Upon first seeing Iguazú Falls, all Eleanor Roosevelt could manage was “Poor Niagara”. Every year, tens of thousands of visitors from around the world try to evaluate the sheer dimension of this natural miracle – a collection of more than two hundred cascades thundering over an 80m cliff – and usually fail. However you spell it – Iguazú, Iguaçu or Iguassu – the Guaraní name, translating as “Big Water”, is something of an understatement. Situated on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, the falls are surrounded by lush tropical forest that’s home to more than 2000 species of flora, over 500 bird species and approximately 80 different mammals.
Many marvel at these massive falls from the relative dryness of the Brazilian side, but you are advised against looking down at them from a Brazilian helicopter for ecological reasons. Armchair travellers might watch these gushing waterfalls rival Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons for the leading role in the 1986 epic film The Mission. But the true way to experience the rapids, or cataratas as the locals call them, is to land right in the action and get soaked to the skin. Leave your digital camera and your iPod in your hotel room; think twice before wearing that new crimson top that might run or the T-shirt that gets transparent when wet; don’t even bother with the waterproof gear the guidebooks tell you to bring. Just give the boat crew the kick they never tire of: take a soothingly tepid bath in the world’s biggest open-air shower, the ominously named Devil’s Throat, the most majestic of Iguazú’s many cascades.
The best close-up experience to be had is in the Parque Nacional, outside Puerto Iguazú (Argentina). The rainy summer season (Nov–March) is the best time to go. For more, consult www.iguazuargentina.com.