The Rio Iguaçu’s source is in the coastal mountains near Curitiba. Fed by tributaries, the river winds west for 1,200 kilometers (746 miles), growing wider and increasing in force until it plunges dramatically in the multiple cascades that make up the Iguaçu (Tupi-Guarani for “Great River”) Falls. To be treated to their full effect, you really need to see them from both the Brazilian and Argentinean sides.
If you can, try to visit the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu in the early morning—the heat is not yet in full force (nor are the packs of tourists) and the light is ideal for photographs. For similar reasons, the best time to visit the Parque Nacional Iguazú is in the late afternoon.
In theory, you can take organized excursions that will allow you to visit one side in the morning and the other in the afternoon (you need at least half a day to explore each). However, in reality, two days are required to visit the many sights and experience the falls from multiple vantage points.
Remember to come armed with raingear and waterproof bags for cameras—the (cold) spray from the falls can leave you drenched, and the aftermath (in an air-conditioned bus) can be unpleasant.
Aside from the falls, the other major natural attraction is the surrounding dense green rainforest. Protected by the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu (in Brazil) and Parque Nacional Iguazú (in Argentina), most of the forest is off-limits to visitors. However, even the trails leading to the falls allow you to experience this unique ecosystem whose lushness extends from the giant ferns covering the forest floor to the treetop canopies festooned with Tarzan-like vines and wild orchids.
Among the wildlife you might encounter are brightly colored parrots, toucans, and hummingbirds, monkeys, deer, sloths, anteaters, armadillos, and caimans. Insect lovers will be enchanted by iridescent spiders, giant ants carrying bright leaves on their backs, and over 250 types of butterflies.
When hiking through the forest, make sure to bring sunscreen, insect repellent, and water. Most larger animals (including the rarely sighted jaguar) are nocturnal and tend to be shy—your best shot at glimpsing them is in the early morning hours.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition