Iguazu Falls: Absolutely Must See Once in Your Life

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 The Power and the Beauty of Iguazu Falls

Devil Throat of Iguazu Falls from Argentinean sideIn our digital age we’re surrounded by opinions, in list form, of the 10 or 100 or 1000 things to see before you die. I think life expectancy must be on the rise the way people keep adding stuff to their To Do lists. It’s always too soon to die, the list is always growing. But it is also very subjective. A wonder for you could be a “whatever” for others.

Iguazu Falls, though, on the border of Brazil and Argentina, are among the rare natural wonders that inevitably make it onto the top of everyone’s list. Its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1984 started to draw more attention to its beauty, as well as to its ongoing preservation struggle.

I’d heard about this place many times, but didn’t realize how magnificent it actually is.

Iguazu Falls on Brazilian side

Visiting it, at last, happened to be one of the most humbling and exciting experiences of my life. The falls are 1.7 miles long, divided into many different waterfalls by tiny islands and islets dotting the Iguazu River at the edge of the plunge. These falls range from 197 to 269 feet high.

Lush green islands in Iguazu Falls

The Falls’ maximum recorded flow is 45,700 cubic meters per second. To put things in perspective, 45,700 cubic meters is about how much water would be used if every single household in the state of Texas flushed their toilets at the very same moment. That’s how much water was going over the falls every second. That’s a lot of water if you ask me!

To sense how powerful it is, one needs to get very close to the Devil’s Throat, the most dramatic semi-circular water drop at Iguazu Falls.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady, once visited Iguazu Falls. When she first laid eyes on the falls, she exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!”

Poor Niagara indeed!

Where Iguazu Falls Are Located

Iguazu Falls the Triple Frontier region

Near the Falls there are three major cities, in three different countries separated by the Iguazu River. They form a triangle known as the Triple Frontier:

  • Puerto Iguazu, a frontier city in the province of Misiones, Argentina
  • Foz do Iguaçu, a city in Paraná, Brazil, that is three times bigger than its Argentinean neighbor
  • Ciudad del Este, the second largest city in Paraguay

Two of these countries can claim part of the waterfall as their own: Brazil and Argentina.

Keep in mind that 80% of all the waterfalls are on the Argentinean side, while 20% are in Brazil. Each perspective is unique, but you definitely have more options approaching your target from Argentina. When visiting, ideally plan on spending one day exploring the Argentinean side and keep a few hours reserved for Brazil on the following day.

As we prepared for our trip, we read a number of online comments about armies of mosquitoes and bugs attacking visitors on the Brazilian side, so we decided to skip it completely. Dengue fever is a real thing in this part of the world, so we were little uneasy about it.

You can also take a boat tour of the Falls from either side, if you feel like you didn’t get wet enough exploring on your own.

Furthermore, you can actually book a place on an exciting helicopter ride, in order to view the Falls from on high. The chopper departs from the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu.

If you want to see the entire Iguazu Falls, both the Argentinean and the Brazilian side, you’ll enjoy your experience much more if you set aside at least two days to soak in all the beauty, and to enjoy all that Iguazu Falls has to offer you as a tourist, guest, or visitor to the area.

Getting to Iguazu Falls

While a bus ride from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls may take up to 20 hours, travel by air is quite easy. A flight from Rio De Janeiro or Buenos Aires will get you to Iguazu Falls in less than two hours. The airport on the Argentinean side (IGR) is just 6 miles (10 km) away from the waterfalls, and 13 miles (20 km) from the city of Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. A cab ride will cost you a bit more than in Buenos Aires. For a ride from the airport to Iguazu National Park, we paid 220 Argentine pesos, approximately $20 USD at the dollar blue exchange rate—what you might call the “peer-to-peer” rate 😉

Because we were traveling with a five-month-old baby, we decided to stay at Sheraton Iguazu Hotel, right there in the National Park in front of the waterfalls. Eva seemed to love the rain forest and the sound of waterfalls.

Standing at Sheraton hotel Iguazu in front of the falls

More economical accomodations are available in the city, but these entail a 20-30 minute ride to the Iguazu National Park, where the waterfalls are located. Entry to the Iguazu National park will cost foreign citizens 215 Argentine pesos per person, so a bit less than $20 USD at the “dollar blue” exchange rate as of time of writing. So budget this in, as there is no way around this expense if you want to see the waterfalls.

