We finished our 16 day South American cruise in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and after spending a few days in the city to see the sights we headed inland, flying to the border area between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay to visit the famous Iguazu Falls. We stayed in the town of Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian side of the falls and spent 2 days visiting both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of the falls. Just a short walk along the riverfront in Puerto Iguazu we reached the lookout point at the junction of the rivers where the three countries (Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil) met.
Iguazú Falls or Iguaçu Falls (Spanish: Cataratas del Iguazú [kataˈɾatas ðel iɣwaˈsu]; Guarani: Chororo Yguasu [ɕoɾoɾo ɨɣʷasu]; Portuguese: Cataratas do Iguaçu [kataˈɾatɐs du iɡwaˈsu]) are waterfalls of the Iguazu River on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. Together, they make up the largest waterfall system in the world. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. The Iguazu River rises near the heart of the city of Curitiba. For most of its course, the river flows through Brazil; however, most of the falls are on the Argentine side. Below its confluence with the San Antonio River, the Iguazu River forms the boundary between Argentina and Brazil.
The name “Iguazú” comes from the Guarani or Tupi words “y” [ɨ], meaning “water”, and “ûasú “[waˈsu], meaning “big”. Legend has it that a deity planned to marry a beautiful woman named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In a rage, the deity sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall. The first European to record the existence of the falls was the Spanish Conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541.
The area surrounding Iguazu Falls was inhabited 10,000 years ago by the hunter-gatherers of the Eldoradense culture. They were displaced around 1000 C.E. by the Guaraní, who brought new agricultural technologies, and were displaced in turn by the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores in the sixteenth century.
The first European to discover the Falls was the Spanish Conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541, after whom one of the falls on the Argentine side is named. Jesuit missions followed in 1609.
A Brazilian army officer, Edmundo de Barros, proposed the creation of a national park near the Falls in 1897. As the Falls form a part of the border between Brazil and Argentina, once those boundaries were clearly defined, two separate national parks were established, one in each nation. Iguazú National Park in Argentina was established in 1934 and Iguaçu National Park of Brazil was established in 1939.
The great power of the Falls was not utilized until the construction of the huge Itaipu Dam, built jointly by Paraguay and Brazil, which was completed in 1991. The dam, touted as a masterpiece of technology, is one of the largest in the world, providing nearly forty percent of the power to Brazil and Argentina.
The staircase character of the falls consists of a two-step waterfall formed by three layers of basalt. The steps are 35 and 40 m in height. The columnar basalt rock sequences are part of the 1000 m thick Serra Geral Formation within the Paleozoic-Mesozoic Paraná Basin. The tops of these sequences are characterized by 8–10 m of highly resistant vesicular basalt and the contact between these layers controls the shape of the falls. Headwater erosion rates are estimated at 1.4-2.1 cm/year.
The Iguazu Falls are located where the Iguazu River tumbles over the edge of the Paraná Plateau, 23 kilometres (14 mi) upriver from the Iguazu’s confluence with the Paraná River. Numerous islands along the 2.7-kilometre-long (1.7 mi) edge divide the falls into many separate waterfalls and cataracts, varying between 60 and 82 m (197 and 269 ft) high. The number of these smaller waterfalls fluctuates from 150 to 300, depending on the water level. About half of the river’s flow falls into a long and narrow chasm called the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish or Garganta do Diabo in Portuguese).
The Devil’s Throat canyon is 80–90 m wide and 70–80 m deep. Left of this canyon, another part of the river forms 160-200 individual falls, which merge into a single front during flood stage. The largest falls are named San Martín, Adam and Eva, Penoni, and Bergano.
About 900 m (2,950 ft) of the 2.7 km (1.7 mi) length does not have water flowing over it. The water of the lower Iguazu collects in a canyon that drains into the Paraná River, a short distance downstream from the Itaipu Dam. The junction of the water flows marks the border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Some points in the cities of Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, have access to the Iguazu River, where the borders of all three nations may be seen, a popular tourist attraction for visitors to the three cities.
The Iguazu Falls are arranged in a way that resembles a reversed letter “J”. The Argentina–Brazil border runs through the Devil’s Throat. On the right bank is the Brazilian territory, which is home to more than 95% of the Iguazu River basin but has just over 20% of the jumps of these falls, and the left side jumps are Argentine, which makes up almost 80% of the falls.
The falls may be reached from two main towns, with one on either side of the falls: Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil and Puerto Iguazú in Argentina, as well as from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, on the other side of the Paraná River from Foz do Iguaçu. The falls are shared by the Iguazú National Park (Argentina) and Iguaçu National Park (Brazil). The two parks were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1984 and 1986, respectively.
The first proposal for a Brazilian national park aimed at providing a pristine environment to “future generations”, just as “it had been created by God” and endowed with “all possible preservation, from the beautiful to the sublime, from the picturesque to the awesome” and “an unmatched flora” located in the “magnificent Iguaçu waterfalls”. These were the words used by André Rebouças, an engineer, in his book Provinces of Paraná, Railways to Mato Grosso and Bolivia, which started up the campaign aimed at preserving the Iguaçu Falls in 1876. At this time, Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., the first national park in the world, was four years old.
On the Brazilian side, a walkway along the canyon has an extension to the lower base of Devil’s Throat. Helicopter rides offering aerial views of the falls have been available from Brazil, but Argentina has prohibited such helicopter tours because of the adverse environmental impact on the flora and fauna of the falls. From Foz do Iguaçu airport, the park may be reached by taking a taxi or bus to the entrance of the park. Their park has an entrance fee on both sides. Once inside, free and frequent buses are provided to various points within the park. The town of Foz do Iguaçu is about 20 km (12 mi) away, and the airport is between the park and the town. The Argentine access, across the forest, is by a Rainforest Ecological Train very similar to the one in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The train brings visitors to the entrance of Devil’s Throat, as well as the upper and lower trails. The Paseo Garganta del Diablo is a 1 km-long (0.6 mi) trail that brings visitors directly over the falls of Devil’s Throat, the highest and deepest of the falls. Other walkways allow access to the elongated stretch of falls across the forest on the Argentine side and to the boats that connect to San Martin Island. Also on the Argentine side, inflatable boat services take visitors very close to the falls.
The Brazilian transportation system aims at allowing the increase in the number of visitors, while reducing the adverse environmental impact, through an increase in the average number of passengers per vehicle inside the park. The new transportation system has 72-passenger capacity and panoramic-view, double-deck buses. The upper deck is open, which enables visitors a broad view of the flora and fauna during the trip to the falls. The bus combustion systems are in compliance with the CONAMA (phase VII) and EURO (phase V) emissions and noise requirements. The reduction in the number of vehicles, of noise levels, and speed, is enabling tourists to observe increasing numbers of wild animals along the route. Each bus has an exclusive paint scheme, representing some of the most common wild animals found in the Iguaçú National Park, including the spotted jaguars, butterflies, raccoons, prego monkeys, coral snakes, toucans, parrots, and yellow-breasted caimans.
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