Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Wonders of Iguazu Falls

article from July 20, 2012
by Julie R Butler

Located at the edge of the farthest reaches of northeastern Argentina, they are called Cataratas do Iguaçu in Portuguese, Cataratas del Iguazú in Spanish, and Iguazu Falls in English. In the indigenous Tupí-Guaraní language, the name Yguasu means “big water.” Whatever you call them, they are magnificent, worthy of being named one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” as well as being a double UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to the existence of separate national parks on the Brazilian and the Argentinean sides of the river.

The Iguazu River begins far to the east of the falls, near the city of Curitiba on the western slope of the coastal mountains called Serra do Mar. It makes its way over 800 miles through dense, semitropical forest across the basalt plateau that was formed by a lava flow, over the edge of which the falls cascade so dramatically.

Rather than spanning straight across the river, this ledge stretches for 1.4 miles, bending and curving across a river that, helped by the numerous islands just above the drop-off, spreads itself out in a wide bend, providing for many waterfalls and cascades, to spectacular effect.

Devil’s Throat, so-named because it is in the form of a narrow chasm that channels an impressive half of the river’s flow, is the highlight for anyone who comes to experience this wonder of the natural world. Visitors to Argentina’s Iguazu National Park can ride the tourist train to the farthest station and then follow the catwalk that crosses the placid upper waters from island to island to reach the viewing platform at the very edge of the chasm. As one draws near, the sight of spray rising in a beckoning fog quickens the heart with anticipation. Upon arrival, the initial up-close encounter with the power of so much water plummeting at the chokepoint is breathtaking. Not only is the cascading water mesmerizing, but the misty spray, the tenacity of the tufts of green clinging to life on the precipices, and the grandeur of it all cause the visitor to linger, basking in the amazing energy of this inimitable setting.

The other train stop, named the Catarata Station, is the access point for viewing more of the falls via two walking circuits: the Upper Trail and the Lower Trail. If time or ailing knees are a concern, the upper path is the one to go with. It offers many views of the long line of cascades from the tops of waterfalls such as Adam and Eve that reveal its vast scope – complete with stunning rainbows, a veritable Garden of Eden (minus the apples, as it’s too hot here).

For the good-of-knee, the lower of the two trails is well worth the effort, bringing the visitor to the base of several cascades to experience the thrill of the water’s pounding arrival at the termination of its fall. This more extensive circuit also leads to a different part of the river, affording unforgettable panoramic viewpoints of the falls. Those who have scheduled plenty of time at the park can hop on a launch and head over to explore the wonders San Martin Island for a couple of hours.

Hikers who are interested in encountering some of the unique wildlife in the park may prefer to forego the train ride from the Visitors Center to the Catarata Station by taking the 15-minute walk along the Green Trail. For a much more intimate encounter with the natural setting, the off-the-beaten-path Macuco Nature Trail leads through the jungle to an isolated waterfall, requiring at least three hours to come and go.

Also available are excursions with Iguazu Jungle Explorer. The Great Adventure is a thrilling one-hour tour that combines a photo safari on an open 4x4 through the forest with a ride on a double-engine inflatable boat heading upriver through rapids to the mouth of Devil’s Throat, while the Nautical Adventure takes passengers along the shores of San Martin Island right up to the base of several falls. Both of these tours feature bilingual guides.

Spanish speakers will benefit from the intimate knowledge shared by the guides on the Ecological Tour, which navigates gently through the jungle on rowboats down a thread of the Upper Iguazu River. This tour through nature at its purest highlights the fact that the falls are not the only attraction of the park, and the farther away from the commotion of human activities one can get, the more likely they are spot an elusive puma, jaguar, or tapir.

Avid bird-watchers also flock to Iguazu Falls, as the multitude of birds that are known to live in the park represents almost half of the species that exist in Argentina, the eighth-largest country on the planet. The amazing Great Dusky Swift that nests on the sheer cliffs behind the falls is among the most intriguing of the feathered friends to be found at the falls.
And let’s not forget the romantics... Full moon tours offer either viewings of the moonrise over Devil’s Throat or full-moon-lit nighttime visits to the falls, each with dinner and a cocktail included, of course.

Additionally, the Yvyrá Retá Interpretive Center provides information about the Interior Atlantic Rainforest setting of the falls (and how fragile it is), as well as about the various cultures that have lived here throughout history. Visitors can even help the impoverished local indigenous community by purchasing unique Guaraní handicrafts in the park.

Photos by Jamie Douglas and Julie R Butler:

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler

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