What to See at Iguazu Falls

Excitement on the train riding to the Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls

Once you are in the National Park, you can take a free open-air train to Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat). Keep your hands and feet clear from the coatis. These guys feel home at any train station, and may leave you with a nasty bite:

After a seven-minute train ride, you disembark at the top side of the river and have to walk for 1100 meters (0.7 miles) towards the vista point. It’s a nice twelve-or-fifteen-minute walk over ramps erected above Iguazu river.

Ramps at Iguazu Falls

 

At the end of the walk, you will see something absolutely amazing: The Devil’s Throat. It’s hard to capture the power of this place, one needs to experience it.

Just watch the 30-second video below (make sure your speakers are turned down).  This is what I call a dramatic drop:

Besides the Devil’s Throat platform, there are a couple of trails leading to the other parts of Iguazu Falls. You may take the Upper Trail to see waterfalls from the above. Eva was happily asleep when we discovered the Adam and Eva waterfalls. We learned that the white noise of the waterfalls works very, very well at putting Eva to sleep.

 

The Lower Trail will get you as close as possible to the waterfalls from below. Although most people call the spray emanating from the Falls a “mist,” prepare yourself for shower-quality refreshment. It’s so close, you’ll get wet before you snap your first photo:

Did I mention that the rain forest around looks like a film set for Indiana Jones? Oh yeah, because Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was shot there…

You will also see all kind of species, from toucans to eagles and beyond. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Harpy Eagle at Iguazu Falls

 

Whatever you end up doing at Iguazu Falls, it is a very exciting and refreshing experience!

Can you recommend any sights comparable to Iguazu Falls (besides Victoria Falls obviously)?

Why You Know Nothing About the Hawaiian Islands Until You Visit Them All

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I love Hawaii. Viva the Hawaiian Islands!

The view of the Hawaiian Archipelago from Above

When I first discovered this tropical paradise, I visited five times during a twelve-month period, and still hadn’t gotten enough. I bought an annual pass from the ATA Airlines in order to travel to Hawaii even more often in 2008. But then, as a perfect example of Murphy’s Law, ATA filed for bankruptcy protection that very year. The service was completely discontinued, and my dream of traveling to and from Hawaii for a year was flushed away.

Over time, I’ve been able to visit all four major Hawaiian islands, so I feel like I’ve learned a few facts worth sharing.

When people start planing their trip to the Hawaiian Islands, they may face some real challenges, like in picking their destination. I know, I’ve been there, I was confused myself.

It wasn’t until I visited all four major Hawaiian islands a few times that I was able to distinguish the real deal from pure tourist hype.

Here are the four islands most popular amongst visitors:

 

All four are all very different as far as the necessary travel arrangements, and the experience once you get there. Before making any commitment, you need to figure out which experience could be most valuable for you.

 

Hawai’i Island

Map-of-Hawaii-highlighting-Big-Island-Hawaii

Hawaii Island is also known as the Big Island, or the Island of Hawaii. You are entitled to be confused by its name.

The fact that some people call it “Big Island” and others “Hawaii” is quite confusing. Especially if you consider that the name “Hawaii” is typically used both for one of the Hawaiian Islands and for all of them collectively. So hearing that someone just came back from Hawaii doesn’t necessarily mean that they came from the Big Island. (Most likely they didn’t—this island isn’t the most popular one.) On the other hand, saying I am going to the Big Island, Hawaii, leaves no confusion on the table.

As its name suggests, Hawaii is the biggest island of the archipelago. This island impressed me. First of all, it’s so much bigger than any of the other Hawaiian Islands. Despite how small it looks on the map, it takes hours to get from one side of the island to the other. No wonder that in Hilo and Kona it features two major airports, located on opposite shores.

Photo at erupting volcano  by G Brad Lewis

Photo in front of the erupting volcano by G Brad Lewis, known as Volcano Man

Then, too, Big Island is known for its active volcano, which is quite spectacular. It’s a very unique experience to watch flowing lava collide with Pacific Ocean. The volcano continuously generates natural fireworks, with lots of fumes and smaller lava chunks shooting hundreds of yards into the sky.

Pahoeoe lava fountain 30 feet high

 

When you drive around the island, you often have to pass through lava flows that have solidified over many years. It’s incredible to see how a lava flow first kills everything in its path to the ocean, and then, decades later, slowly turns into a channel for new vegetation.

