Iguazú National Park is the home of Argentina's greatest natural attraction: the spectacular series of cascades known as Iguazú Falls. Among the largest waterfall systems on the planet, they're a highlight of any visit to South America. Travelers can experience Iguazú many ways, from jungle trekking and bird-watching to photography and boating adventures on the river. Read on for more information and expert advice.

Discovering Iguazú

The famed Iguazú Falls are located in the far northeast of Argentina between Argentina and Brazil, where the Iguaçu River crashes 260 feet over a vast horseshoe-shaped ledge. On both sides of the falls are protected national parklands recognized by UNESCO for their beauty and for the importance of their ecosystems.

On the Argentine side, the national park is called Parque Nacional Iguazú; on the Brazilian side, it's Parque Nacional Iguaçu. Together, the parks comprise around 925 square miles of quickly disappearing Atlantic interior forest: after the Amazon, this is among the continent's most important remaining forest areas. 

Many travelers think that visiting Iguazú National Park is all about seeing and photographing the waterfalls. But there's much more to this wildlife-rich corner of Argentina. The region harbors wildlife from the jaguar to the giant anteater and outdoor activities from boat trips to jungle treks keep active travelers more than occupied.

Find out more about going off the beaten path in Argentina in this article.

Planning Your Trip

The Argentinian town of Puerto Iguazú, gateway to Iguazú National Park

Most travelers incorporate a trip to Iguazú into a larger itinerary. Due to the national park's relatively remote location, you'll probably arrive by plane, connecting in Buenos Aires (or in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, on the Brazilian side), but it's also possible to take an overnight bus from these major cities. If you have extra days to spend, you could take your time getting there from Buenos Aires, stopping in the Argentinian city of Posadas to see the region's famous Jesuit-built missions along the way. 

Looking for a quick way to visit Iguazú? This six-day itinerary takes you to Buenos Aires and the waterfalls in less than a week. Nature lovers should consider this 12-day Best of Argentina tour or a 16-day trip to Patagonia & Iguazú Falls, both of which cover key destinations in Argentina's north and south. Interested in wine tasting? This 15-day itinerary, which crosses between Brazil and Argentina, takes travelers to Mendoza and Iguazú Falls.

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Getting to Iguazú

The visitor centers at the falls map out everything there is to see and do

Two cities are considered gateways to the falls: Puerto Iguazú (on Argentina's side) and Foz do Iguaçu (in Brazil). 

Cataratas de Iguazú International Airport, with flights to Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and other Argentine cities, is 12 miles southeast of Puerto Iguazú and just 6 miles south of Iguazú National Park's visitor center. Foz do Iguaçu International Airport is 7 miles east of Foz do Iguaçu and serves destinations in both Argentina and Brazil.

Puerto Iguazú, closer to the national park and somewhat more tourist-friendly than its Brazilian counterpart, is the recommended base for exploring the falls. From Puerto Iguazú to Iguazú National Park, regular buses and taxis connect the city center with the national park's visitor center. 

To get to the national park entrance, you have two options. The first is to travel from Puerto Iguazú (or directly from Cataratas de Iguazú International Airport) to Iguazú National Park's visitor center, then start exploring the park from there. The second option is to travel from Foz do Iguaçu (or Foz do Iguaçu International Airport) to the entrance point of the park on the Brazilian side.

Note that there are no bridges between the tourist complexes on the Argentine and Brazilian sides: to travel between the two countries, travelers must take the official road border crossing between Puerto Iguazú and Foz do Iguaçu. 

Argentina vs. Brazil: Which Side Should You Visit?

The waterfalls from the Brazilian side

Not sure which side to choose when it comes to accessing the falls? There are advantages to both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides. 

The Argentinian side has more tourist-friendly facilities and more space, with several trails and attractions designed to break up the flow of visitors and keep crowd congestion to a minimum. It's also great for close-up views of the waterfalls, boat trips that take you near the base of the cascades, train rides around the falls, and a network of trails that allow visitors to explore the surrounding jungle.

The Brazilian side, on the other hand, has some fantastic views of the falls from a distance, including great perspectives of the u-shaped lip over which the falls plunge. This side has fewer visitor facilities, but it also offers an excursion you can't access in Argentina: a helicopter ride over the falls. 

