Destinations: South America

The Argentina Edition: Iguazu Falls in a Day!

December 31, 2013

Iguazu Falls is one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world and one of my personal favorite sites. It’s taller than Niagara and wider than Victoria! The Falls is located on the border between Argentina and Brazil and IT IS BIG! You can spend multiple days there checking out both sides. However, if you have a limited amount of time (or if you’re like me and just want to maximize your time in Argentina), this post is dedicated to you! 

In general, the Argentina side will take you at least a full day. The Brazil side should only take 4-6 hours. Rumor has it the Argentina side is better because it has more to offer from the variety of trails to the range of activities. Since I only ventured around the Argentina side I can’t confirm this, but if most people are saying this on TripAdvisor then it must be true right? So now you’re probably asking: 

Should I visit both sides of Iguaza Falls or just the Argentina side? 
Some things to consider:
  1. Are you deeply, madly, in love with waterfalls, hiking, and nature?
    If not, just a day on the Argentina side will give you more than your money’s worth of nature and waterfalls!
  2. Are you willing to go through the trouble of acquiring and paying for a Brazil visa?
    At the time of my trip, a Brazilian visa for a US citizen cost $160 USD.
  3. Do you want to see the falls from a helicopter?
    You can only do it from the Brazil side.
  4. Do you like butterflies and beautiful rainbows or mosquitoes and spiders?
    Brazil side is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, spiders, and other creepy crawlers, while the Argentina side has all the butterflies and rainbows.
For me, a full day on the Argentina side was sufficient. So now on to the important matter:
How can I do Iguazu Argentina in a day on budget? 
Here is a simple 3 step process:
Sure, flying is faster, but very few flights will get you into Puerto Iguazu early enough to maximize your day at the falls. The park is open from 8am-6pm and you’ll want as much time as possible if you’re only spending a day there. A bus from Buenos Aires will take approximately 15-20 hours and can get you into Puerto Iguazu as early as 7:00am. This will give you sufficient time to drop your bags off at your hotel/hostel and head straight to Iguazu Falls. 
Why else should you take a bus?
  • Savings on a night of lodging 
    Overnight bus = no need to book a room for the night.
  • Cheaper than flying
    One way fare from Buenos Aires to Iguazu: Buses ~$100. Airfare ~$250-300.
  • Buses in Argentina are luxurious
    At ~$100 each way for the most expensive seats, you can get:

    • Fully-reclining seats
    • Personal TV screen/audio system
    • Wi-Fi
    • Full dinner, breakfast and snacks
    • Wine
    • Champagne and chocolates to top off your evening!
  • It’s an experience you should try at least once

Many hostels sell discounted bus and park activity tickets. If you plan on dropping your bags off at your hotel/hostel, inquire about tickets. Otherwise, you can easily purchase roundtrip bus tickets to the falls at the Iguazu bus terminal for AR$70 (~$11 USD). Rio Uruguay bus service departs from Iguazu bus terminal every 20 minutes starting at 7:20am. Sit on the top level of the bus for an open air view. The bus ride will take 20-25 minutes and drops you off at the entrance to the park.

Once you’ve arrived at the park and paid your entry fee (AR$170), follow this efficient route to visit all the “must-see” highlights. 
1. Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat): 2 hours
After you arrive by taxi or bus, pay your entry fee and walk to Central Station. Take 2 short trains to Garganta Station to visit one of the main highlights: Garganta del Diablo—Devil’s Throat. This is one of the most spectacular views and is utterly mesmerizing! 
2. Upper Circuit Trail: ~30-35 minutes
Walk back to Garganta Station and take the train to Cataratas Station in the middle of the park. At this point you have the option to take the Upper Circuit Trail or the Lower Circuit Trail. I recommend doing the Upper Circuit first. This shorter trail offers a gorgeous panoramic view of the falls from above. If you do the Lower Circuit first, you’ll be soaked from the boat ride under the waterfall and will likely be too wet and tired to do the Upper Circuit. 
3. Lower Circuit Trail: ~1-1.5 hours
After finishing the Upper Circuit head back to Cataratas Station and begin the Lower Circuit, which offers views of the falls from below. The circuit itself will take ~1-1.5 hours depending on how often you stop for a photo opp. This does not take into account time for San Martin Island or the boat ride under the falls, which are both must-dos! 
4. San Martin Island: ~1-1.5 hours & Boat Ride Under the Falls: 15 minutes
At the top of a set of stairs heading down to the boats, there will be a ticket booth. Inquire about tickets to San Martin Island and the boat trip under the falls. The last San Martin Island boat departs from the mainland at 3pm (and sometimes even earlier depending on water levels!) so plan accordingly. Be sure to get tickets for both before descending the stairs or you’ll have to hike back up for tickets. I would recommend doing San Martin Island first, then the waterfall boat trip.
  • San Martin Island
    Take the free 3 minute boat ride to San Martin Island where you will have access to a nice beach. You can also walk around the island for great views of the surrounding falls. 

