Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Written by Toby Cowling
The long and punishing journey to Iguazu
Saving a night of accommodation in Uruguay is a great money saver but definitely not for everyone. I took the last bus leaving Punto del Diablo (474pesos / $22) departing at 8.45pm and arriving into Montevideo around 1am. A lot of ticket offices were still open, so I bought my ticket departing at 6.30am going to Salto (806 pesos / $38) on the border with Argentina. This was then a 5 hour stopover at the bus station and to be honest it was a fairly safe place even with the annoying security guards. It was tough to find a working electrical outlet, but eventually I got one near some phones at the furthest end of the terminal. It was quiet enough and no one around. It took about 1 hour until a security guard told me to move to the seating area because the cleaners wanted to clean the floor. Blog writing was actively underway and laptop charged up, so I continued on the seats. About 2 hours later we were told to move to the other seating area so the cleaners could clean this area. Nice way to stay awake I suppose. When it was near to 5am I decided to try get back to my original charging point and was successful for 15 minutes. At this point a different security guy was telling me I couldn’t sit on the floor and I should go to the seating area. I played my token white guy “hablo poco espanol” (I speak very little Spanish). I told him my bus left in an hour and I would soon be gone. He gave up quickly and I maintained my quiet charging position.
On the bus to Salto and I caught a few hours sleep. We didn’t arrive into Salto until just on 1pm and I knew I needed to connect to Concordia in Argentina. The next bus would leave at 3pm (119 pesos / $5.60). Everything worked to plan, with the border quiet and quick.
With the 1 hour time change I would arrive into Concordia around 3pm expecting to be able to buy my ticket to Iguazu. No such luck. This was siesta time of course and the office wouldn’t open until 5pm. This would actually end up being around 5.20pm. The joys of a relaxed and laid back lifestyle I suppose. I got on an Expreso Singer bus (not a sewing machine) for 510 pesos ($40) in a semi cama bus for the 12 hour overnight drive. There were big storms in the area and the bus was over an hour late in arriving. We would arrive nearly 2 hours late in Puerto Iguazu, but no problem, it was only 9am. For some reason we had no breakfast served on the bus. Not a big deal, but maybe worth asking if it’s included on your bus.
You want to know how much it costs?
It can be done for $150 per person return to Buenos Aires
Remember, I’m an accountant and I love numbers. There’s 100 ways of doing this, but using Blue Dollars (at 13 pesos to $1), a return bus (2 overnights) to Buenos Aires and 1 night in Puerto Iguazu not including food, it’s under US$150 per person. I kept reading online about people complaining of crazy costs and $500 per person, but it’s all about how you do it. An optional boat trip will add $20 per person. That’s even on the comfortable Cama bus, you could save $20 by going on a semi cama bus. See the image below for an idea on costs. I even split it by the current official rate of about 8.5 pesos to $1 versus blue rate of 13 pesos to $1. It really doesn’t cost that much unless you want expensive hotels, expensive meals, expensive flights. If you take an overnight bus each way you save accommodation each way. Plus you’ll get some food and drinks along the way and some time to catch up on some TV shows or movies.
As soon as you pay for anything on a card (credit or debit) you’re paying the official rate. I met some travellers who pre-bought their bus travel online, I just can’t understand why. They paid the official local rate of 8.5 pesos and missed the discount of 20-30% for paying cash. My one way bus cost 510 pesos / $40; their bus would have been about double at around $80. Each to their own, but don’t complain about expense if you’re not willing to be smart about how you do things.
Another thing I’d read is people complaining about Puerto Iguazu. Some people really do lead sheltered lives. It’s a perfectly fine and normal town for this area of the world. The streets are clean and it’s probably above average in standards for Latin America as an overall package. Sure you can go stay at the Sheraton next to the falls for US$310 per night (current cheapest rate online), but why support a big global company when you can put some money into local businesses instead?
I stayed at Hostel Park Iguazu (111 Paulino Amarante) at about 5 minutes walk from the bus station for 80 pesos ($6.25) in a 4 bed air conditioned dorm with private bathroom. It was small, but you’re not here to stay in a room. The place even has a swimming pool and the breakfast was simple but nice.
Argentina side of Iguazu Falls
First up, it is definitely worth the effort of trying to get here and see it. You could really get this done in a day and not even stay overnight in Iguazu. I don’t recommend it though as you’ll be exhausted after it all. I chose to stay at the hostel on my first day due to the weather forecast. It seemed like the right thing as people said it rained quite a bit at the falls that day and my day was perfect with blue skies. I then did all day at the falls and overnighted to Buenos Aires.
The shuttle bus operates from the Bus Terminal in town and makes many stops through town. It starts at 7am and leaves every 20 minutes, though this schedule is not exact. They increase frequency at peak times from what I could tell. The cost as at November 2014 is 80 pesos ($6.25) return. Inflation will progressively increase this cost.
The park is open 8am to 6pm (closing time changes summer to winter by 1 hour). Getting in early is strongly suggested. Most organised tours are ravaging the park by 10am. The entry price is 215 pesos ($17) and is a little steep considering 2 major attractions are closed. The Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil) has been closed since flooding in April 2014. San Martin Island was closed due to high water levels and is seasonal.
