“Argentina has the waterfalls but Brazil has the balcony”. Choosing a gateway to see Iguazu Falls in Paraguay/Brazil/Argentina

  Wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, who visited South America, the fact that Iguazu Falls are clearly the most known waterfalls on this continent. Going even further, one of the most impressive in the rest of the world, as they can easily and proudly be competitive with Niagara Falls. Having seen “Latino” one, I can confidently say that Iguazu stand out and outshine as way more incredible. They are taller than Canadian one, twice as wide, and are one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, with the area around marked as the UNESCO World Heritage. Iguazu Falls (Portuguese: Cataratas do Iguaçu, Spanish: Cataratas del Iguazú, Tupi: Y Ûasu “big water”) are situated near the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Water falls of the Iguazu River that rises near the city of Curitiba, on the border of the Argentinian province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. The river, for most of its course, flows through Brazil, however, most of the falls are on the Argentinian  side. They creates a natural water border between these countries, and they are the largest waterfalls system in the world (275 waterfalls). The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. Below its confluence with the San Antonio River, that forms the boundary between Argentina and Brazil. Falls are set among National Parks, which consist of subtropical rain-forests, that are home to hundreds of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna.

  The falls are very well known for every backpacker traveling through the continent or just around Brazil, Argentina or Paraguay, marking a very important dot on their map. There are two most popular gateways to see these magnificent, violent and impressively big waters. First one is a Brazilian city called Foz do Iguaçu. Second, Argentinian town  named Puerto Iguazú. Close by Ciudad del Este, in Paraguay, that is separated from Brazilian town just by the bridge, named Puente de la Amistad (Friendship Bridge), creates also an easy way to reach our destination. I have seen all three of them, so If you’re in a rush and can pick just one the location, you may want to have a look at some comparisons below. I will also write briefly about Argentinian and Brazilian side of the waterfalls to help you pick one, if you can not see both side which, in my opinion, is ideal, but not always a case for everyone.

Iguazu falls from Brazilian side

  • Three possible sided to experience the falls: from the top, from the bottom (Devil’s Throat, please take a waterproof jacket!) and by boat.
  • You can book a helicopter ride (only available on the Brazilian side) that cost around 100$.
  • This side offers a bus service connecting the falls with other activities. That service runs from the entrance to the end of the park every 10 minutes in both directions.
  • You’ll get to see the entire panorama of cascades, and this view cannot be duplicated on the Argentinian side.
  • Better Viewpoints, but really only a couple different of them.
  • Really cool bird park just outside the gates of the Brazilian National Park entrance.
  • As of a smaller area of the park, can be done in half of the day.
  • Entrance ticket is cheaper.

Iguazu falls from Argentinian side

  • Iguazú National Park is much bigger than its Brazilian counterpart, with more trails to walk along, and some that lead you right into the open water. You’ll need at least a full day (or two) to see it all and walk all of its trails.
  • Boat trips available too.
  • The Garganta del Diablo, bridge above the falls, literally swallows you up as you walk towards the end. It is probably the most impressive viewpoint where you appreciate the absolute power of the falls. The bridge extends all the way to the edge of the falls, as tons of water plunge aggressively into the far distance.
  • Available zip line.
  • You can get right on top of the waterfall, not exactly possible on Brazilian side.
  • On the Argentinian side of the park, there’s a small train leaving about every half an hour from near the entrance, going all the way to the beginning of the trail to the Garganta del Diablo.
  • There are many more options on the Argentinian side, and that is the side where you would want to spend more time.
  • 20% falling on the Brazilian side and an impressive 80% in Argentina

The biggest difference, in my opinion, between Argentina and Brazil was that in Argentina you can see falls from right of the top, giving you the impression of standing on them. In Brazil, however, you have the impression of standing kind of under the waterfalls. Two totally different thing that are possible only on each side. Very difficult to compare.

Foz do Iguaçu (city in Brazil)

Pluses

  • Foz do Iguaçu is a city, and that gives you the opportunity to stuck up on anything you may be missing.
  • The prices around are not to high, and probably close by Ciudad del Este participate in this fact too.
  • There are few big discount shops around for a budget backpackers. Cheap street food stand can be easily found all around.
  • Bus, that goes to the falls, is located in the city center, very close to the bus station.
  • Zoo to visit.
  • More hotels, restaurants and other amenities.
  • Not as touristic as Puerto Iguazú.