  • Boat Ride Under the Falls
    The Boat for the “Gran Aventura” takes you right under the waterfall. It costs AR$100, no reservation required. You’ll get a life jacket and waterproof bag to put your valuables. Make sure you close that bag tight and get ready to be drenched! The boat ride only lasts about 12 minutes, but it is SO MUCH FUN!
5. Green Trail

Hike back out to Cataratas Station where you can change into dry clothes. If you still have energy, take the Green Trail down to Central Station. This is an ecological path where you’ll get to see butterflies, birds, and probably some coatis (a raccoon-like animal that is commonly seen roaming around the park). Don’t feed them. They’ll bite! If you are too tired, then take the train back to Central Station.

If you still have time and want to see more you can ride the Ecological Jungle Train or visit the Nature Center and take some fun pictures with strangers. There’s also a Full Moon walk offered during the full moon. However, if you are exhausted like I was, head out of the park to the bus lot and take the bus back to Iguazu bus station. Rio Uruguay departs every 20 minutes starting at 7:50am.

Additional Tips

Pre-book Bus Tickets for a Discount
Bus companies offer discounts for pre-booking so purchase your bus tickets to and from Iguazu early. Visit this site for information on the various classes of seats. At a minimum, you should get the semi-cama, but you might as well spend a little more for the cama suite. It’ll be worth it! 
Book Andesmar Buses: They Are More Luxurious
Andesmar buses tend to offer more amenities, tastier food options, and has overall better service.  If available, book your bus tickets with Andesmar.

Stay in Puerto Iguazu Town
Iguazu is a really small town. If you’re only staying for a day, book your lodging in town. This will put you close to the bus terminal and make it easier getting in/out of Puerto Iguazu and to/from the falls.

Staying One Night is Sufficient
There isn’t much else to see or do in Puerto Iguazu town besides Iguazu Falls. Staying one night is more than enough.
Pack Food and Water to Save Time and Money at the Park 
Food options at the park are pricier and not great. There is a restaurant, but that requires time to sit down and order. Bringing your own sustenance will save you both time and money.

Bring Cash
Puerto Iguazu (Argentina side) is cash only!

Wear Comfortable Shoes and Pack a Hat + Sunscreen
This is a no-brainer: You’ll be doing a lot of walking! Plus it can get very sunny and hot on the Argentina side. 
Wear a Bathing Suit and Pack Flip Flops for the Waterfall Boat Ride
Wear your bathing suit under your clothes or wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet during the waterfall boat ride. Also pack flip flops to wear on the boat ride so your shoes don’t get soaked. If you decide to just pack your bathing suit, then change into it at Cataratas Station right before you start the Lower Circuit. There won’t be any other areas along the trail to change.
Pack a Change of Clothes for Post Waterfall Boat Ride
Pack a set of dry clothes to change into after so you won’t be wet on your bus ride back to town.
Eat a Nice Dinner After a Long Day at the Park

You deserve a nice dinner after such a long tiring day! There are some good food options in Puerto Iguazu. AQVA is an amazing restaurant with reasonable prices. It gets pretty packed in the evening so make reservations! 

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