Taller than Niagara Falls, twice as wide with 275 cascades spread in a horsehoe shape over nearly two miles of the Iguazu River, Iguazú Falls are the result of a volcanic eruption which left yet another large crack in the earth. During the rainy season of November - March, the rate of flow of water going over the falls may reach 450,000 cubic feet (12,750 cubic m) per second.
These matter of fact details do nothing to describe the grandeur of the falls, the tremendous amount of water (an average of 553 cubic feet per second) thundering down 269 feet, the tropical location and the sheer beauty that led Eleanor Roosevelt to say Poor Niagara. Four times the width of Niagara Falls, Iguazu Falls are divided by various islands into separate waterfalls. One of the best known is Devil's Throat, or Gargantua del Diablo with its perpetual spray high over the falls. Other notable falls are the San Martin, Bossetti, and Bernabe Mendez.
Iguazú Falls, called Foz do Iguaçu in Portuguese, and Cataratas del Iguazú in Spanish, lie on the Argentina - Brazil border and are a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.
The falls are part of a singular practically virgin jungle ecosystem protected by Argentine and Brazilian national parks on either side of the cascades. Two thirds of the falls are on the Argentinian side of the river where you can also tour Iguazú National Park where there are jungle trails and bird hikes. Plan a full day in the park to fully enjoy the wildlife flora and fauna.
It is possible to see the falls and surrounding area in a lightning trip but it is better to plan at least two days. The view from the Brazilian side is the most panoramic and there are helicopter rides out over the falls from Foz do Iguaçu. You may also take boat rides out to the falls. The light is best in the morning for photographs.
Best seen from the Brazilian side is the spectacular Devil's Throat, garganta del diablo, where fourteen falls drop 350 feet with such force that there is always a 100 foot cloud of spray overhead. Watch for the rainbow! For a close up view, walk through the subtropical forest of National Iguaçu Park to the base of Salto Floriano and take the elevator to the top of the falls. or walk out over the falls at Salto Union. From the Argentine side you can take a series of catwalks over the water rushing into Devil's Gorge. Protective rain suits are provided. There are some areas where it is possible to swim in the spray of the cascades. Ask locally for instructions but be aware that you might have a resulting problem with cuticle parasites.
The best times to see Iguazu Falls are in the spring and fall. Summer is intensely tropically hot and humid, and in winter the water level is considerably lower. There are hotels on both sides of the river and many tour agencies provide sightseeing opportunities around the area. Browse through this list of hotels on the Brazilian side of the falls, or these on the Argentine side.
Downstream from the falls where the Parana and Iguazu rivers meet, so do the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Each country has created a landmark in their national colors on a spot in each of their countries where you can see all three.
The name of the falls comes from the Guaraní word for "great water." The first Spanish explorer to see the falls (did you see the film The Mission?) was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541 but the vast power of the falls was not fully utilized until the construction of the huge Itaipu hydroelectric power plant built jointly by Paraguay and Brazil. Completed in 1991 the dam is open to tours and provides 12,600,000 KW of power satisfying almost 40% of Brazil and Argentine power needs. The dam one of the largest in the world is touted by both countries as a masterpiece of technology.