We’ve been waiting to go to Iguazu Falls for a long time. Mark & I came to Brazil for three weeks back in 2006 and that wasn’t enough time to see everything. The one place we really wanted to go but had to cut was Iguazu Falls, where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all meet. So on this trip through South America, Iguazu was non-negotiable. We did it, and it was worth the hassle getting here (and worse yet, the hassle getting away, but more on that later).
The Falls are located where the Iguazu River cascades over the Paraná Plateau. About half the river’s flow is funneled into what’s called the “Devils Throat,” a massive, awesome sight some 270 feet high and 500 feet wide. One of the most impressive things you’ll ever see on this planet. The rest of the river is dividing by countless smallish islands into up to 300 separate, narrower waterfalls (though of a similar depth. The result is that you can walk all around the national park on the Argentinian side of the border with different views of amazing waterfalls.
Argentina has built impressive walkways all around the falls area, allowing visitors to get spectacularly close to the many waterfalls in the park. The first one we did was on a metal walkway out over the river to the very edge of Devil’s Throat. Wow. Some sights, after you’ve anticipated them for weeks or, in this case, years, are anticlimactic. Not this major section of Iguazu Falls. Eleanor Roosevelt summed it up when she visited Iguazu and said simply “Poor Niagara!”In addition to this walkway out to Devil’s Throat, there are two other major trails, an Upper and a Lower trail that bring you to various views of waterfalls. And on top of that we did an hour-long boat ride up the river below the falls that give you more great views from the bottom of the falls. Then, after ensuring everything you brought with is in a waterproof bag, the boat roars into the heavy mist from one of the waterfalls (not Devil’s Throat). The first time we went in it felt kind of gratuitous, just a chance to get us wet. The second and third times, though, the boat took us into some really intense water and yes, we got absolutely soaked. Great fun and – as we knew what we were getting into – we had packed dry clothes.
So we loved Iguazu Falls. Just a mile or two from our hotel you could walk up a nice parkway to the confluence of the Iguazu and Paraná River, where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all meet. There was something just cool about that.
The plan was that we’d come to Puerto Iguazu, on the Argentine side of the Iguazu River, and get our visa for Brazil, then go over there for another couple days to see the parts you can’t see from Argentina. It’s pretty common to go back and forth a bit, so long as you have a visa. Brazil, though, makes visas pretty difficult for U.S. citizens, presumably because the U.S. makes visas hard for Brazilians wanting to visit the U.S. If you apply for a Brazilian visa in the U.S. it can take a couple weeks to process and, since we don’t stay in the U.S. for that long, that doesn’t work for us. In theory, though, the Brazilian consulate here in Puerto Iguazu can process the visa in a day, so that’s what we thought we’d do. And since the visa is good for 10 years that will cover us for quite a while.We got to the consulate on a Thursday afternoon, hoping we’d be able to get a visa on Friday. No. There were problems with our forms, problems with our cash, problems. “Come back on Friday.” So we fix the problems they identified and were at the consulate Friday morning. OK, everything is in order, they tell us, and the visas will be ready noon Monday. Really? You can’t do it today? We have to wait the whole weekend? You charge over $200 each for a visa and you can’t help us? Nope, come back Monday at noon and you can get your visas.
At noon on Monday Mark goes to the consulate; he’s packed so we can get a taxi over to Brazil but he’s not particularly optimistic. “Problem,” the guy says when he walks in. It’s hard to figure out what’s wrong, but somehow the online form didn’t transmit. We have all the confirmation numbers and printed out the form, but that’s not good enough. “Never happened before,” he says. So we dropped the documents off on Friday morning and even though they had our email addresses and the hotel we were staying at they didn’t do anything to contact us about the problem. We try to convince them to process the visa and – with me online at the hotel and Mark calling and texting with instructions – redid the online forms multiple times. Nope, nothing doing, somehow their online forms weren’t working so they couldn’t issue visas. That just wasn’t going to happen, and they couldn’t tell us what was wrong. The one thing the did know was that by 1:30 PM of course they were closing so we should just try it again Tuesday.
Suffice it to say that we eventually gave up – after I said words that might mean we’ll never, ever be allowed into Brazil. Let’s just say we were a little frustrated. We’d booked a hotel on the other side of the river, flights into and out of Rio, a hotel there for a few days and had to cancel all of them. Such a pain but for whatever reason they just couldn’t make their own system work to issue our visas.
Of course, all is not lost. Several hours back at the hotel later we had cancelled all our old reservations and made new ones. Instead of those days in Brazil, there’s a direct flight from Puerto Iguazu up to Salta, an old colonial town in northwestern Argentina that’s supposed to be pretty great. Then we can catch another flight to Córdoba, another tourist hot spot this time in central Argentina. Then we’re going to take a week in Uruguay before wrapping our South American stay in Buenos Aires.