We flew Gol airlines to Foz do Iguacu, and with our Lonely Planet guide we knew to sit on the left side of the plane for the best view of the falls. It only took an hour or so to get there, and when we landed at 3pm it felt like a different country; clear skies, 30C and a hot wind.
Outside the airport we befriended a Canadian couple going to the same place as us, and we waited half an hour for the green bus that runs every 20 mins. Eventually it arrived and we paid the R$3 bus fare to Parque Nacional do Iguaçu before struggling to lift our heavy backpacks over the in-bus turnstile whilst the vehicle zoomed around a corner, flinging us left and right. Turnstiles are a trait common to all brazilian buses. At the park we paid the R$40 entrance fee and caught an in-park bus towards the waterfalls.
We were staying at Hotel Cataratas, a five star orient express hotel. This was our splurge, a small slice of decadence and a chance to indulge in a little grandeur and opulence. After all, we’d had a friendly cheque from the HMRC, so why not treat ourselves?
Despite a spa, pool, gourmet food and utter luxury, the main advantage of this hotel, and the reason we stayed here, is its location. It’s the only hotel inside the national park and gives all guests unrestricted access to the park whilst it is closed to the public. So, at sunset, or even sunrise, you can have the place to yourself, without teems of tourists. The hotel entrance is a mere minute walk from your first spectacular view of the waterfalls, but set back enough so as not to distract from the scenery. It’s the hotel all visitors wish they were staying at.
We’d booked a pricey two nights, and arrived at 5pm, just as the park was closing. We checked in, and a porter took our bags to the room, via the wide pink pastel corridors and wildlife oil paintings. A super king size bed, his and her sinks and walk in shower greeted us, along with a pair of trendy Havaianas flip flops each, handy for being poolside or during waterfall visits. Outside the window all you can see is jungle treetop.
The sounds of nature enriched the place, birds nested above the restaurant and huge lizards scuttled about, as if on a day trip from the forest. Swallows flitted down and drank from the pool. By the pool we covered ourselves in bug repellant and sun lotion and tried a vanilla ice cream and coke cocktail.
Time to explore the ‘cataratas’ (falls) for the first time. Starting at the viewpoint closest to the hotel we took the 1.2km trilha das cataratas that follows the river shore. The first view shows a phenomenal crescent of two tiered waterfalls out across the other side of the river (on the Argentinian side).
It was dusk, and wildlife was coming out for the evening. Butterflies were everywhere, and they weren’t shy landing on you. From the 88 butterfly (diaethria anna) to large spiders weaving their webs and millipedes walking out in front of you, the bugs and insects were abundant and you needed to be careful where you put your hands. Giant black and white tegu lizards scared us as they ran out in front of us, across the trail. Some reached up to four foot in length.
As I was knelt down taking a photo of a spider, a four foot coatis clambered down beside us, sniffing around for food, “Paul, turn around, turn around now”, Sam whispered. A coatis is a sort of racoon and is common to northern Argentina. He clearly didn’t care what we were up to and was happy for us to snap some photos.
The paved route had a green wooden barrier, and headed down towards the waterfall climax, Garganta do Diablo, with the occasional look out point. Every view along the trail was awesome, using the true meaning of the word; we couldn’t believe the power and beauty of the place as the constant sound of crashing water surrounded us, amidst blue orange skies, the odd fluffy white cloud, the fascinating wildlife and luscious forest.
Then we reached Garganta do Diablo, where there is a walkway right out into the middle of the thundering waterfalls. The spray from the falls is like heavy rainfall, and walking out you are going to get soaked. We braved it with our bags and Sam donned a poncho for the occasion, I risked the camera too in it’s waterproof bag. Out into the falls we eked, the cold refreshing water driving into our faces, water drops trickling down our cheeks, soaking and delighting us. From the edge of the final platform you can look right down into the abyss, where the river plunges deeper into the darkness, so far and so deep all you can see is the rebounding spray and the occasional crazy swallow flying into the waterfall.
This must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet and we had it all to ourselves at sunset. We took a moment to appreciate the glory of nature as the sun disappeared on the Argentinian side of the park and as flocks of swallows flew high above us. We slowly meandered back to our hotel, a little sopping, in awe of what we’d just experienced.
That night we tried the hotels buffet. Sat outside by the pool we made our wine selection (or beer, I had Skol) as the nighttime frogs serenaded us and the neon blue fireflies painted the forest with light.
We tried a bit of everything from the buffet. The traditional moqueca fish was lovely, as was the barbecued steak, lamb and pork, potato salad and squid salad. We filled ourselves to the brim, but still had every type of dessert; passion fruit mousse, a yellow egg yolk cream, light strawberry mousse, a cointreau creme caramel and a strawberry layered trifle, and many more we can’t remember.
We stumbled back to our room, a perfect evening.