Minuses

  • Foz do Iguaçu is probably the worst city, I have stayed in while traveling around South America.
  • Main bus station, that connect cities, is located far away from the center, which makes it difficult to just walk to your accommodation
  • Not many things to do around.
  • Not the friendliest people, I have met.

Puerto Iguazú (town in Argentina)

Pluses

  • Pleasant, safe, quiet and cute little town, so It is easy to find your way around.
  • Closest to Argentinian side of the falls.
  • Loads of travelers around to meet.
  • People seems more friendly than on Brazilian side.

Minuses

  • Very expensive prices, as generally in Argentina.
  • Not many cash machines around, and some do not accept your cards.
  • Nothing really to do in the town.
  • Expensive restaurants, set for tourists.

Ciudad del Este (city in Paraguay)

Pluses

  • Very cheap to stay in, eat out, everything really.
  • Easy access to Foz do Iguaçu, just by crossing the bridge from where you can catch a bus to the falls.
  • Very crowded streets, full of trading locals which give you the opportunity to discover the daily life and environment around people live in.
  • Experiencing amazing, very lively vibrant city, a bit of a smuggling one, with busy streets packed with loads of stands. Well known for its cheap electronics equipment.
  • Markets rich of fruits and vegetables at very low prices.
  • Loads of cheap street food stands where you can grab a lunch for as little as 1$.
  • Extremely cheap accommodation.
  • Atmosphere on the streets.
  • Least touristic one on our list.
  • Very friendly people, very chatty, helpful, easy to interact with, more open to travelers.
  • Definitely one of my favorite places in South America.

Minuses

  • The only minus, I found, is an extra time you need to get to Foz de Iguazu to catch a bus to the falls. Having said that, you can get a taxi at a very cheap price to take you to the bus stop in Brazil.

Verdict

Of course, I will leave the choice to you. However, if I had to visit it not having much time, I would stop in Paraguay (Ciudad del Este), and from there I would travel to the Argentinian side to see it. For whats it worth, whatever side you will pick, you will be blown away by the magnificent diverse nature of the area and the beauty of this violently falling waters anyway.

Buenos Aires-Uruguay by ferry

  It would be a crime not to pop in to any of Uruguayan city or town while in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Especially if you will fallow my way of thinking: “common Anna, you may not have this occasion in your life again”. Visiting close by Uruguay is well easy and well possible, but that of course if you have some spare time. There are few options of transportation getting there from Buenos Aires. Apart from the bus, that can take you everywhere in South America, you can fly (very expensive and a bit pointless) or just take a ferry. Here, we will look in to the last mentioned option, simply because I used it for my one day trip to Uruguay, to Colonia del Sacramento specifically. Ferry, apart from being nice option for a trip, can be a great way to move to your next location while backpacking South America. I guess, buses are the cheapest option, and there is loads of info about timetable and prices online, so I will just concentrate on the water-path. The ship, as a way quicker option than bus, can be also a great break from bus traveling, as if you are backpacking, like I did, you will be spending loads of time in them, I mean looooads.

  So basically, you can choose between two kind of trips (places) you can reach by ferry. First one will take you all the way to Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, second to Colonia del Sacramento, a cute, quiet and small colonial town by the cost. As stated before, I took a trip to Colonia, but definitely would pick Montevideo over now. You can also see both, if you have time of course, as from Colonia you can catch a bus to capital that takes 3 hours of journey. Please note that these companies do operates between other towns and cities, but Montevideo and Colonia is the only touristic one, that’s why I am not mentioning other places here.

Companies, service and routes

  The Buenos Aires – Montevideo or Colonia del Sacramento ferry route is currently operated by 3 companies. The Buquebus service runs up to 13 times per week, while the Colonia Express service runs up to 3 times per day. The Seacat company is the third option to choose from.

