Iguazú Falls, South America’s Wonder

Iguazú River flows through the jungle

Picture a wide, slow moving river flowing through tropical jungles around hundreds of islands thick with trees. The water at the nearer bank flattens and slowly spreads out into jungle, while the far side narrows and seems to funnel into a U shaped trough. Clouds of mist billow skyward as the trough drops away into a horseshoe shaped rift. The near bank of the river breaks into dozens of channels that seem to fan out farther into the jungle. Down through the jungle a series of rifts fracture the landscape and the land falls away in a jagged line a mile wide. Fingers of the river race to the edge of these rifts and pour over the edge in a swirl of mist as the water roars down through narrow gorges. This is Iguazú Falls, the largest falls complex on Earth.

The western river drops into Garganta del Diablo
Falling water is everywhere

Last week I was speaking to someone who has spent the past twenty-five years making his living traveling the world. We were in Argentina and had just come back from Iguazú Falls. Like us, he felt the falls was one of the worlds great natural wonders and how remarkable it was that so few people know about it. He said that his first trip to the falls was about twenty years ago and at that time there was no national park, no visitors center and the dirt trails were connected with ramshackle wooden bridges. To reach the upper falls was almost a days hike along unmarked trails.

Today Iguazú Falls is an Argentine national park with paved trails and metal bridges and includes a train to take people to the upper falls. Thepark has a number of food concessions and even boasts a Melia Resort Hotel. You can ride a train (free) or take a jetboat ride up to the bottom of the major falls. Outside the park and down river a town has grown up with a number of restaurants including four and five star hotels. There is frequent jet service to Buenos Aries where it is possible to fly up early in the morning and fly back late at night if you are pressed for time.

We first learned about the falls last year when we were planning our Antarctic trip that was to start from Buenos Aries. In researching we found an article that said that if anyone had the time while visiting Argentina a couple of days at Iguazú Falls was not to be missed.

Iguazú Falls are waterfalls on the Iguazu River at the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná in the South American rain forest. Remarkably together, they make up the largest waterfall system in the entire world. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu near the boarder where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet (Tres Frontieras).

You may have already seen these falls if you have seen movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, The Mission or Moonraker, all shot here on location.

OUR TRIP PLAN

In making our plan we thought we had figured it all out – but we got it backward. Early on we found a number of tour operators that offered one day trips from Buenos Aries and that became our starting point. While planning on our own saved us a lot of money and gave us plenty of time at the falls we missed a few important points. We decided to fly up one afternoon, get a hotel for a night, get to the park early in the morning and fly back to Buenos Aries late that night. We booked our flights and shopped for a hotel. There are a number of hotels to pick from with good reviews – we selected the Saint George which was very nice (REVIEW HERE). Many people suggest renting a car but our plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel and take a local bus to the park and back. Once there we realized that while inexpensive the bus service would have taken up a lot of time. We ended up striking a deal with a taxi drive to get us around for the two days.

While it should have been obvious, we missed it. Our day at the falls included ten miles of hiking in 100° weather with humidity in the 90’s. While most of the trails were in shade, at the end of the day we were exhausted and sweaty and in no condition for a plane ride. Fortunately we had time to get back to the hotel to freshen up before our flight but if we had this trip to do over we would have changed up a lot.

First we would have caught an early morning flight from Buenos Aries and gone straight to the park which is actually nearer the airport than town. A rental car would probably have been cheaper and also much more convenient. The town is some 14 miles away from the park. After our day at the falls we would have gone to the hotel, freshened up, taken a swim, drinks, dinner and been ready for a leisurely return to Buenos Aries the next day. Live and learn…

A FEW OBSERVATIONS
Overlook at Garganta del Diablo

While Brazil has an Iguazú Falls park most of the good stuff is on the Argentine side which is also much more developed. You will also need to arrange a visa to visit Brazil. Arranging a tour is also in our opinion probably a waste of money. The park has excellent trails and facilities, the train rides are included with park admission and even taking a taxi to reach the park over a tour is a big saving. Also don’t book a package that includes air and hotel and perhaps a tour (and that includes Expedia etc.). We looked at booking a number of ways and the least expensive by far was booking the air and hotel separately. Yes it is summer in January here and it is much cooler in winter. But that is also the dry season and the flow over the falls is said to be greatly reduced. January is the high tourist season at Iguazú Falls. We read a number of times that you will need cash at the park which is also wrong. Visa and MC are readily accepted for admission and at the concessions in the park along with the hotels and restaurants in town.

AN EDITED VIDEO FROM OUR FALLS VISIT
A FINAL THOUGHT

If you ever find yourself anywhere near Buenos Aries do NOT miss the opportunity to visit Iguazú Falls – it is amazing and a true wonder of the world.

