Foz de Igaucu, Brazil

We knew that a trip to the Falls wasn’t complete until you had seen it from both sides (Argentina AND Brazil).  However, being US citizens, we needed a visa to get into Brazil. Thankfully, Puerto Iguazu in Argentina has a Brazilian consulate that grants quick visas.

Since the process is ever-changing (hello, South American official paperwork) and the information in the internet is slim, here’s our process. Fill out your Brazilian visa form online here, print out the form (and make sure you save a copy of your confirmation number!), and attach your approved passport photo. Remember–no smiling, needs to be a white background, and adhere strictly to the size limits.  The online form is experimenting with uploading some documents, but it’s still in beta stage, and assume you’ll still need to bring your documents and paperwork with you. Also, when they ask for your hotel information in Brazil, we just chose a random hotel. They never checked to see if we actually had a reservation, and I assume most people coming through are day trippers.

If you’re a tourist: bring a copy of your driver’s license (front and back), a copy of your passport (including a copy of the page with your Argentinian entrance stamp), and  a copy of your bank records proving sufficient funds.  Also, we brought along a copy of our birth certificates, a copy of our marriage license, and, of course, our reciprocity fee papers. To be honest, the workers at the consulate just seemed impressed that we had all of our ducks in a row prior to coming in. (Insert some sort of grumbling about “if it was clear online, maybe there wouldn’t be that many problems” here.)

If you’re a temporary resident of Argentina: all of the above, PLUS a copy of your DNI (front and back), a copy of your residencia temporaria legal papers, and we brought along our precarias just to be safe. Also note, Argentine temporary residents–if you have your own car in Argentina, make sure with your car insurance company that it has the optional “MERCOSUR” insurance that allows it into Brazil. That is one thing that the Argentinian aduana was diligent in checking.

You can pay your fee, which is somewhere around the line of $160USD, in either pesos (subject to Brazil’s current feeling on what a peso is worth) or in reais. We paid in pesos and had absolutely no problem. Just be sure to have exact change (or as close as you can be. I think a 5 is okay if you have a bill that’s 32, but they won’t exchange 100 peso notes. If you need it, there’s a Macro bank in the city center of Puerto Iguazu, about four blocks away from the consulate, that has four clean, well-maintained ATMs. As usual in Argentina, stock in said ATMs will probably be lower around the 1st and 15th of every month as people get their government payouts on their EBTs. So plan accordingly.

So, we submitted all of our paperwork, paid all of our money, and left our passports with the nice Brazilians overnight and picked it up the next day.  And, honestly? Although I had heard some stories about how the Brazilian consulate can be a madhouse of backpackers, tourists, and generally Americans behaving badly on a Friday–we were the only ones there besides the consulate employees. It was a pleasant experience, and not much of a hassle.

We have our own car down here in Argentina, and we double checked to make sure it has the optional MERCOSUR insurance upgrade that allows it to drive into any MERCOSUR country without a problem. There are plenty of buses in Puerto Iguazu that go to the falls everyday, and even more travel companies happy to take your money in exchange for a ride and a tour of the Brazilian side.  We easily drove through customs (although we always get funny looks when the customs agent sees “EXTRANJERO” or foreigner printed on our national ID cards) and made it into Brazil.

Here’s where I talk about the seedy portion of all of this. The border between Argentina and Brazil at Iguazu/Iguacu is not terribly well patrolled for bus patrons. We’ve been told several times that it is absolutely easy for people to just ride a bus and go over to the other side without getting a visa, and without legally exiting/entering either Brazil or Argentina.  Because we work down here, and we’d prefer to not have to call our employer for them to bail us out  of the customs pokey, we chose to go the legal route, and thus, I have no comments about the whole “sneaking across the border” part of Iguazu.

