A gringo at Iguaçu Falls

brasilobserver - Nov 25 2015

(Leia em Português)


Shaun Alexander Cumming recently visited Iguaçu Falls, but his trip led to many more surprises which he says makes the area a must see for anyone touring Brazil…


Foz do Iguaçu. What can I say? I’ll skip to the point. It was one of the most amazing travel adventures I’ve ever been on.

You’ve probably seen photos of the famous Iguaçu Falls. Trust me when I say, they do not do justice to the awesome force of nature that presents itself before your real eyes. If you’re thinking about making a trip to Foz do Iguaçu in future, allow me to share a few things that may help persuade you further.

As I’ve learned, the area around the city of Foz do Iguaçu offers a lot of different things. Of course, the waterfalls – which are the second largest in the world after Africa’s Victoria Falls – are the main attraction, but there is a lot more to see.



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Landing on the plane gave the first spectacular view of the area. Marielle (my wife) and I were met at our Hostel by Cyntia Braga, a local journalist and tour guide, who also happens to own the Hostel we were staying at, which is called Concept Design Hostel, located close to Foz do Iguaçu’s city centre.

We jumped in the car and drove off to learn about the dam, its construction and what it means in terms of energy production. The dam wall is an engineering marvel: frighteningly big; powerful; and ingenious. Completed in 1982, the dam produces 90% of Paraguay’s electricity, and 25% of Brazil’s. What struck me was how green everything was and how full the reservoir seemed to be. Where I live in Brazil (Espírito Santo) and, not forgetting São Paulo, there is a serious water crisis. With the national drought affecting so much about life in Brazil, one statistic about the Itaipu dam seemed incredible: it holds 4,000 litres of water for every single person in the world. Think about that for a second. This surely means that Brazil’s water crisis is not without solution.

In the evening, Cyntia took us on a ride of the Kattamaram, which is a double-hulled floating restaurant that goes out into the middle of the dam. I didn’t eat anything aboard as I was there to watch the famous sunset over the dam. It was probably one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen. We arrived back later that night where Cynthia showed us around the amazing hostel. We took some time to relax and enjoy the pool and bar before returning to our suites.



We woke up early the next day ready for an adventure. Rogerio, our driver and tour guide who knows a lot about the area and its wildlife, drove us into the Iguaçu National Park for the first time. He knows a lot about the local wildlife and had recently seen a jaguar crossing the very road we were driving on. Nature is something I am particularly interested in, so was delighted when Cyntia told us we would be hiking through the park.

The Atlantic Rainforest is a mere pinprick of what it once was, but at Foz do Iguacu some 6,000 hectares are protected and have been restored. We joined a hiking trail with one of the park’s guides, who took us on foot through 10km of the densest part of the forest. We were given the choice of foot, bike or electric car. We preferred to stay on foot, thinking it would probably mean we’d see more.

The trail was immediately hot and sweaty. The sound of the forest was how I always imagined the Amazon must be. Millions of bugs of all different colours, shapes and sizes were swarming. Our guide, Renan, was explaining everything about our surroundings, from the species of trees and the fruits they produce to the animals that live on them. All the while I had my mind on one thing: the amazing animal species that also live in the forest, including three kinds of poisonous snakes, giant spiders and big cats.

“There are 18 onças-pintadas (jaguars) with electronic tags here, and they have cubs. There are between 18 and 30 of them living here,” Renan said. It would have been a dream – albeit, a scary one – to see one. Alas, it was not to be. However, a big cat called a jaguatirica did cross right in front of us. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough with the camera.

The trip ended with a boat tour of the islands on the Parana River, where we also saw a very large caiman crocodile that must have been about 5 or 6ft in length. We were offered a trip on the same river by kayak, but after seeing the large carnivore on the bank I was less enthusiastic. The fast boat whizzed around the islands. It was tremendous fun. It was also the first glimpse I got of Argentina, which was on the opposite side of the river.



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The jungle hike was something of a dream come true for me, but it was only part of the day’s story, because next on the agenda following lunch was the waterfalls. They have different names depending on what language you speak, from Cataratas do Iguaçu in Portuguese, Iguassu Falls in English or Cataratas del Iguazu in Spanish. However you call them, these are some of the most impressive falls in the world.

