The short flight from Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguacu is a breeze! Settling into our hotel, I am raring to take off immediately for the world famous Iguacu Falls, but common sense prevails – tomorrow being soon enough to witness one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. But within minutes, like race horses out the gate, we are exploring our hood in Foz do Iguacu (Portuguese for Mouth of Iguacu). This city of about 265,000 in Parana State is on the Brazilian side of Iguacu Falls (Cataratas do Iguacu), with the cities of Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian side and Ciudad del Este accessing the falls from Paraguay.
Up the next morning with the Great Dusky Swifts (birds that often nest behind the falls), we board local bus #120 to Parque Nacional do Iguacu. Armed with a Visitor’s Center map of the expansive park, we catch a shuttle to “The Path of the Falls”, and begin our walk along a 1,200 metre trail with an overview of the falls.
Our Foz do Iguacu Photos
The scope of the falls is sense-shattering! Iguacu means “big water” in the Tupi-Guarani tribal language, and one cannot dispute this nomenclature! Volcanic eruptions eons ago left a mammoth crack, thus dividing the Iguacu River into upper and lower levels. These waterfalls straddle the border between Brazil and Argentina, plunging and crashing and dividing into 275 different falls!
The mist is hot and steamy along the trail. I eventually don my disposable rain cape, but Rick braves the vapours with soaked dignity. To our non-falls side is a jungle of foliage rife with wildlife. I watch a 20-ish fellow pull a chocolate bar out of his backpack and hope the scent doesn’t stir a Quatis into action. Guess he missed the warning signage of food prompting an attack by these raccoon-like critters.
The thunderous sound of roiling water intensifies with each step. Mother Nature’s grand finale comes into view; the deafening thrashing spectacle of Devil’s Throat (Garganta do Diablo)! Our mouths gape in awe; it is like a zillion giant taps cranked to full force! In numerical terms, the U-shaped Devil’s Throat is the fall’s longest drop – equal to a twenty-four storey building or 82m (269ft), is 150m wide and 700m long (492 x 2,297 ft).
I glance at Rick and shout, “Well, here goes!” He follows me onto the walkway extending along the face of Devil’s Throat. Walking through the wall of vapour adds a phantom-like quality. We fight for balance against the sudden voluminous sheets of water hurled across the boardwalk – each wallop leaves us giddy and breathless. Tromping along in water-logged shoes, Rick’s clothes plastered to his body, rivets of water finding ways to penetrate my plastic cape, we work our way out to the furthest point and back – a wild experience worth every tumultuous moment!
After a much appreciated coffee and snack at one of the park’s cafes, it is back to the Visitor’s Center to load up on some amazing facts about Iguacu National Park’s ecosystem. Within the stunning flora/fauna biodiversity, many species are on the endangered list, such as the jaguar and puma. It was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, sharing with Iguazu National Park in Argentina a protected area of over 600,000 hectares; the countries jointly responsible for its preservation.
Back in Foz do Iguacu, a City Tour peaks our interest. With Oziel at the wheel, and Andre, a well-spoken guide who flips between Portuguese, Spanish and English with informative tidbits and humorous quips, we know we are in for a good time.
We breeze down Brazil Avenue’s numerous shops. Near the street end Andre points out the Military area, which he says, “commands100 hectares in the city centre”. Grinning he adds, “The army, sent here in the early 1900’s to start a military base, were supposed to set up the camp 4km from the Paraguay border, but they made a mistake and set it up 13km away – so the city really started in wrong spot.”
“The city was officially created June 10, 1914, by the first Mayor, Jorge Schimmelpfeng” Andre continues, “and the street we have turned onto is named after him, but if asking direction locals have dubbed it with a similar designation, “McD Street”, being that there is only one McDonalds in Foz”.
Along our route Andre draws our attention to the city’s oldest church, St. John Baptist. “You might say this church was plagued with roof problems,” he says. “The first church built on this spot in 1923 burnt down when the roof caught on fire from a fireworks display; in the replacement church the bell on top was too heavy and the roof collapsed.”
We learn that the brown building on a corner is City Hall, next to what was once the Casino Hotel, the first 5-star.The President of Brazil stayed here in 1955 when he signed the treaty for peace between the three border-sharing countries.