In many ways, Foz de Iguacu is like Puerto Iguacu–all about the tourists. Shops and people selling their wares on the side of the road. And as always, poverty–the likes of which probably shocks those from the First World, but is sadly part of our landscape now. However, in many ways, the Brazilian side is radically different. Brazil has a much more open economy than Argentina. As a result, there are many more imported products–the motorcycles are Harleys and Hyabusas as opposed to bicycles that someone attached a lawnmower engine to. There’s Hershey’s chocolate and clothes from China. (In Argentina, one of the more draconian rules is that it’s incredibly difficult and expensive to import clothing for sale. As a result, easily 95% of the clothes are made in Argentina, with the exception of a few giants like Nike, Reebok, and LaCoste.)  Everything just looks a little bit nicer, a little bit more commercial… a little bit more American. Whereas Puerto Iguazu feels exactly like an Argentinian/South American tourist town without any recognizable fast food brands or chains, Foz de Iguacu felt more like South America’s Myrtle Beach… with waterfalls!

This feel extended to the Foz de Iguacu park itself. With a modern parking lot (paved versus Argentina’s dirt), the ability to pay with a credit card (versus Argentina’s cash-only policy), and modern buses taking tourists from the fancy queues and gift shops to the actual falls (versus a train in Argentina… or a hike), it just felt more like an American Six Flags safari than Argentina’s side did. This is both good and bad.  We loved the efficiency of just paying for parking when you bought your ticket, being able to easily use your credit card, clean public bathrooms, and obviously announcements in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. But it definitely felt less like a great South American adventure… and more like any other trip to an American tourist attraction.

However–the falls were beautiful! Whereas the Argentinian side  lets you get up close and personal with the falls, the Brazilian side offers some great panoramic views. A concrete pathway winds along the side of the cliff–be careful, it’s much more crowded on the Brazilian side than we ever encountered in Argentina! But, you get some gorgeous photos of the Falls in their full glory–and they have a great concrete walkway that leads right into the mist of some of the falls–great for photo opportunities!

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We grabbed lots of great photos, and saw even more coati trying to steal food from the tourists, but ultimately didn’t spend as much time on the Brazilian side. There are lots of side adventures run by private companies to partake in–zodiac boats, rock climbing, bike tours, white water rafting, ziplining–but the weather was starting to turn, and we didn’t feel like forking over $80 per person just to do a few little activities, most likely in the rain.  Ultimately, we made the right decision: it was drizzling when we made it back to our car, and full-on pouring buckets of water by the time we made it to the border. We’re planning on coming back to Iguazu again before we leave South America–so we figured leave some of the fun activities for the next time!

We didn’t hang out in the town of Foz de Iguacu much this time–but there are definitely some nice-looking hotels and resorts in the area, if you’re looking to stay on that side. We did briefly try to follow the signs for the tres fronteras marker in Brazil, but ended up in a not-so-nice neighborhood bordering on a favela, or shantytown, and decided to call it quits on that.

If you’re in Iguazu, definitely go to the Brazil side if you have the time and visa! It’s worth it to get the panoramic views and to see just how different two countries can be, just on the other side of the border.

Since November 1st was our *real* anniversary (we got married in a courthouse before we got married in the “white dress and tux” sense), we decided to go to Bocamora in Puerto Iguazu for a celebratory dinner. Situated essentially on a cliff on the costanera, or coastline, it is an incredibly romantic location overlooking the Tres Fronteras area. The menu was diverse, as was the wine list, the service was great, and the view was incomparable. We enjoyed a really nice meal on their back patio and toasted to two years! T got the ojo de bife (a very nice cut of meat), and I got a pork loin, both of which were delicious. We aren’t normally “that couple” who takes pictures of their food, but it looked pretty spectacular, so we couldn’t help ourselves.

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Iguazu Falls, Argentina–Lower Circuit and Boat Ride

After our four hour drive from Ituzaingo to Iguazu, we settled into the Sheraton and decided to tackle a part of the lower trail. However, there was a fine but steady rain throughout the entire hike–so we didn’t get many usable pictures. We decided to try it again on the second day, after the Sendero Macuco Trail.

Argentina’s lower circuit is a nice hike, with well-kept wood-slat walkways and stairs. It offers fantastic opportunities to see the falls up close and personal–and we definitely got up close!

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A lot of people asked us if we had the opportunity to see the Garganta del Diablo–Devil’s Throat. We didn’t–earlier in the year, there was some serious flooding in this area, and it wiped out the entire viewing trail for Garganta del Diablo. We did, however, see some of the wreckage on riverbanks while hiking.

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Also, due to high water levels, we couldn’t go to the island in the middle of the falls–Isla de San Martin. However–I don’t think we missed much! The views were fantastic, and several times we had to just stop and pinch ourselves that they were real.

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One thing that is a “don’t miss” activity on the Argentinian side is the Iguazu Jungle boat ride. You strap into a life jacket, head onto a boat, put all of your belongings in a watertight bag, and then prepare to get wet. After a cruise to both sets of waterfalls for photo purposes, the boat takes you back around and absolutely drenches everyone by essentially parking underneath a waterfall. We’re glad we did this as our last activity on the trail! By the time we got off the boat, my sneakers were filled with water.  Pro Tip: The Sheraton offers a drying only laundry service, and it’s 20% the cost of a normal laundry service. Unfortunately, they don’t do shoes. So bring several pairs if you’re planning on doing the boat ride.

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We also saw some fun animals along the way–lizards, birds, and of course, more coati. The coati aren’t afraid of humans at all, and in some cases will try to steal the food right out of your hand! Don’t try to pet them, though–they are still wild animals, and there are some pretty graphic signs around the park showing what a coati can do to someone’s hand.

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Iguazu Falls, Argentina–Sendero Macuco Trail

We decided to stay on the Argentinian side of the falls at the Sheraton. The advantage to the Sheraton is that it’s the only hotel inside the park, with rooms that overlook the falls (although they’re pretty expensive!). We opted for the less expensive jungle view room, which overlooked the forest. (In reality, it overlooked the driveway and parking structure, with the jungle in the near distance.)  Overall, we highly recommend it–the rooms were all well-appointed, the restaurant was good, the breakfast buffet was the best we’ve had at a Sheraton in this country, and the staff was wonderful. Also, add to that a really great pool area that overlooks the falls. While we were lounging by the pool and enjoying an (expertly made) pina colada, a few cuis, or guinea pigs, were running around!

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On our first full day at the falls, we decided to take the 3.75km long Sendero Macuco Trail all the way down to the Arrechea waterfall. In all the tour guides, it mentioned that this trail had some of the best wildlife watching and hiking–and that you could swim in the waterfall at the end of the trail! Sold.

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We were the first ones on the trail in the morning. It was still cool and quiet, and we were surprised we didn’t see too many animals on the trail–just a few beautifully colored butterflies.  We could hear lots of birds in the trees, but didn’t have much luck spotting them. We did the overlook of the waterfall first.

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Then, we hoofed it down some very steep steps to the waterfall. We kicked off our sneakers and walked into the water. A bit cold at first, but it was totally worth it to be swimming in a pool directly underneath a waterfall! The mist got to be too much to get completely under the waterfall, but we got some great shots.

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On our hike back, we saw lots more animals–and lots more hikers! We encountered a whole troop of howler monkeys in the trees, and spent a good amount of time watching them swing around and find their breakfast. Very cool!

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Our advice for conquering the Sendero Macuco Trail? Start early–it opens at 8:30am, and we were there right on time. Be quiet when you walk–you’ll probably see more animals that way! Bring bug spray–it’s pretty buggy out there, and over the weekend we got our fair share of mosquito bites despite generously applying Off! Also, it wouldn’t hurt to bring a pair of water shoes for the waterfall swimming. We did it barefoot, but some of the rocks were a little sharp, and we definitely would have felt better in some water shoes. While we’re on the subject–bring water!! It’s a long hike, there are a lot of stairs, and it’s HOT. Stay hydrated.

This was definitely one of the best portions of our little vacation–we can say we’ve swam underneath a South American waterfall now!

 

Iguazu Falls, ARG: Guira Oga

T and I spent the weekend celebrating our second (!!) wedding anniversary at Iguazu Falls. I know most reviews tend to focus on the falls at first–but I decided to work in reverse chronological order and get to the falls next.

