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One of our all-time favorite wilderness destinations in South America sits at the border of Argentina and Brazil. It spills over into the northeast of Argentina and the west tip of Parana, Brazil. In the case of this natural wonder, the “overspill” verbiage is quite literal. Because the destination that needs to be on the top of your South America list is Iguazú Falls.
Looking at Iguazú Falls by the numbers, it’s comprised of 275 waterfalls, spanning three kilometers (1.8 miles), and crashing over 80-meter (262-foot) cliffs. It’s also four times the width of Niagara Falls and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The falls are within Iguazú National Park, which is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO calls the area a “subtropical rainforest” and reports that the park has “over 2,000 species of vascular plants and is home to the typical wildlife of the region: tapirs, giant anteaters, howler monkeys, ocelots, jaguars, and caymans.”
It’s not just the falls that are a spectacle—it’s the viewing platforms from which you experience the natural wonder. The walkways get you closer to the action than most attractions of this magnitude would facilitate. In fact, on Argentina’s side, you’re more than likely to get sprayed, so bring a poncho or bathing suit, depending on the season. Visiting the falls is also technically a two-for, a benefit that’s not to be overlooked; you get to see the waterfalls and the surrounding rainforests within Iguazú National Park.
Like most of the world’s bucket-list-worthy natural landmarks, Iguazú Falls isn’t exactly close to a major metropolitan area. However, there are two nearby airports. In Brazil, the closest airport is Foz do Iguaçu Airport, less than 10 miles from the falls. Rio de Janeiro to Foz do Iguaçu Airport is a two-hour flight. The flight from Buenos Aires to Cataratas del Iguazú Airport, takes about two hours as well. There’s also a more under-the-radar route to the falls from Paraguay. A bus takes you from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s closest city to the falls, to Puerto Iguazú in just an hour. Puerto Iguazú is in Argentina, and from there, you’ll take a smaller shuttle to the Argentina side of the falls.
The Argentina side gets you slightly closer to the water action—and therefore, it’s the more popular choice for tourists. From this side, you can checkout viewpoints like Dos Hermanos and Tres Mosqueteros Falls on foot (take the Sendero Verde trail). Or you can take the Jungle Train up to the Devil’s Throat overlook. On the Argentinian side, stay at Awasi Iguazú in Misiones, which has 14 villas and sits right on the River Iguazú.
On the Brazilian side, you’ll find a more laidback viewing experience. If you want to get sprayed by the waterfalls and have the closest view possible, the Argentinian side delivers. But the views are just as stunning on the Brazilian side, and the platforms are less crowded. Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, is the only luxe hotel on the Brazilian side of the falls, and they offer guests of the hotel exclusive access to the falls after it closes to the public. When the crowd dissipates after 5 p.m. or before it opens at 9 a.m., Belmond guests have the place to themselves. The best insider tip? Visit the Brazilian side of the falls at sunrise.