You can also consider visiting both sides on two separate days, as you would on this 14-day Tour of Rio, Costa Verde and Iguazu Falls.

Exploring the Argentinian Side

Tourists admire the cascades from the Argentinian side

The Argentinian side of the falls, on the last stretch of protected jungle before the Iguazú River joins the Paraná River, offers a great number of activities. Viewing the mighty waterfalls crashing into the valley below, in around 250 different cascades, is the obvious place to start. Continue to the visitor center, part of the national park's tourist complex, to find out about activities including hiking, cycling, boat rides, and a train ride to the falls.

  • Waterfall viewing: There are several places to view the falls, although the part where the greatest volume of water crashes down, the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) is the most popular viewing point.
  • Hiking: Branching off from the visitor center, there are a number of trails taking around one to two hours to walk (including stops for photos) including the Lower Walk, which takes you around several smaller but impressive waterfalls known as saltas, and the Upper Walk, where you also get to see a variety of waterfalls, but from above.
  • Train to the falls: You can skip the majority of walking and trekking by taking the train to Estación Garganta, close to the Garganta del Diablo. The train departs from a point near the visitor center.
  • Boat trip:  Adventure sports outfitters, with offices close to the visitor center, offer boat trips in and around the falls. A two-hour excursion takes visitors up close to (and even under) some of the cascades. A quieter rafting trip takes participants on a floating adventure through a stretch of the river below the waterfalls.
  • Mountain biking: A few companies offer cycling and mountain-biking trips in the jungle around the Iguazú National Park, along 25 miles of red dirt tracks, including some great downhill stretches.
  • Visiting the border of three countries: From Puerto Iguazú, you can visit the Tres Fronteras border, where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet, divided by the rivers Iguazú and Paraná. Each country has its own monument at the river confluence.

Entrance fee: 700/180 Argentine pesos (US$19/5) per adult/child
Opening hours: from 8:30 am daily, 365 days per year
Last entrance: 4:30 pm

Exploring the Brazilian Side

The enormous Itaipu Dam, site of the world's second-biggest hydroelectric project

Although the Brazilian side has less to offer in terms of activities, it's notable for a couple of interesting adventures that are not available across the border in Argentina.

  • Helicopter tour: The 12-minute adventure offers unparalleled views of all of the waterfalls from above. 
  • Bird sanctuary: Adjacent to the national park is Parque Das Aves (Bird Park). With a one-mile boardwalk trail winding through the landscape, visitors can get up close to a variety of birds, many of which are endemic to Brazil or to South America — and most of which are rehabilitating after injury or time in captivity. 
  • Largest mosque on the continent: In Foz do Iguaçu, you'll find South America's largest mosque, the striking Omar Ibn Al-Khatab Mosque.
  • Engineering marvel: From Foz do Iguaçu, you can visit the Itaipu Dam, the second-biggest hydroelectric project in the world. An impressive feat of engineering, it forms the border between Brazil and Paraguay. 

Entrance fee: 64/23 Brazilian reals (US$17/6) per adult/child
Opening hours: from 9 am daily, 365 days per year
Last entrance: 5 pm

Iguazú Wildlife

The raccoon-like coati seen from the Brazilian side of the falls

Iguazú National Park's Atlantic interior forest is a paradise for travelers interested in wildlife. Most of the forest is permanently blanketed in the mist and spray generated by the power of the waterfalls, creating an ecosystem where many rare plants and animals can thrive. While hiking through the jungle, keep your eyes open for jaguars, giant anteaters, howler monkeys, giant river otters, tapirs, caimans, ocelots, and the coati, a raccoon-like creature indigenous to the region.

Where to Stay

Aerial view of a hotel in Iguazú National Park

Puerto Iguazú has a range of accommodations for travelers. If you're not on a tight budget, it's much more convenient and atmospheric to stay within the national parks. Both sides have a hotel and a restaurant with incredible waterfall views: on the Argentinian side, the Gran Meliá Iguazú, and on the Brazilian side, the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. The advantage of staying at either hotel is that you'll have a chance to see the falls in relative peace and quiet (after day visitors have left).

Can't decide between Iguazú, Torres del Paine, and Machu Picchu? This three-week tour of South America takes you to all three, not to mention a range of other natural wonders and cultural highlights.