Visiting the National Park
Your first stop will likely be the visitor center (tel. 3757/491-444), where you'll find maps and information about the area's flora and fauna. Known as the Centro de Interpretacion, it is .8km (1/2 mile) from the park entrance, close to the parking lot and footbridges for the waterfall circuits. Adjacent to the visitor center, you will find a restaurant, snack shops, and souvenir stores. A natural-gas train takes visitors to the path entrance for the Upper and Lower circuits and to the footbridge leading to Devil's Throat. (If you'd rather walk, footpaths are available, but note that the walk to Devil's Throat is about 3km/1.75 miles.) The visitor center is staffed with a number of English-speaking guides, available for individual and private tours. You may opt to see the falls on your own or with an experienced local guide. A guide is not really necessary, however, unless your time is limited or you want to ask detailed questions about the region's geography and fauna. The entrance fee is $20 (£14), which also covers the train ride, for non-Argentines to enter the national park. The national park is open daily 8am to 7pm in summer, and from 8am until 6pm in winter.
The two main paths from which to view the waterfalls are the Circuito Superior (Upper Circuit) and the Circuito Inferior (Lower Circuit), both of which begin within walking distance (less than .8km/ 1/2 mile) from the visitor center. You may want to save your energy, however, and catch the train to the path entrance. There's a small snack shop near the beginning of the trails. The Upper Circuit winds its way along the top of the canyon, allowing you to look down the falls and see the area's rich flora, including cacti, ferns, and orchids. The Lower Circuit offers the best views, as magnificent waterfalls come hurtling down before you in walls of silvery spray. The waterfalls are clearly marked by signs along the way.
The best time to walk the Upper Circuit is early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and rainbows often appear near sunset. This .9km (.5-mile) path takes 1 to 2 hours, starting at the viewing tower and leading past Dos Hermanas (Two Sisters), Bossetti, Chico (Small), Ramírez, and San Martín (the park's widest) falls. You can come right to the edges of these falls and look over them as they fall as far as 60m (197 ft.) below. Along your walk, you can also look across to San Martín Island and the Brazilian side, and you'll pass a number of small streams and creeks.
The 1.8km (1.25-mile) Lower Circuit takes 2 hours to walk, leading you first past Lanusse and Alvar Núñez falls, then along the Lower Iguazú River past the raging Dos Mosqueteros (Two Musketeers) and Tres Mosqueteros (Three Musketeers) falls. The trail winds its way toward Ramírez, Chico, and Dos Hermanos falls. Here, you'll find an inspiring view of the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) and Bossetti falls. From the Salto Bossetti waterfall, a small pathway leads down to a small pier, where you can catch a free boat to San Martín Island.
Once on the island, climb the stairs and walk along clearly marked trails for remarkable views of the surrounding cataratas (falls). To the left, you see the enormous Garganta del Diablo, Saltos Brasileros (Brazilian Falls), and Ventana; to the right, you overlook the mighty Salto San Martín, which sprays 30m (98 ft.) high after hitting the river below. This panoramic view looks out at dozens of falls forming an arch before you. San Martín Island also has a small, idyllic beach perfect for sunbathing and swimming.
Garganta del Diablo is the mother of all waterfalls in Iguazú, visible from observation points in both the Brazilian and Argentine parks. You'll notice that the water is calm as it makes its way down the Iguazú River, then begins to speed up as it approaches the gorge ahead. In front of you, Mother Nature has created a furious avalanche of water and spray that is the highest waterfall in Iguazú and one of the world's greatest natural spectacles. You might want to bring a raincoat, because you will get wet.
What to See & Do Around Puerto Iguazú
La Aripuca, RN 12, Km 4.5, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/423-488), is a giant house made from fallen tree trunks, its design based on a primitive bird trap. It is located outside the town on the way to the park and worth a morning stroll, with a handicraft store selling everything from mate-flavored ice cream to leather goods. It is open every day from 8am to 7pm. Indio Solitario, Calle Jangadero 719, Puerto Iguazú (no phone), and Jardín de Ozain, Fray Luis Beltran 84, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/421-302), are two colorful orchid gardens located in the town. The latter is open from 8am to 6pm every day, while the former is open Tuesday to Saturday 9am until midday and 3 to 8pm. It is also open on Sunday from 9am to midday. Perhaps one of Iguazú's most eccentric sites is the Plastic Bottle House, RN 12, Km 5, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/405-621). The somewhat ugly bungalow made from recycled materials is just down the road from La Aripuca and worth a 20-minute stop and the $1.60 (£1.10) admission. Guïrá Ogá Bird's House, RN 12, Km 5, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/423-980; http://guiraoga.fundacionazara.org.ar), is an interesting animal refuge full of parrots, owls, and monkeys. Admission is $5 (£3.40). Fortín M'Bororé is a Guarani Indian community that now accept visits and reveals the secrets behind their ancient traditions of hunting, natural medicine, and handicrafts. Tours are organized by the agency Cuenca del Plata (tel. 3757/421-062; www.cuencadelplata.com), with a significant share of the cost going toward social projects and medical assistance.
Shopping -- Feathered Guarani wander the town selling trinkets, and the principal streets are jammed with shops selling all types of tourist tat, from factory-produced mate gourds to dreamcatchers. Look hard enough though and you will find genuine, locally produced weavings and handicrafts. Timbó Arte, Av. Misiones 141, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/422-698; www.timboiguazu.com.ar), has everything from seeds to ceramics. Patria Gaucha, Victoria Aguirre 222, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/423-469), is perfect for those cowboy shoppers who want leather boots, jackets, and ponchos. Claudia G, Av. Brasil 154, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/425-456), specializes in wool and cotton goods, with a nice line in candles.
Spas & Wellness Centers -- All that mud and humidity takes its toll, and after a long day in the jungle, your body will appreciate an hour in a sauna or on the massage slab. Spa de la Selva, Route 12, Km 5 (tel. 3757/420-057), is a charming garden facility beside the Orquídeas Palace, offering everything from manicures to yoga sessions. For somewhere closer to town, try Vergel Iguazú Relax, Bonpland 111, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/421-733), a small street clinic with hot stone massage and aromatherapy baths. Most of the high-end hotels have in-house spas that welcome nonguests -- the most notable in town being the Hotel Saint George, Av. Córdoba 148, Puerto Iguazú (tel. 3757/420-633; www.hotelsaintgeorge.com).