Lava flow approaching the road

 

The Big Island offers impressive views of the erupting volcano. For a while, I considered the National Volcano Park a potential spot to make a proposal to Kristina. (Later on, though, a better opportunity came along.)

One fun fact I found amusing:

house for sale on the lava flowLava from volcanoes flows towards the ocean and solidifies at its bottom. Over the years, enough lava accumulates underwater that it surfaces, creating a piece of land that didn’t exist before. Basically, the same thing that the Dutch did manually for centuries occurs naturally in Hawaii, without any human intervention and over a short period of time. This new land emerging from the ocean is always being settled by locals. Furthermore, I’ve seen people bring a trailer home, set it on the lava crust and put a For Sale sign on it. Entrepreneurial thinking at its best!

Another interesting Big Island phenomeno is the coqui frog invasion.

Every evening, as darkness falls across the lush east side of the Big Island, thousands upon thousands of tiny coqui frogs fill the night with their piercing, unrelenting ko-KEE-ko-KEE-ko-KEE mating call.

Listen it on your own and tell me if it puts you to sleep or wakes you up:

When I first heard the coqui frog call, it I thought it must be coming from some exotic bird. It can be very annoying when you’re trying to fall asleep at night. This species, not native to the Hawaiian Islands, was introduced to the Big Island from the Caribbean in 1988. Frogs hitchhiked on tropical plants imported from Puerto Rico. Unlike in Puerto Rico, this little creature has no natural predator in Hawaii. So its population shot through the roof within a few years.

In Hawaii, chickens, mongoose, rats and even cats have been known to eat coquis, but nothing is eating the frogs fast enough to make a difference. Other Hawaiian Islands are under threat of the Coqui frog invasion. Although a coqui control agent is yet to be found, recent research at UH-Hilo has found that Prozac suppresses coqui libido and aggression, leaving the frog no reason to chirp. But how 10,000 frogs might be put on an antidepressant has yet to be worked out.

The story of the coqui hitchhikers gives us yet another reminder of how fragile our environment is. Changing one little variable disrupt an entire ecosystem.

O’ahu Island

Oahu Island is also known as “The Gathering Place.”

Oahu Island Well, based on that, it must be full of people. I wish I’ve been told ahead of time. Every available patch of beach sand here seems filled with European, Australian, American and Japanese tourists. The latter come here exclusively to shop for designer clothes.

Oahu is home to the state capital, Honolulu. Frankly, if you have only one shot to visit Hawaii, I would recommend spending your time on some other island.

Nevertheless, Oahu is where first-time tourists with zero knowledge of Hawaii typically end up going. I was no exception to that rule. On my first trip, I plunged right into the middle of Waikiki Beach. This is a very wide sand beach, with the Honolulu Zoo continuing along one side.

There is no mystery as to why Waikiki Beach steals the show for first-time Hawaiian visitors. The prices for airfare, hotels and travel packages make it the most cost-effective sprint from the Mainland. Yes, The Mainland. This is what any Hawaiian person—any Kamaina—calls the other forty-nine states of the Union.

There is plenty of good stuff on Oahu, though.

The North Shore presents you with some of the archipelago’s most exceptional surf spots, such as Pipeline, Sunset, and Banzai beaches. Pipeline is one of the most prestigious ASP World Surf Tour spots. The show here is normally run by locals, so it might not be the ideal place to launch your surfing career.

 

Pipeline Local Master by Matt Kurvin

Pipeline Local Master shot by Matt Kurvin

Many Hollywood movies have been shot on this island, and you may recognize some of its beaches from seeing them on TV.

Honolulu, the major hub on Oahu, has a very typical downtown, with the skyscrapers and highways you can find in any average-sized American city. There are massive malls overrun by Japanese tourists shopping for high-end designer stuff “on the cheap.”

If I recall correctly, there are enough cars on the streets of Honolulu to make the simple act of parking feel like your worst nightmare. Can’t find street parking? Well, you can always park your car at a nearby hotel for $25 per day or more. There are some other creative ways to park your car, but it’s always a hassle.

None of that makes me enthusiastic about returning to Oahu any time soon.

Maui Island

Maui Island highlighted on the mapMaui is awesome!