Our next stop is the Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Mosque, built in 1983. Andre says, “Foz has the biggest Islamic community in Brazil. About 25,000 Muslims came from Lebanon and Syria in 1975 to work for the hydro- electric project on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Each of the 28 turbines supplies electricity for 2 million people; half the hydro belongs to Brazil and half to Paraguay….but, with the population of the latter being only 7 million, Brazil buys back what is not needed in Paraguay.
And what a feat of engineering Itaipu Dam is! Using the Parana River as its source of energy, this hydroelectric dam is considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers to be such an amazing achievement that they listed it as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Itaipu Dam generated 94,684 megawatts in 2008 – the most power ever produced by a single dam! Another perspective to understand its capacity; it generates six times as much power as the Hoover Dam in the US, and is 10 times as heavy and 18 times the size.
A most important monuments is next….OR NOT! Andre points to an area closed to traffic, saying, “This area known as “The Landmark of the Three Frontiers” is undergoing major upgrades and is therefore not accessible.” All we can do is a “assim é a vida” (that’s life) shoulder shrug, knowing somewhere behind the construction barriers are the three stone obelisks raised in 1903 to commemorate the ties between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Andre shares, “The obelisks are painted in each countries national colours – Brazil (yellow and green), Argentina (blue and white), Paraguay (red, white, blue); they stand near the meeting point of the three countries and near where the two rivers, the Parana and Iguacu converge.”
We do, however, drive over the Tancredo Neves Bridge, better known as the Fraternity Bridge between Brazil and Argentina on the Iguacu River, and it’s interesting that the painted concrete edge along the bridge changes mid-way to flaunt each of the countries national colours.
Our last tour stop is the Buddhist Temple Complex, built by the Chinese on a section of their large soya bean farm. “Soya beans are now the main export from the Foz area, tourism being second place in the economy,” says Andre. We walk among the 120 bodhisattva statues (those working towards Enlightenment), their hands extended forward in a gesture of welcome, and leading up to a 7ft seven-metre-high sitting Buddha.
Over a late breakfast on our last full day in Foz, I suggest, “Why not pop over to Paraguay for lunch?” An hour later we hail a taxi for Ciudad del Este. We are aware of its reputation of being a hectic but exciting center for contraband and cheap electronic goods. Maria, our taxi driver speaks no English, but our request is a common one by visitors, and she nods at our request to be dropped off at McDonalds, which is a landmark in the shopping area.
Our cabbie barrels over the Friendship Bridge spanning the Parana River. With a flash of her Taxi credentials at Paraguay customs, we are in without even showing our passports. “How easy was that!” Rick spouts. Within minutes we are part of a crazed scene of vehicles maneuvering between jay-walkers criss-crossing with purchases in hand…and YES, golden arches are protruding from the roof of “Shopping Vendôme” which brags of being “o mundo em suas maos em 500 lojas” (the world in your hands in 500 stores). We agreed to meet up with our driver in two hours…and away we go – first order-of- business are teen burgers and fries.
Wearing off every last calorie is a cinch once we start through this shopping center covering a city block, then venture into the maze of streets surrounding it, sided by stores of every description. Street vendor huts extend along the sidewalks, some jutting out so far their merchandise flutters in the breeze of passing vehicles. The luckiest make-shift shops are on streets closed-off to traffic, where we shuffle along steered by the crowds.
Maria is leaning up against her cab at the designated spot, and she swifts us back to the Brazil side. After all the hubbub, Rick and I opt for a quiet in-room supper and a good night’s sleep before flying back to Sao Paulo the next day.
Our stay in Foz and dip into Paraguay was great fun, but foremost and most incredibly – we felt the cooling spray of the spectacular Iguacu Falls on our faces and our bucket list gets another check mark!
Noteworthy info re: visiting Argentinian side of falls from Brazil side:
Since Dec 2009, passport holders from Canada, USA, and Australia are required to pay a Reciprocity fee to the Argentina government for entry, which if you are just going over for a half-day to see the falls adds a hefty amount to your visit (In US funds, and rates subject to change: $160 for USA citizens, $75 for Austrians, $100 for Canadians (one entry)/$150US for Canadians (multiple-entries)….and why we did not go!