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The Bristol Hotel In Buenos Aries

The Bristol at Avenue 9 de Julio
The Bristol Hotel A Great Choice For Location and Economy in Buenos Aries

On a recent trip to Antarctica we passed through Buenos Aries twice. The first was an extended visit and the second was a place to stay in transit. In both occasions we stayed at the Bristol Hotel in were very happy with the experience.

The Bristol Hotel is located in a good location near the Obelisco at Avenue 9 de Julio, Cerrito 286, C1010AAF CABA, Buenos Aries, Argentina.

The hotel lobby

When looking for a hotel and evaluating your stay afterwards there are a number of things we use to rate the hotel:

  • Location
  • Price
  • Cleanliness
  • Comfortable beds
  • Hot water
  • Helpfulness of the staff
  • Room size

After those, most considerations are esoteric and relate to luxury and exclusivity. Generally when we travel our budget is one of the major considerations. For this trip we selected the Bristol Hotel first because of its location. Also at US$50 a night and with four star on Google reviews we couldn’t resist.

A queen room

On check-in we were pleased with our choice. The location was right in the center of things, the staff was friendly and helpful and the room was well appointed and clean. The beds proved to be comfortable and there was plenty of hot water.

Two twin beds

Located near the hotel are lots of cafes and good restaurants. Only ten blocks to the northeast are a number of pedestrian walking streets with lots of interesting shops. All-in-all we were very pleased with our selection.

A Great Steak In Buenos Aries

Don’t miss great steaks at incredible prices in Buenos Aries.

A 600 gram, bone-in Ribeye…

Argentina is most famous for the tango and gaúchos and nowhere is that tradition celebrated more than in Buenos Aries. The gaúchos are South American horsemen honored for their skill, but they are above all else, cattlemen and Argentina is a country that knows something about beef.

When you visit Buenos Aries every barrio (neighborhood) has a tango dance club along with at least one truly great steak restaurant. Many restaurants use parrilla al carbón in their name, a description which simply indicates that they grill over a traditional coal fire and I can’t think of a better way to prepare a good piece of steak.

The interior was warm and comfortable

On our recent trip we stayed at a hotel only a block from the Obelisco and only a half block west was the Revire Brasas Bravas, a steak restaurant that we had located online. The address was Av. Corrientes 1124, C1043AAY CABA, Argentina. Our first visit was so fantastic we went back again a few days later.

The biggest issue with our first visit was language. Nobody spoke English and we had a lot of difficulty ordering a steak (our Google translator let us down). How do you ask for a rib eye medium rare in Spanish? It took a while but we eventually got our order placed. A one and a third pound, bone in, rib eye grilled to perfection was the result. We had also thought we were ordering two glasses of Malbec and were presented with a bottle instead. The result was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had and a great bottle of wine and the final check was under $38. At home I would have paid more for just a steak.

Desserts included!

Ordering on our second visit went much easier as the waiter spoke passable English and we enjoyed another great steak. Our recommendation, if you find yourself in Buenos Aries near the Obelisco, pay a visit to Revire Brasas Bravas! You won’t regret it.

Hotels Near Iguazú Falls

Hotel Saint George in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina

If your plans in the future include a visit to Iguazú Falls (if you are a traveler – it should) we would recommend staying for a night or two in the area. The falls are truly one of the natural wonders of the world. See our article on the Falls HERE.

If you are inclined toward deluxe accommodations you can’t do any better than the Gran Melia Iguazu, a five star resort located right inside the park with spectacular views of the falls and only a short drive from the airport. All the remaining accommodations are about fifteen miles away in the town of Puerto Iguazú which boasts almost a dozen four star rated hotels.

We booked our stay at the Hotel Saint George and were pleased with its location. Overall the staff was very friendly and helpful, the rooms were large, clean and well appointed. The pool patio area was attractive with a nice snack bar. Unfortunately the hot tub wasn’t operational while we were there.

The Saint George is located right in the middle of town and right across the street was the Restaurant Parrilla where we enjoyed pizza and beers in the evening with a tango dance show that was a surprise bonus.

After our day at the falls we went back to the Saint George to clean up and pick up our bags before our flight . Again the staff was most accommodating, providing us with a place to clean up with plenty of towels.

Standard king room

When you start planning and begin reading reviews keep in mind that you are going to be visiting an isolated area and even four star ratings will most likely not rise to the level you come to expect in the U.S. or Europe. After all it is an outpost of civilization a couple of hundred miles up into the South American rain forest. For that reason you should discount many of the negatives you read. We did and were generally pleased with this part of our trip.