This is where I went five times in a single year. I used to own this vacation rental condo in South Kihei. Any three- or four-night opening overlapping with a last-minute airfare deal would guarantee my presence on the plane to Kuhului (OGG), the major airport in Maui.

My all-around favorite things to do in Maui are the following:

The road to Hana

The rain forest road to Hana

 

If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, as I am, make sure to get some pills. The Hana road through the rain forest is beautiful, but I’m getting dizzy just looking at its curves.

Red Sand Beach in Hana

Red Sand beach in Hana

 

The hill surrounding this beach is rich in iron, that’s why the sand is such a deep red color. Although Maui Revealed guidebook recommends it as a Maui must-see, keep in mind that you need to trespass on private property on the way to Red Sand Beach. You may get your shoes muddy, too, so dress appropriately, and go at your own risk.

 

The black sand beach

Black Sand Beach in Hana Maui

This one is hard to miss while you’re on your way to Hana. Many tourists will take the turn-off to spend a few moments walking along black sand, formed from lava rock ground all the way down over centuries. After seeing a lot of photographs of the beach, though, you might be disappointed, as it doesn’t look nearly black under the Hawaiian sun.

Makena State Park

Pierre Leclerk photo of Makena Beach in Maui

 

Makena State Park is located at the south end of the South Kihei/Makena road, just two miles short of the Haleakala Volcano trail.

Makena Beach actually consists of two beaches, popularly known as Big Beach and Little Beach. Big Beach, a white sand beach approximately 3,300 feet long and 100 feet wide, is bordered by fingers of lava to the southeast and by Pu’u Ola’i, a volcanic cinder cone, to the northwest. Big Beach has a beautiful golden sand and steep foreshore, the result of high surf that periodically strikes the beach.

Little Beach is a small cove with a wide, white sand beach between two lava points on the seaward side of Pu’u Ola’i. The ocean bottom fronting the beach is a shallow sandbar with a normally gentle shore break. A short foot trail leads over the lava point separating the two beaches. Little Beach is known as a nudist gathering point, so get undressed, or at least be prepared watch out.

Watch windsurfers at Hookipa on a windy day

Windsurfers at Hookipa Maui

 

Hookipa Beach is the place to be on a windy day. Hopefully the swell will get big enough to produce overhead waves. This is when the windsurfing scene gets spectacular. I often think that these guys must have born with sails in their hands.

Grab a Mahi Mahi fish taco at Jawz cafe in Kihei or at their fish taco stand near Makena beach

The Best Fish Tacos on Maui

 

The guys at Jawz make the best fish tacos I’ve ever tasted. Grabbing a fish tacos in their Kihei restaurant was always the first thing on my agenda after renting a car.

Order a fish burger from Paia Fish Market restaurant, then surf at Paia beach

The Best Mahi Mahi burger on Maui

If you didn’t try the Mahi Mahi burger at Paia Fish Market, you didn’t experience Maui to the fullest. Once it’s in your stomach, you can head to any beach you want to and stay happy.

Freeze your a**  off at the top of Haleakala volcano

The view from Haleakala volcano is equally amazing at sunrise or sunset. Many people do hike up in the hours before sunrise. I took an easier route, driving to the top in time for sunset. Whichever way you prefer, please don’t think about attempting it without your ski jacket and a warm hat. It’s so freezing up there, I couldn’t turn the car key in the ignition!

If want a great experience in Maui, I recommend you check out the free tours from the Banana Bungalow Maui hostel. You may hop on their van (it’s not air-conditioned, though), or follow the van in your car. Just tip the tour guides for sharing all their knowledge about those hidden spots they take you to.

Kaua’i Island

Kauai Island on the map highlightedKauai, the Garden Island. Its nickname  says it all.

After visiting Maui and Oahu so many times, I was amazed to discover Kauai. From the moment your plane descends into Kauai, you can see how much greener it is than its neighbor islands.

From the Na Pali coast to Waimea Canyon, from surfing Hanalei Bay to visiting the art community of Hanapepe, from the luxury of Waipouli Beach Resort  to camping at Polihale State Park, there is such a great variety of things to do in Kauai.

I think Kauai deserves its own blog post. Hold tight, it’s coming soon!

Na-Pali-Kauai-Panorama-1500x300

Do you have any other recommendations about the four Hawaiian Islands? I’m pretty sure you do!

Just share below!