On our final day in Igauzu, we decided to go to Guira Oga.  Guira Oga is a wildlife refuge right on the outskirts of Puerto Iguazu proper. It’s easy to see the huge sign from the road. It’s 85 pesos to get in, and they only accept cash (efectivo)–something we totally forgot and had to make a quick Macro Bank run into town!

Guira Oga started as a veterinary sanctuary and park for birds, but has since expanded to include all sorts of animals. Although there are apparently guides available in English, there weren’t any there on our Sunday trip, so we took the normal Spanish tour. You can only take the guided tours–there are no self-guided options, mainly for the benefits of the animals. Thankfully, although my technical Spanish is lacking, my “animal” Spanish is pretty good. We took a tractor and wagon ride about 1.5km into the woods (which felt kind of like a jungle hayride) to the first stop, and hiked the rest of it with the group. We had a small group of Argentinians–a family and a couple from Buenos Aires, and then us.

We started our hike with a quick intro into the Guira Oga philosophy. They tend to get a lot of animals from the nearby Igauzu National Park who are injured, as well as a number of animals that were either kept as illegal pets or confiscated at the border as part of the black market animal business. They try to rehabilitate and re-release as many of the animals as possible, and those that would not survive in the wild are used for either educational purposes or are put into a breeding program.

DSC_7317 Since their original focus was the hundreds of bird species native to Misiones province, birds were well-represented at Guira Oga. Lots of beautifully colored parrots and toucans squawked and flew around airy enclosures.

DSC_7323 DSC_7336 DSC_7339 DSC_7347 DSC_7348Also, they had an enclosure full of capuchin monkeys. These are the monkeys in “Night at the Museum,” among other movies. They are native to this area and were absolutely adorable, hamming it up for our cameras.

DSC_7371 DSC_7386 DSC_7390 DSC_7398 DSC_7399Along the trail, much to T’s simultaneous fascination and dismay, there were lots of HUGE spiders. The guide was explaining to us about one species that was as big as a man’s palm that the US Army uses its web to spin textiles from.

DSC_7407We saw lots of coati (similar to raccoons) at Iguazu National Park, and one of the more common animals that Guira Oga treats is the coatis that run out into the road and get hit. This guy was just hanging out and watching us.

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We saw several wild cats at Guira Oga. Since they’re normally so shy in nature, this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to seeing them in the wild. There was a beautiful leopard, as well as a jagaurundi. The jaguarundi (which I can’t remember ever seeing before!) looks like a house cat on steroids. Low to the ground, gray in color, and not that much larger than a housecat, it ripples with obviously strong muscles.

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After we passed through the nursery area where they were hatching some owlets, we went into the reptile section. There, we saw an armadillo, some turtles, a yacare (crocodile), an iguana, and tortoises.

DSC_7428 DSC_7448 DSC_7451 DSC_7465 DSC_7472Also, Guira Oga had some large birds of prey outside. It’s one thing to see them flying in the sky–and an entirely different thing to realize how absolutely huge their wingspan is when they’re ten feet away!

DSC_7484 DSC_7481After checking out a wild pig and a much larger yacare…

DSC_7489 DSC_7491We saw the sanctuary’s herd of howler monkeys. Able to make a call that can be herd up to 5km away, the males have black fur while the females have brown fur. The guide told us that this group was being kept as pets in Buenos Aires… until the owners realized what a bad situation they had gotten themselves into!

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As usual, one of my favorite animals at the sanctuary was the carpincho, or capybara, as they are more commonly known in the States. Although this poor guy didn’t have a mate, he did have a ducky friend and was happily posing for us. I wish we had gotten a photo of him showing his teeth–they are not to be messed with!

DSC_7550 DSC_7547I highly recommend checking out Guira Oga if you’re in Iguazu Falls. It’s not a long trip–only about two hours from start to finish, but definitely worth your while to see lots of animals up close, and to contribute to a very worthy cause. These pictures don’t even include all of the animals on the tour–we just couldn’t get all the great shots we wanted.