I got really lucky and met a couple of Israeli guys in the hostel who shared their ticket with me. Your second day at the falls (I don’t know why you need two days) is half the price. So it’s only 107.50 pesos ($8.50). Perhaps a little bit unethical, but considering the closures, I didn’t lose any sleep over it.
I went straight to the Macuco trail just right of the train station. This was very quiet since it was early in the day. It’s a 3km trail through the forest to a waterfall. I bumped into some bird watchers who somehow found a Toucan way up in the top of the canopy. I struggled to snap one good photo.
The hike was shady and a little muddy from the rain. The falls have a lookout from the top and reminded me a lot of our end of the world waterfalls in Mocha, Colombia though about 100 times safer. The view from the bottom of the falls is equally impressive and popular to swim in if you wish. I wasn’t so keen on this and just got back on the trail to the main falls as the weather was looking really good.
There’s a free train that shuttles you from near the entrance to an area closer to the falls where the trails start. Not a bad system, but lines can be long at peak times and waiting is boring and hot in the blasting sun.
Word of warning about the Coaties
These are serious little bastards! They look all cute, but if there’s food around, be incredibly careful. The warning sign is fairly graphic as you can see. I sat down for a lunch snack in a place where there were none visible. It took 3 minutes for a single Coatie to jump on the seat from behind me and less than a couple of seconds for it to attack and grab a bag of bread rolls and run away. There goes lunch.
Lower Trail at main falls (Paseo Inferior)
I went straight for the lower trail as it is meant to have the best views and the blue skies were out. Since I’d done the previous trail, it was now about 10am and as I said, the tour groups were here. Not fun at all trying to get around slow moving and annoying groups.
There are multiple other falls to see along the way, all worth a minute to stop and take a photo.
It’s only about 15 minutes of walking until you reach the money shot of the falls along with everyone else in the known planet. I asked a few different tourists to take photos, but the results were less than impressive. I was begging for Rodora to be with me right then and there.
You then keep traversing across and the view of the falls continues to get better.
The trail ends at a bottleneck with some wide falls. This seemed like the most popular place all day as you can see with the crowds of tour groups. I didn’t go all the way to the end as you get covered in water, not good for non-waterproofed electronics. This again seemed like a very popular thing to do.
Adventure boat trip (Aventura Nautica)
This is one of the optional trips I discussed earlier. The cost is 270 pesos ($21) for about 15 minutes of your life.
Warning – You will get very wet
I have to emphasise this fact a huge amount, you will get very wet doing this. Do not wear anything you want to get wet. This includes shoes, socks, pants or t-shirts. Your best option is to wear your swimwear and change back into normal clothes. I wore waterproof pants but my shorts underneath still got totally soaked.
The entry point is very near to the ending point of the lower trail. Pay your money and walk down the stairs towards the floating dock. You will be given a hefty life jacket and a green waterproof bag. I left my main day pack with one of the ticket collectors as it wouldn’t fit in the green bag. Then it was time to get on the boat.
Once on the boat, the first few minutes are dry and photo taking opportunities.
Then we were given the warning to put away anything we didn’t want to get wet. We drove around to one side of the falls and got totally soaked.
We went in and out a few times to ensure we got as wet as possible. We then back towards the dock and then around to the other side where I was able to get a video with my phone in a waterproof case. A little cloudy on the image because of the case, but you get the idea.
We went in and out of this waterfall a couple of times, each time the crew asking if we wanted more. Of course we wanted more. In the end it was about 6 times in and out. As you can see from the video, it’s like a nightmare shower in there. So much water gushing at you from every direction. The whole boat was really into it and having a great time. What’s not to love? It was awesome!
So I was totally soaked, but my camera survived and the sun was out so I could dry out a little.
Upper Trail (Paseo Superior)
With the lower trail finished, it was time to venture onto the upper trail. This takes you across the top of the falls you’ve been looking at all morning. The initial views are really nice and offer a more holistic panorama.
You then get up close to where some of the bigger falls come over. The volume of water is truly enormous. With the sun out and shining there were rainbows forming allowing for some nice photos.
With the adventure over and about 5 hours in the park, I was done and thinking of ice cream back in town.
Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls
I didn’t do this because as an Australian I had to pre-arrange a tourist visa at a Brazilian Consulate and pay a fee. This currently seems to be around $50, but I was thinking it was around $180. To be fair it costs Brazilians AUD$130 to get a tourist visa to travel in Australia.
Based on others in the hostel they took an 8.30am bus to the Brazil side. There’s a +1 hour time change crossing the border. Apparently allow about 1 hour to get across with immigration and so forth. You then pay a new park entrance fee and then go on the walkway which is fairly short. Ideally you could cover it in under an hour or two. Then you get on a return bus to Puerto Iguazu. It was popular to spend most of the day doing this, why not, you made the effort.
Onwards to Buenos Aires
I splurged a little on the bus back to Buenos Aires, it was 765 pesos ($58) for a cama with Crucero del Norte leaving at 7pm and scheduled to arrive at 12.45pm the next day. It was fairly comfortable and they include a pillow and blanket for sleeping. The best part was getting served a welcome onboard Whiskey. The meal was a tasty hot chicken pasta with sides and a beer. They even offered a nightcap of champagne.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/