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What are the Iguazu Falls?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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The Iguazu Falls are the beautiful waterfalls on the Iguazu River between Brazil and Argentina. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have been since 1984 and 1986. The falls straddle two nations, and so are shared by two different parks: the Iguazu National Park of Argentina and the Iguacu National Park of Brazil.

The Iguazu Falls are, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable natural formations in the world. Their name means simply Big Water in Guarani, and it is a fitting name. There are more than 275 falls in the Iguazu Falls, spanning more than a mile and a half (2.5km) of river. The vast majority of falls are over 200 feet (60m) in height, with the tallest falling some 270 feet (82m). At any given moment, there is some 150 acres of water falling. This is compared to Niagara, which has less than 50 acres falling at peak.

Upon first seeing Iguazu Falls, Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!” It is difficult to conceive of the amount of water pouring from Iguazu Falls, and even videos of the place fail to do it justice. The mist, and deafening roar of the falls are as large a part of the experience as the sight of the water itself.

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The legend of the falls’ creation says that there was once an enormous river spirit or deity, a giant snake called Boi. Legend says the locals sacrificed a young woman every year, to appease Boi and keep him peaceful. One year, a Guarani hero rescued the woman slated for sacrifice, and fled with her in a canoe. Boi, in rage, burst into the hundreds of falls, damning the man and woman either to be separated forever, or to fall together for eternity, depending on the version of the myth.

The most notable of the Iguazu Falls is the so-called Devil’s Throat, or Garganta del Diablo. This is the largest of the Iguazu Falls, and creates a large horseshoe shape, nearly 500 feet (150m) wide and over 2300 feet (700m) long. The Garganta del Diablo forms this part of the border between Argentina and Brazil.

Although Iguazu Falls are not the largest in the world — that distinction belongs to Africa’s Victoria Falls — they are much more accessible than Victoria Falls, allowing for a more close and intense experience. There are walkways which extend out along a number of the Iguazu falls, on both the Argentine and Brazilian sides, allowing visitors to get quite close.

The Paseo Garganta del Diablo is one of the most visited of these walkways, and lets visitors get right on top of the Garganta del Diablo. One walkway allows visitors to go out to a point where they are surrounded by falls on more than 260 degrees, giving the impression that one is truly in the middle of a swirling maelstrom of water.

Both Foz do Iguacu on the Brazilian side, and Puerto Iguazu on the Argentine side, have airports that service them. There is a robust tourist industry built up there, with plenty of hotels and hostels at all price points, restaurants that cater to Westerners, and innumerable guides willing to take you around the falls. On the Argentine side there is a small train that takes visitors around the falls, stopping at each of the different walkways. This is probably the easiest way to see the most falls with the least effort.

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