead of taking the train, you can beat the first rush crowd to one of the circuits and you’ll have it all to yourself for 15-30 minutes.
Even though the Lower Circuit was a little closer, we decided to book it to the Upper Circuit first (the red route on the map above) to get the best views without any people in our pictures—and that was totally the right call.
We walked right past the long line of people waiting for that first train and followed the map/signs to the path leading to the Upper Circuit. It maybe took us 7-10 minutes to get there, and then we had the place to ourselves for a while.
Seriously, how amazing is this without any chattering tourists getting in the way?! It was just us and nature, on a warm and sunny morning. No other sound but the powerful pounding of millions of gallons of water pouring over the edge onto the rocks below.
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As we continued on, this was one of my favorite views…the mist from the water made rainbows all over the place. I couldn’t take enough pictures, but at this point we realized we were running short on time to make our boat, so we started hauling ass down toward the water.
Problem was, we couldn’t find the boat docks to save our lives.
Finally we got on the right path, but it took several tries, asking four or five people who worked at the park, and finally a nice older man (who didn’t work there) led us down there himself.
A few tips for the boat trip:
- As mentioned in the tips above, buy your ticket when you enter the park, to save time.
- Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time. The signs are sparse and make no sense.
- If you miss your boat, they’ll let you take the next one provided there’s room (that’s what we did).
- The signs say you have to keep your shoes on, but literally no one on our boat did. I peeled my tennis shoes and socks off once we got on the boat and stuffed them in my waterproof bag, because wet shoes are the worst.
- They’ll provide waterproof bags for you to put your stuff in. You’ll be absolutely soaked, so anything you’re wearing and holding needs to be able to get wet for a prolonged amount of time.
- And you’ll be wet for a long time after this, so factor that in. I just decided to suck it up and be wet, and wore cropped yoga pants and a comfy top, with a sports bra. Keeping my tennis shoes and socks dry helped a ton from a comfort standpoint.
This was a blast. Unfortunately I don’t have any waterproof camera gear, so I just stuck my phone in a ziploc bag…not the best for pictures. But they drive the boat right up into the smaller falls, so you get the real experience.
We were starving at this point and made our way to a little store where we could buy some empanadas and flan. Let’s talk for a minute about the coati (ko-ah-tee, also sometimes spelled coatie or coaties). They look like you crossed a red panda with an aardvark, and they are NO JOKE. The sign above warns you that they can “steal” things, but make no mistake—they will legit come up and steal food out of your hands if you don’t aggressively shoo them away. There are no air quotes about it. I watched one sidle up to a group and snatch a sandwich out of a guy’s hand. So protect your food from the coati and the monkeys.
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Finally we headed up to the Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat. It’s quite a ways up there…you can walk, but better to time it right and grab the train up there. The trail (from what we could tell) wasn’t really a decent one, lots of red clay mud everyone was tramping through, right next to the train tracks. Didn’t look fun.
It’ll probably be pretty crowded, but people mill and cycle in and out constantly, so you can still get in to get pictures easily or whatever. The hardest part of getting good pictures is that the falls create an insane mist here, so pictures will be hit and miss and EVERYTHING will get wet. Also, there are thousands of butterflies here, in all colors and patterns, and they’re amazing.
We probably finished up the day around 3:30, and really felt like we’d seen almost everything. I’d go back in a heartbeat, it was such a beautiful place, and the way they set up the walkways makes it feel like you’re right in the middle of the falls all the time.
Iguazu Falls Trip Tips, in summary:
- Make sure you wear sunscreen (and reapply!) and bring or buy plenty of water. That sun is hot!
- If you plan to do the boat trip, make sure that whatever you’re wearing will be comfortable wet (or bring a poncho to cover everything up).
- Arrive around 7:45 a.m., so that you can get in right when the gates open.
- Once you enter, stop at the information kiosk and grab a free map.
- Also, go ahead right there and book your boat trip, if you’re planning to do it (around $23 per person). I’d recommend booking the boat ride between 10a and 12p.
- The first train doesn’t leave til 8:30 even though gates open at 8:00, so forego the train and (speed)walk up to the Upper Circuit to have all the amazing views to yourself for a while.
- Recommended order of visiting things – Upper Circuit, boat trip, Lower Circuit, Garganta del Diablo
- The boat docks are hard to find so leave yourself plenty of time to find it. However, if you miss your boat, they’ll usually let you take the next one, provided there’s room.
Hopefully this info is helpful! With a little bit of planning you can see everything without feeling rushed. The Iguazu Falls are an amazing experience, and don’t have to be overwhelming or stressful.
What other questions do you have about visiting the falls? If you’ve been, what other tips would be helpful for first-time visitors?
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