The thunderous Iguazu Falls, seen from the Brazilian side. Behind the mist is the walkway that takes visitors on the Argentine side to the edge of the Devil's Throat Fall. Photo - photolibrary.com
Iguazu is more than just a waterfall.
When you see a picture of Iguazu Falls like this one, it’s clear that it is an awe-inspiring waterfall. Yet it in no way conveys the thrilling experience of being there: the roar of the water, the feel of the mist on your face; the woosh of wind created by the torrents and the endless speed of that fast-falling water. Every second the equivalent of an Olympic swimming pool falls over the cliffs. Over and over again; that hypnotically endless, enormous tumble of water is something a picture, focussed on a single moment, just can’t capture.
A rainbow created by the endless clouds of mist emanating from the huge volumes of water tumbling over the cliffs of Iguazu Falls. Photo - Elnavegante / Shutterstock.com
Iguazu is actually 275 individual falls and cascades in an arc that stretches for more than two kilometres as the Iguazu River Superior divides into channels around islands and rocks before crashing off its basalt plateau to meet its sibling river, the Parana, some 80 metres below. The river marks a southern border for Brazil and a northern border for Argentina and tourists who are organised can see the falls from both sides (there are visa requirements for Australian visitors).
275 individual falls in an arc that stretches two kilometres. Photo Neale Cousland / Shutterstock.com
The Brazilian side offers the most panoramic view, while the Argentinian side offers the most up-close and personal experiences. Visitors to Argentina’s Iguazu National Park can grab a seat on the eco-train which leaves from the visitor centre every 10 minutes. The train stops twice; at the point from which the Upper and Lower Circuit walks take in views over and at the falls; and at the beginning of the 1.1 km walkway that leads over the river to the most famous site at Iguazu, the Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat fall.
Devil's Throat Fall. 275 individual falls contribute to the splendour of Iguazu. Photo - Gen Productions/Shutterstock.com
On a sunny day the walkway to the Devil’s Throat sparkles with butterflies. They light on our hats and arms and perch on the handrails, each one more boldly decked out that a Renaissance dandy. The butterflies, the sunlight sparkling off the river and the rainbows refracted in the vapour-heavy water give the impression of a dreamscape or something invented by a Disney animator. In this context the falling water is exhilarating more than terrifying and everybody on the platform that hangs over the watery precipice is thrilled.
More than terrifying and everybody on the platform that hangs over the watery precipice is thrilled. Photo - Curioso / Shutterstock.com
The walk to the Devil’s Throat is the ‘don’t miss’ site of the Argentine park, but there are other opportunities. The Macuco Trail is a walking track through the rainforest to a humble cascade that tumbles into Arreachea pool, perfect for a swim on a hot day. There are 400 species of birds living in the park, but the first creatures we see on the track are a conga line of leaf-cutting ants, each swaying under the weight of their neatly cut leaf. They are the world’s smallest farmers, composting the leaf pieces to cultivate a fungus to feed their queen, and they are certainly smaller in real life than they appear on the flat screen television alongside David Attenborough’s hushed enthusiasm.
The red-breasted toucan is one of hundreds of species of birds that make their home in the Iguazu park. Photo - photolibrary.com
We don’t see a toucan or a jaguar, both of which live in the park, the former in much greater numbers than the latter, but we do spy a great eagle spreading its wings to dry in a dead tree at the top of the canopy. A faint whirring nearby resolves as a hummingbird which quickly sticks its beak into the tube of a red and yellow trumpet flower then speeds by. Up in the canopy a troupe of capuchin monkeys is on the hunt for fruit. They will eat insects and bromeliad shoots but prefer fruit, especially that of the elegant and slender palmito, Euterpe edulis, which is also highly favoured by toucans, peccaries, agoutis and tapir. Bad luck for all of them that the growing green shoot of the palmito also offers food enjoyed by homo sapiens– palm hearts. A palmito needs to be 15 years old to have a harvestable heart and harvesting it kills the tree. Poaching is rife and the palmito is becoming scarce with a consequent effect on the wildlife that depend on it.
The rainforest hides puma and jaguar as well a the world's largest rodent, the capybara. Photo - photolibrary.com
The Iguazu park is home to more than 2000 species of plant, including plenty we grow in our gardens. Bromeliads cluster in the forks of trees, competing for space with orchids, ferns, lichens and moss. Impatiens and begonia, constantly misted by the water spray, flower in gaps in the rocks so that some parts of the Lower Circuit walk look like a garden; one with a pretty impressive water feature!
Begonia, like this angel-wing begonia, grow in the damp rock faces, while bromeliad roosts in the forks of trees and lichens and orchids find a footing on tree trunks. Photo - photolibrary.com