April 30, 2006
People watching Salto San Martin.
For your reference, a map to the park can be found here.
I caught the first bus I could to Iguazú Falls National Park in Argentina this morning. It was easy because my hostel was only one block from the bus station, and the park was a short ride out of town.
The park is a big place full of tourists from all over the world. It's not very difficult to access given its proximity to Buenos Aires and the good infrastructure of roads in the area, so it's not a big surprise that it's touristy.
I decided to start by taking the Lower Circuit, which would take me along the river to the bottom of about half of the falls. Almost immediately, I saw a monkey and several coatis. I walked up to a lighthouse and climbed the outside stairs as high as they would take me. That's where I got my first glimpse of some of the waterfalls in the distance.
The next waterfall I saw was called Salto Alvar Nuñez. It was a big, solitary waterfall that whetted my appetite to see more. I also saw a lot more tropical birds like parakeets and toucans along the way. I had entered a jungle-like environment.
Eventually, I got to the river and got a great view of all of the falls to the west of Isla San Martin. The view was so stunning, I couldn't believe my eyes at times. I had stumbled into a tropical paradise. As the path continued, the views kept getting better and closer. I could tell the waterfalls were big because I could see the tiny people watching them from other lookout points, but the sheer number of them was what impressed me the most.
When I got closer to the falls, I saw a speedboat power its way into Salto San Martin and disappear briefly. When it emerged, everyone was soaking wet and hollering. By that time, there were also frequent helicopter fly-overs. Iguazu is definitely a modern-day tourist trap.
My next stop was Isla San Martín, the island that separates the two groups of waterfalls. To get there, I took a quick boat ride across the river. Lots of people were walking around on the beach and relaxing, so I decided to join in. I ate one of the sandwiches I brought and took in my surroundings.
The trail wrapped me around to the east side of the island for my first glimpse of Garganta del Diablo, or Throat of the Devil, the set of waterfalls on the east side of the park. The trail then led me to a colony of vultures, swooping around a small waterfall and sitting in a tree.
The last place to visit on the island was a lookout point that brought me right next to Salto San Martin. I got sprayed with lots of water on the walkway, but it was worth it. The views from this point were fantastic. The speedboat went right under us, as did a bunch of birds as they went for a dip.
Eventually, I made my way back to the start of the park. Along the way, I walked past Salto Dos Hermanas, a set of twin waterfalls that were somewhat secluded from the main group. I also went past the old and new hotels of the park. I don't even want to imagine how expensive it would be to stay at the brand new Sheraton.
The next path I took was the Upper Circuit. I saw all of the waterfalls I had just seen, only from above this time. Once again, the views were spectacular, although not as great for me as seeing the falls from below. I walked to the end of the path, had another sandwich, and slowly returned to the park entrance once again.
The final major path led to Garganta del Diablo, on the other side of the park. A train took most people there, but I decided to walk as it was only about 3 K's away. Halfway to the other side, I stopped to talk to a park employee. He showed me some turtles that were swimming in the peaceful river. Then he said "Watch this," and threw some bread in the water. Instantly, a group of piranhas thrashed around and shredded the bread. Also on the trail, I saw lots of butterflies and a woodpecker, so it was definitely worth the walk.
From the train station at the end of the trail was another short walk to Garganta del Diablo. Along the way, I saw multiple caymans chilling in the water. When I first reached the lookout point, I couldn't see anything because there were so many tourists. There must have been a tour group of some sort there because everybody was wearing matching name tags. The line to the front was three deep, and there didn't seem to be much order to it. Eventually, I pushed my way through and took a couple quick pictures, but was pushed back out almost immediately. I decided to wait, and eventually everyone left. I had the whole place almost to myself.
The sheer force behind Garganta del Diablo was amazing. Being right on top of the waterfall made it even more dramatic. The roar of the water passing over the ridge was deafening. I stayed there for a good half hour before taking off.
I had seen all of the major waterfalls, so I took a break, ate the rest of my sandwiches, and walked back to the park entrance. There was still one more waterfall at the end of a trail a few K's outside the main part of the park. I started walking down it, but didn't get very far because it was closed. I didn't realize it, but it was already nearly 6:00 and was starting to get dark. It wasn't a big deal to skip that trail, though. I haven't even met anyone who has actually walked down it.
Iguazú falls was easy to get to, and easy to walk around, but it still is one of the best things I've done on my entire trip. The beauty of being in the jungle, seeing tropical animals everywhere, and of course, one of the most extraordinary natural sites in the world made me overlook the fact that the park is overrun with tourists. I now understand what Eleanor Roosevelt meant when she went to Iguazú and said, "Poor Niagra."
The photo albums for this entry are here.