Despite appearances, the jungle landscape around the Falls is not virgin forest. In fact, it is in a process of recuperation: advances in the navigation of the Upper Paraná – the section of the river that runs along the northern border of Corrientes and Misiones – in the early twentieth century allowed access to these previously impenetrable lands and economic exploitation of their valuable timber began. In the 1920s, the region was totally exploited and stripped of its best species and traversed by roads. Only since the creation of the park in 1943 has the forest been protected.
Today, the forest is composed of several layers of vegetation. Towering above the forest floor is the rare and imposing palo rosa, which can grow to 40m and is identifiable by its pale, straight trunk that divides into twisting branches higher up, topped by bushy foliage. At a lower level, various species of palm flourish, notably the pindó palm and the palmito, much coveted for its edible core, which often grows in the shade of the palo rosa. Epiphytes, which use the taller trees for support but are not parasitic, also abound as does the guaypoy, aptly known as the strangler fig, since it eventually asphyxiates the trees around which it grows. You will also see lianas, which hang from the trees in incredibly regular plaits and have apt popular names such as escalera de mono, or “monkey’s ladder”. Closer still to the ground there is a stratum of shrubs, some of them with edible fruit, such as the pitanga. Ground cover is dominated by various fern species.
The best time to spot wildlife is either early morning or late afternoon, when there are fewer visitors and the jungle’s numerous birds and mammals are at their most active: at times the screech of birds and monkeys can be almost cacophonic. At all times, you have the best chance of seeing wildlife by treading as silently as possible, and by scanning the surrounding trees for signs of movement. Your most likely reward will be groups of agile capuchin monkeys, with a distinctive black “cowl”, like that of the monks they are named after. Larger, lumbering black howler monkeys make for a rarer sight, though their deep growl can be heard for some distance. Along the ground, look out for the tiny corzuela deer. Unfortunately, you’ve little chance of seeing the park’s most dramatic wildlife, large cats such as the puma and the jaguar, or the tapir, a large-hoofed mammal with a short, flexible snout. Toucans, however, are commonly spotted; other birds that can be seen in the forest include the solitary Black cacique, which makes its nest in the pindó palm; various species of woodpecker and the striking Crested yacutinga. Of the forest’s many butterflies, the most striking are those of the Morphidae family, whose large wings are a dazzling metallic blue.