Buquebus provides two services to Colonia del Sacramento – one faster and more expensive and the other is slower and therefore cheaper. The faster Buquebus catamaran ferry (1h15mins) is usually quite crowded with day tourists and travel groups.IMG_2588 Cheaper prices are well possible to find when booking in advance and online. The fast boats have a free wireless internet. The slower boat takes about 3 hours, and it is the one I took. However, checking now the web page, I can no longer find this service. Shame, I really loved my 3 hours on the endless sea. Both kind of boats have a restaurant, cafe and an off duty shops. Buenos Aires to Montevideo service takes 2h15mins and arrives at the Ciudad Vieja district of Montevideo, situated very close to downtown. Terminal (dock) is located at Antártida Argentina 821, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires (same for Seacat).

Colonia Express  takes roughly 1h to reach Colonia and 3h45mins to reach Montevideo. There is no wifi provided but there is a duty-free shop and a small bar selling snacks and coffees. Terminal (dock) is located at Av. Elvira Rawson de Dellepiane 155, Puerto Madero Sur, Buenos Aires.

Seacat ferry to Montevideo takes 4h15mins, to Colonia is 1h. Termina is located at Antártida Argentina 821, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires (same for Buquebus).

Prices as of July 2017

Busquebus (webside here) is the most expensive and offers ticket one way economy class to Montevideo from 93$. However, return ticket starts at 43$ (can’t believe I picked this company!). Day trip to Colonia cost around 80$ (same day return) economy class fast 1h15min boat, which doesn’t seems like a great discount, as a single journey starts from 47$.

Colonia Express (website here) offers a day trips (with return the same day) to Colonia that cost from 70$ (the cheapest) up to 115 $, depending on time and day. One way to Colonia cost around 38$ in the cheapest economy class. To Montevideo one way ticket cost around 45$ in the cheapest economy class.

Seacat (webside here) day trip to Colonia (return the same day) ferry cost from 75$ (economy), and it seem to be a steady price. Buenos Aires-Montevideo cost 43$ for one way cheapest economy class.

Buying a ticket

  It is not necessary to pre-book your ticket online, but it can save you some money, and it is a good idea during a holiday when loads of people travel on this route. Buying in advance can also save you some stress, as there might be a long queue to get a ticket just before the departure. As mentioned, you can purchase your ticket online, thought the web page for Busquebus is very poorly designed, with a very misleading currencies in dollars. However, if you are not in Buenos Aires, it is best to book and buy online before the departure. My hostel was very close to the Busquebus terminal, so I just walked there, and I bought a ticket at the agent located inside. I can’t say stuff speaks well English, but we closed the deal without any major hassle. You can pay by cash or card, and as far as I remember, I purchased a day return the cheapest option to Colonia (3h of journey each way) and I paid around 70-80$ in total (December 2015).

Remember to check-in

  Please do keep in your mind that this is an international journey that required you to check-in at the doc with your passport and bag, if you have one. Same as at the airport, you will have to get in a queue lane towards your check-in desk. You should also be at the terminal at least an hour and a half before the departure for immigration purposes etc. Your passport will be checked, but you will get stamped after check-in, but before waiting area. I can’t remember seeing off duty shops there, but they are at the ferry, with a very good prices, especially for cosmetics. Liquor is also available to purchase.

Time change

  Please do keep in you mind that a time difference between Uruguay and Argentina, with Uruguay being ahead, is one hour. Important to know the proper return departure time. I wasn`t aware of it, and I arrived at the dock an hour ahead, when I coud enjoy the Colonial old town longer.

Last tips

  • Argentinian pesos are widely used in Colonia. I paid in the restaurant by them for my bill.
  • Very cute touristic old town in Colonia, by the cost, is easily accessible just on food, so no need to take a taxi.
  • For a budget backpacker is better to get your own food and take with, as restaurants in Uruguay are very expensive, with pizzas and burgers starting at 10$, as the cheapest option. You can get a snack with you for the time of journey too, as again, restaurant inside the ferry is very pricey and, to be honest, not the best one.
  • 3-4 hours is more than enough to visit Colonia del Sacramento.
  • If you plan to pick Montevideo over Colonia del Sacramento, which I really think is a better option, you need to stay a minimum of one night in capital to do a proper city-seeing, unless going very early, returning with the last service.

  • Please consider buying a ticket in advance for weekends and the peak season (Christmas until the end of February).