Downtown Puerto Iguazu

Port of Call Ushuaia

Ushuaia, Argentina, Gateway to Antarctica

Introduction
Ushuaia under the Martial mountain range
Sea lions in the Beagle Channel

Ushuaia is often referred to as the end of the world and is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. It is recognized as the southernmost city in the world. Ushuaia is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel. It is a popular port of departure for ships and expeditions headed to Antarctica. A little over a decade ago the cities population was less than 10,000 while today it is approaching 100,000. This is partly due to the growing popularity of Antarctic tourism but equally because the Argentinian government has encouraged manufacturing with special tax breaks as well as subsidies for people living here.

The Beagle Channel is the most northern natural channel connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific and has been a popular shipping lane. South of the Beagle Channel is Tierra del Fuego which means land of fire. Because the area was often shrouded in fog early explorers called it the land of smoke which was exaggerated in Europe for advertising purposes into land of fire. A large part of Tierra del Fuego is an Argentine national park.

Where You Dock
Expedition boat getting ready

Ushuaia has a large pier right at the cities waterfront capable of handling most ships. It is usually busy in season with expedition boats getting ready for Antarctic tours along with large cruise ships rounding the Horn or setting out for Antarctic waters. Right at the end of the pier is the cities visitor center with facilities and information on tours and the city. Also along the waterfront are a number of tour booking offices.

Transportation
Puppy love 😉

While the city has a population of almost 100,000 it is geographically compact with most restaurants, cafes and shops located within a ten by six block area. While the Pan-American Highway passes through the city it is also isolated with no other towns or cities nearby. The big attraction for a visitor is the national park and the animal life on island is the Beagle Channel which are best visited on a tour.

Currency

At this writing the exchange rate is about 38 Argentine Pesos to one US Dollar. Because of inflation rates over the past several years buying Pesos before leaving the United States is almost impossible. In the city many shops will accept Euros and American Dollars but it is advisable to exchange some currency for convenience.

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
Attractions

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (Tierra del Fuego National Park) is probably one of the major attractions in the area. It is also the terminus of the Pan-American Highway that ends in a narrow dirt road inside the park. There are also a number of islands near the city in the Beagle Channel that are popular with penguins, seals, sea lions, cormorants along with whales depending on the season. There are a number of tour boats along the waterfront to book.

Cormorant island

In town there are a number of excellent restaurants, cafes, and chocolate shops along with gift shops. The city also can boast that they are home to a Hard Rock Cafe

Port of Call Madryn, Argentina

Porta Madryn, Argentina – the Heart of Patagonia

Introduction

Puerto Madryn is an amazing city that is very popular with cruise itineraries in South America. While Mydryn itself is a modern and thriving city with much to offer, the big attraction in the area is the national parks. The park of Mirador Elefantes Marinos has become famous for colonies of penguins, sea lions and seals along with pods of orcas. The orcas have gained a lot of notoriety in recent years for coming up to the beach to grab seals in the surf.

Where You Dock

Puerto Madryn has a large marine pier right in the center of the city capable of handling large cruise ships. A walk down the pier puts you right in the middle of the CBD with good restaurants, cafes and shops along with a large selection of tour operators. All along the waterfront is a wide beach with a walking promenade.

Transportation

Madryn is a port city boasting a large deep-water port and is also a major industrial city, mainly focused on aluminum production and fishing. Puerto Madryn is also in an isolated area of Patagonia with the biggest attractions in the area being the national parks. Trips out to the parks can take between one and a half to two hours each way and the best way to visit is to book a tour. Other than walking the best way to get around the city itself is by taxi.

Currency

At this writing the exchange rate is about 38 Argentine Pesos to one US Dollar. Because of inflation rates over the past several years buying Pesos before leaving the United States is almost impossible. Because of the high number of visiting tourists, in the CBD many shops will accept Euros and American Dollars. It is still advisable to exchange some currency for convenience.

Attractions

It is one of the most vibrant cities in Patagonia, with a beautiful coastal avenue overlooking Nuevo Gulf. As noted the focus of the tourist business is visiting the parks to see the penguins, seals and orcas. In town there are a number of shops and cafes  with over a dozen good restaurants within a block of the waterfront. One of the local favorite pastimes is drinking coffee with chocolates in the many chocolate shops along the waterfront.

Iguazú Falls, The Ninth Natural Wonder of the World

A collection of video clips from two days at Iguazú Falls National Park Argentina.

In recent years there have been a number of organizations that have attempted to update the lists of the seven natural wonders of the world along with modern and ancient wonders. The most widely accepted effort is a new consensus list of the ten natural wonders where Victoria Falls has been replaced by Iguazú Falls.