When I was a kid growing up, the only big waterfall I had ever heard of was Niagara Falls on the Canada/USA border. It wasn’t too far from where I lived, so we went there a few times with visiting friends and relatives. You can get quite close to the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, and it really is quite a sight! All that water rushing endlessly over a cliff and pounding downwards in clouds of mist was deafening and pretty scary for me when I was little.

Iguaçu Falls (photo: Reinhard Jahn)

It wasn’t until quite recently that I discovered there is an even bigger waterfall in Brazil. Since we were planning our trip-of-a-lifetime, we decided this was something we couldn’t miss! The Iguaçu Falls are in fact shared by three neighbouring countries: Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. You can look at them up close from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides, and in each case there are elevated walkways and viewpoints where you can get rather wet!

The falls are created where the broad and winding Iguaçu River drops off a long cliff at the edge of the Parana Plateau. Along this cliff-edge, which is 2.7 kilometres long, there are 275 separate waterfalls divided by islands, so it looks pretty spectacular! The river then takes a U-turn to the north and joins the Parana River, and that is the point where the three countries meet. There are three cities at this juncture. Foz do Iguaçu is in Brazil, Puerto Iguazu is in Argentina and Ciudad del Este is in Paraguay.

The word Iguaçu (also spelled Iguassu) comes from an ancient language spoken by the native Tupi indians who lived in this area long before any European settlers arrived. Y means “water” and uasu means “big” so you can see why they chose this name!

We flew into the Cataratas International Airport on the Brazilian side. Inside the Parque Nationale do Iguaçu there is an amazing bird sanctuary where you can see toucans, parrots, vultures, flamingos and a host of other exotic birds. Before going to the falls, we stopped off at this sanctuary.

Cameron discovered that toucans are completely tame and actually a little bit cheeky! This one clearly enjoyed having his picture taken. Their beaks look terribly heavy for them to hold up, and their feet are a pale blue colour. We also saw some brightly coloured parrots who were rather noisy!

Next we hopped onto a special tour bus which took us right into the heart of the park. On the Brazilian side of the falls you walk along an elevated pathway on the edge of the canyon, and the view across to the Argentinian side is breathtaking!

You really are in the middle of a rich, green jungle that stretches for miles (just look at the green section on that map above). There are wild animals wandering in the park as well, though one type of creature has unfortunately become quite tame because of the presence of tourists. We are warned not to feed the coatis (a type of raccoon), but not enough people heed this warning because they are so cute!

We saw these animals everywhere in the park, and the males were quite big! They are bold and curious, and climb up on chairs and tables if you encourage them with food. I got very nervous because they had such sharp-looking claws! Imagine a wild animal the size of a dog hopping up onto the chair next to you!

The next day we decided to venture over to the Argentinian side and see what Puerto Iguazu looked like. It had the feel of a wild west town, with stray dogs wandering about and lots of shops selling handicrafts. We stopped in a nice little cafe for lunch, and then walked along the main road to a park where you could see all three countries at once.

In this picture you can see Paraguay on the left with Ciudad del Este in the distance. We are standing on Argentinian soil, and the river stretching into the distance behind us is the Parana River. Behind me if you look closely you will see the Iguaçu River where it joins the Parana. The land on the far side of that river (behind my head) is Brazil. To get a sense of the scale here, that little boat you see on the water is a small car ferry!

We had to wait quite a while in a queue of tourists to get this final picture, but it was worth it! What a brilliant way to round off our Iguaçu experience!