The Cataratas do Iguaçu are an icon and, indeed, are the second most popular tourist attraction in Brazil. We drove to the tourist centre and went for one of the most breathtaking walks I’ve ever done. From the top vantage point, we could see most of the falls in all their glory. But there were layers of viewing points, each with a different view.

We decided to climb down to the bottom platform, where a bridge leads you way out into the falls. Looking back towards Brazil at this location reveals the huge main curtain of water, which constantly threw a fine rain mist in our direction. Everyone on the bridge became drenched with water, which was quite enjoyable in the searing heat. Walking along the bridge as far as we could go takes you to the edge. Looking down was a mass of white water towards Argentina. It was spectacular and, one of those moments in life when, as a man, I’ve been absolutely humbled by nature.

We walked away from the falls flabbergasted at the incredible sound and sight of the falls, but the experience wasn’t over. We drove a couple of miles downstream, where an electric train was waiting to take us through the jungle and onto a high-powered motorboat. From here, it was time to go underneath the falls.

Just as well the boat had power – it needed it to blast up the immense flow of water. We were in a group of about 20 people on the boat, admiring the views, when the boat’s driver asked us if we fancied a quick shower. He motored directly under the falls. The air was immediately sucked from my lungs as we entered the falls. The power of water rushing down on top of us was an exhilarating, frightening and thrilling experience. The water felt icy cold as it thundered down our faces and into our shorts, soaking every last inch of our bodies – quite a contrast from the weather away from the falls, where the temperature was hitting 35. It was an amazing sensation and one that I’ll not soon forget.




The next day, we decided to see the falls from the Argentina side of border. The crossing to Puerto del Iguazu is quick and easy, with the drive to the falls equally short. The Argentina side is different. You walk over long footbridges that cross the river until you get to the very top of the falls at a spot called Devil’s Throat. It’s the most ferocious part of the falls by far, with masses of water sucked into a relatively small space.

The question over which side of the falls is best is hard to answer. In my opinion, the Argentinean side is more ferocious, but the views on the Brazilian side are far more beautiful. It’s worth experiencing both.

What really marked my experience in Argentina was the food. We ate incredible food during our stay on both sides of the border, marked mostly by meat. The churrasco in Brazil were incredible, especially considering the huge offering of other classic dishes such as feijoada.

One place stuck in my mind as the culinary champion. Cyntia took us to a restaurant in Argentina called El Quincho Del Tio Querido. I skipped everything here and ate only a slab of beef that the waiter recommended called bife de chorizo. It was literally an enormous chunk of cow, grilled and served medium rare in the way that Argentina is famous for. It was amazing. I ate this meat on its own, having no room for anything else. Honestly, it was the best meat I’ve ever had in my life.



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The final day of the trip involved a trip to Parque das Aves – a huge park that is home to thousands of mostly native birds. It would be a huge injustice to call Parque das Aves a zoo, because it’s so much more than that. Carmel and Oli, the two directors of the park who moved to Brazil from England to take over the family business a few years ago, explained that one of the main functions is to act as a bird hospital. Sick or injured birds are brought to the park – mainly following raids by police on animal traffickers – by authorities. Birds are mended and, those that can be reintroduced into the wild are. Those that are unable to go back into the wild are released into the enormous aviaries.

The park also helps with breeding programs for rare and endangered species. For example, they bred the first ever mutum-do-alagoas chick in October. We got a sneak peak of the baby bird, which is growing well. Since there are only 300 of these birds left and, none in the wild, it’s hoped that this breeding program could eventually lead to species reintroduction.

Parque das Aves was another amazing experience. We stood with swooping macaws and, my favourite experience was receiving a hug from a toucan. If you love toucans like I do, you’ll be glad to know the park has the largest number of them in the world and they’re very friendly. I have huge respect for what they’ve achieved at Parque das Aves. I’m not keen on zoos, but this is anything but a zoo – more of a sanctuary for birds, run by people who treat the animals with the same love and respect as if they were their children.

Fitting all of my experiences at Foz do Iguaçu into one report is hard. What I’ve tried to do here is give you a flavour, but what I’ll also do is cover each of the things I did during the trip in detailed individual blogs and video blogs, which you’ll be able to see here at the Brasil Observer website.

Furthermore, while only a handful of photos can possibly fit on these pages, you can see many more on my Instagram account at @shaunalex.