Last week I got home from a two week trip to Brazil and Argentina! I’d been to Argentina twice before, but this was my very first time visiting Brazil. The reason for the trip to South America was to celebrate my stepdad’s 80th birthday, but my mom had expressed an interest in seeing Iguazu Falls, so we planned a little trip there a few days before we were to meet up with the rest of the family in Buenos Aires. I didn’t know much about Iguazu Falls, and hadn’t done any research prior to the trip, so I sort of went into this part of the trip blindfolded. Needless to say if you scroll down this page, we had the BEST time!!!
We really lucked out with the weather – it was sunny every single day! If it hadn’t been, I think our entire trip would have been different. We would have had to figure out things to do inside at the hotel, and obviously our visits to the falls wouldn’t have been as spectacular! We went in mid-May, which is verging on fall for the area. It was in the 40s and 50s in the morning, but as soon as the sun came out everything warmed up to the high 60s/low 70s! The sun is super powerful down there, so if you were in the sun, you were always warm. The second the sun went away the temps cooled down instantly!
Iguazu Falls is situated right on the border of Brazil and Argentina, so when you visit, you have the opportunity to see the waterfalls from both countries. Each provided a fairly different experience and perspective, which I’ll detail further below, but I just want to start off by saying I think doing both sides is totally worth it! There are two hotels that are right there in the center of everything: Hotel Das Cataratas (a Belmond hotel!) on the Brazil side, and the Gran Meliá Iguazú on the Argentina side. We opted for the hotel on the Brazil side thanks to a recommendation from a family friend of ours, and had the most amazing stay! Keep reading to hear my thoughts on each side of Iguazu Falls, the activities we did and a recap of our hotel stay + a review!
THE BRAZIL SIDE
As I mentioned above, we decided to stay at the Belmond hotel on the Brazil side of Iguazu Falls, and it ended up being the perfect location for us. Most of the falls are actually on the Argentinian side, so you get perfect panoramic views on the other side of the border! Just steps from the hotel entrance, there’s an observation deck to view a number of the falls (see first pics below). That observation deck is also the beginning of a walking trail taking you all the way to a lookout onto the Devil’s Throat falls, the most powerful attraction at Iguazu! It’s a fairly easy walk – you definitely don’t need any hiking boots or anything. You might want to take a poncho with you though, because there are several points on the trail that you might get wet – not only from the water coming off of Devil’s Throat, but because of the mist that rises from the power of the falls along the way.
We loved staying at the hotel on the Brazil side, because we had plenty of time unencumbered by tourists and got to enjoy the trail with very few people on them. Tourists/tour buses usually don’t arrive until 9am and vacate the area by 5pm, so at sunset and first thing in the morning you can enjoy the trail and beautiful views without the crowds! It was perfect. Scroll down to see some of the pictures we took on the Brazil side from the observation deck, walking trail and the lookout at Devil’s Throat!
THE ARGENTINA SIDE
Our hotel helped arrange a guide to take us over to the Argentina side to explore the National Park and see the falls from the other side. The drive took about an hour, and you obviously need to take your passport because you’re crossing the border. The park doesn’t open until 8:00am, and when we got there it was already crawling with tourists! So that is probably the biggest difference about the two sides. You really can’t avoid crowds on the Argentina side, because there are specific opening/closing times, whereas on the Brazil side it’s just a public trail you can use whenever you like.
The first thing we did when we arrived was wait for the train to take us over to the viewpoint for Devil’s Throat. This is the most popular attraction at the park, so it’s best to go early and do it first thing! While you won’t avoid the crowds, the crowds are a bit lighter first thing in the morning. If you have a fear of heights, you may not love the Argentinian side! Most of the park features steel walkways as paths to each viewpoint/lookout. At times you’re walking over water, at others you’re walking over what seems like absolutely nothing! It was a little unsettling for me. While I enjoyed seeing Devil’s Throat from the Argentina side, the proximity to the power of the falls and the height of the viewpoint gave me some anxiety – I got my pictures and videos and then got out of there! It really was cool though, if you can get past the scary part. The sheer volume of water coming down is unbelievable!
We did see some wildlife on the Argentina side, including a number of coatis (they look like a cross between a raccoon and an anteater!), which gravitated towards the snack shops hoping people would give them a treat. You’re not supposed to feed them, but I bet people do all the time – there were so many of them! In addition to seeing a different view of Devil’s Throat, I loved seeing the Dos Hermanas waterfalls and the closer panoramic views of the Adam & Eve, San Martin and other waterfalls on that side. We only did the Devil’s Throat and Lower Circuit at the National Park on the Argentina side, but there’s also an Upper Circuit path that takes you above all of the aforementioned falls. Our guide told us we’d already seen the best of what the park had to offer – the Upper Circuit is just seeing the falls from above, since there aren’t really any falls to see when looking at the Brazil side. We were at the National Park from about 8am til about noon and walked 10,000 steps in that time! Again, the walks aren’t that challenging, it’s just a lot of time on your feet.
THE BOAT TOUR
Another activity the hotel set up for us was a private boat tour! This tour gave us the opportunity to see the falls from below, which was so much fun. The photos below are from the GoPro the company uses to take photos of tour groups, although I do have to say I really regret not taking my phone in a Ziplock or something, because the views were spectacular and the GoPro didn’t capture it accurately at all. I didn’t take my phone, because at the end of the tour you get absolutely drenched when they drive you under a set of the waterfalls! But I doubled up on ponchos and managed to stay pretty dry underneath, so I definitely could have taken my phone (in a Ziplock to be safe)! If you’re scared of speedboats, this may not be a good activity for you – they drive really fast and had their fun doing donuts and quick spins throughout the journey. I’m not an adrenaline junkie and am quite the control freak, so that wasn’t my fave! But we had a great time and got a few funny videos and photos out of it! We also saw some capybaras up close, which was SO cool – they are so freaking cute!!!
HOTEL DAS CATARATAS – THE BELMOND HOTEL
Aside from visiting the waterfalls, there’s not much else to do in the area, so staying at a good hotel made *all* the difference in how amazing our trip was!!! My mom and I both absolutely loved our experience at Hotel Das Cataratas. Any time we weren’t doing something Iguazu Falls related, we set up shop at the hotel pool. As I mentioned at the top of the post, the weather made all the difference in our experience not only at the falls themselves, but also at the hotel. Being able to hang out and have lunch by the pool everyday was such a treat! The food was fantastic and the service was some of the best I’ve ever experienced at any hotel. That also goes for the front desk, concierge and the tour guides the hotel set us up with! It was all so well executed and everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming.
We were in a beautiful suite that had a stunning view of the falls directly out our bedroom window! That was such a lovely detail to wake up to in the morning. Upon arrival we were greeted with a local drink, as well as a bottle of champagne and the most delicious sugared and toasted coconut chips in our room! We really enjoyed the breakfast buffet, which featured everything from the most delectable tropical fruits, to fresh baked breads and pastries, to your typical eggs, bacon and pancakes. We dined in that same restaurant for dinner one night and didn’t love the dinner buffet as much – it just wasn’t the best. We preferred our two dinners at the fine dining restaurant on the property, called Itaipu! The menu was diverse and delicious, and the service was on point. The food by the pool was also really, really good – I loved the salmon poke bowl so much I got it two days in a row, and the shrimp skewers were another yummy, light option. I tried the cheeseburger on the last day and it wasn’t great, so I’d avoid that!