After a comparatively early morning in Rio we grabbed a taxi to the airport and flew down to Foz do Iguazu, the city on the Brazilian side of the intersection of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. That intersection in turn is home to several converging rivers which create the Iguazu Falls, apparently the most spectular waterfalls in South America (not the tallest, those are in Venezuela). We took the risk of renting a car from Hertz rather than have to deal constantly with taxis or buses. I say risk because I had no idea what it would be like to drive in Brazil, including crossing the border into Argentina, but I need not have worried. At least in this part of South America the roads and drivers were every bit as good as Louisiana or Greece (I know, not exactly high praise...but accurate ;).
In the airport on the way down I realized that my recollection of which hotel I had booked was completely different than what I actually booked. In other words, I had thought long and hard about the luxury hotel located in the national park with the falls, but had actually booked a more family-friendly (and budget friendly) resort that was halfway between the Brazil and Argentina entrances to the falls. Fortunately, this worked out very well for the most part. The hotel grounds were fantastic. They had a great kids pool with one of those playscape-like structures that shoots water out every which way. They also had a cool nature trail through the property where you could enjoy a nice easy walk through rainforest and see a lot of wildlife they had caged on site in zoo-like conditions. Oh, and both breakfast and dinner were included in our rate and were more than decent, at least for the two nights we were there. And much of the produce used in the kitchen was actually grown in a massive garden onsite that we walked through on our walk.
Anyway, after getting our rental and checking into the hotel, we changed into wet weather gear and water shoes and headed across the border to Argentina to visit the Argentine side of the falls. Getting through the border was pretty easy. Most cars just drove straight through the Brazilian side (coming and going) but we'd read that as Americans you should be absolutely sure to get stamped exiting and entering Brazil, so we did. But from all accounts we were almost the only ones to do so. Argentina, on the other hand, was strict on entry. We waited in a pretty good line, which it turns out was mostly caused by Argentina customs searching cars as they went through. For whatever reason they waved us right through; I guess we don't look like smugglers.
At the entry gate to the national park they asked if we had pesos as entry to the park is cash only. When we said we didn't the woman responded that she would change our USD for us. As soon as I responded that I would use an ATM at the park hotel instead she instantly responded "it's broken today." We continued on without changing money, but this first sketchy interaction was a shame and put a sour taste in our mouth. Fortunately, this was completely offset by the nice people at the park. The first ATM was indeed not working but they let me into the park without a ticket to use the ATM there and then come back out and buy my ticket. Good stuff.
We entered the park completely starving, as we'd only had a snack on the plane and hadn't eaten since our early breakfast in Rio. The quick serve restaurants onsite didn't have anything gluten free so we wound up at the main restaurant, which had a reasonably nice buffet spread with an impressive looking grill station filled with meat that was much tougher than it had any right to be. We took the unusual for us step of eating first and asking how much later. Well, after our 730 peso (~$80) lunch we were well sated and ready for the falls!
The falls themselves were really impressive. Words (and unfortunately, pictures) don't do it justice. Jie was pretty skeptical that our detour to Iguazu was going to be worth the time and money, after all the Iguazu Falls aren't exactly a household name, but we all came away feeling like this was one of the highlights of our travels thus far. We did the lower trail that leads you down close to many of the falls (hence the water shoes) but couldn't do the boat ride that takes you right up close because they won't allow kids under 12. As a result we ended up not getting very wet at all, aside from one brief stop where Walter and I got right up close to a waterfall.
The next day we got up and headed straight to the falls on the Brazilian side. Since we weren't doing a boat ride Walter and Jie wore their hiking boots instead of water shoes. We rode the shuttle bus all the way to the very end and then worked our way back to the main part of the falls so that we'd be working against the crowd. The Brazilian viewing stations get right up next to the largest of the falls, the Devil's Throat. The view, noise, and spray was intense! On top of that, right as we got to the key viewing platform the skies opened up and we got positively drenched, right down to our toes. This made it really hard to properly enjoy the falls and we left the park pretty soon after. This is the only reason I wish we had booked the hotel inside that park, as around 5p the rains finally let up and had we stayed onsite we would have been able to get back out there.
As it was, we wasted away the afternoon stuck inside at the hotel, where over lunch, in the name of science, I diligently taste-tested and researched the differences between the caipirinha, the caipiroska, and the caipirissima. But if you ever want to imagine the glamour of traveling full time, just picture us stuck in an early 90's era hotel room on a rainy day with nothing but Portuguese TV as we use a wall-mounted under-powered hair dryer to dry out all of our clothes and shoes. And to add insult to injury the weather was beautiful today when we flew out, but so it goes.
Despite the weather, we had a great time in Iguazu and if we ever find ourselves in Brazil again we would definitely come back to relax at the hotel and give the Brazilian side a proper viewing.