A true icon of the natural world, Iguazú Falls celebrates its recognition as one of the New Seven...
After Sundown at the Iguazú Falls
There is a moment in the jungle when you realize that the bright colors have disappeared and gray tones have been painted in their place. The canopy’s edge has transformed to die-cut black against the indigo sky, with the scent of salvia growing sweeter as the sun sets. Waterfalls hidden behind the trees splash down hundreds of yards, and the afternoon rainbow is replaced by a pearly halo.
I am walking towards the Devil’s Throat in Iguazú National Park, in the province of Misiones, Argentina, on a full-moon tour offered four days a month and only on clear nights. From afar, the Devil’s Throat – the largest individual fall in the Iguazú waterfall system – is just a rumble, but as I get closer, it becomes a misty cloud blurring all the shapes of nature. The sound of water changes as we draw closer, from a roar, to loud white noise, to thunder.
People speak more softly while approaching the gorge, like they do when entering a place of worship. High above the falls, the Iguazú River runs almost dead calm before crashing furiously over the edge of a wide crater, as if a massive bathtub stopper had been pulled from above.
The landscape appears as a night scene staged for the movies, with a deep royal-blue river floating over opaque-white falling waters and dark-green grasses swaying on the edge. Small wildflowers that were bright yellow earlier in the day are now a pale avocado under cool, white light. It seems that if the smoky filter were to be lifted from in front of my eyes, it would be high noon.
Iguazú literally means “big waters” in Guaraní, the language of the local indigenous peoples. These are the wi dest waterfalls in the world, measuring 8,800 feet across (followed by the Victoria Falls in Africa and Niagara on the U.S./Canada border, respectively). The flow rate of the Iguazú Falls is 460,800 gallons of water per second. Because they are so vast, the falls allow for spectacular views from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Upon seeing Iguazú for the first time, Eleanor Roosevelt exclaimed, “Poor Niagara! It makes our falls look like a kitchen faucet.”
Of the world’s three largest waterfalls, Iguazú is the only one set in a sub-tropical jungle. Deep-purple salvias feed hummingbirds, and heliotropes fill the air with hints of caramel and spices. Toucans perching on the branches of cinnamon and mate shrubs placidly observe the visitors to the park, while cormorants dive into the Iguazú River to fish. Underneath the trees’ canopy, true orchids compete with their lookalikes, the flowers of the ceiba tree. Pre-Colombian cultures believed that ceibas – or “drunken trunks,” as they are called in Argentina – connected the underworld with the heavens and the terrestrial realms.
Less superstitious, contemporary mortals travel to the falls not just for nature but for the thrill of being “inside the falls.”
On the morning before my full-moon experience, I had taken a motorboat ride up river to the San Martín fall, the widest fall a boat can approach safely. On board, it felt like I was experiencing a hundred cold rain showers all at once, so powerful I could neither scream with excitement nor open my eyes to fully embrace being inside such an impressive volume of water. Later that day, I tried a calmer ride above the Devil’s Throat on a boat without a motor. This is the best way to see animals, like the elusive jaguar and howler monkeys. I noticed a few lazy caimans lurking among the ferns on the banks of the river. The boat stopped next to a group of trees and a cloud of red butterflies emerged, as if just leaving their cocoons. I could hear coatis, members of the raccoon family, scratching the soil in search of dinner.
Now on the scenic overlook at the Devil’s Throat and suited up in a plastic poncho, I’m happy to appreciate the river and falls from dry land. The moon keeps rising, bleaching out the few hues left. I can see a building glowing on the Brazilian side, but otherwise, the moon is the only source of light. Staring into the gorge, the movement of the water is so hypnotic that I can’t stop wondering what would happen if I just jumped in. Some people are trying in vain to capture the landscape with pocket-sized cameras, while others just sit back on a bench, drinking mate….
LAN Flights: From Buenos Aires to Iguazú every day. To Buenos Aires every day from Lima, Miami and Santiago (Chile), six times a week from São Paulo, twice a week from Guayaquil and once a week from Punta Cana.
Where to sleep
01. Iguazú Grand Hotel: A classic casino-resort. The hotel opened a new wing in 2005 with 46 junior suites and one panoramic suite overlooking a tropical garden. There is a new spa with two pools and myriad mud treatments.
02. Panoramic Hotel Iguazú: From the terrace, swimming pool and most guest rooms, you can see where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet along the Iguazú River. The Doña Flor restaurant specializes in French cuisine with regional touches.
03. Sheraton Iguazú Resort & Spa:
This is the only hotel inside Iguazú National Park. Some rooms have a view of the Devil’s Throat.
04. Lodge Yacutinga: If you want a “greener” lodge where you can escape the crowds, this is your best bet. The lodge has funded several ecological programs, including a catalog of ethno-botanical species and a reforestation plan. All rooms have private baths and wood-burning stoves.
Aguas Grandes: The most experienced tourism agency in the region, with knowledgeable, multilingual guides and adventure packages for rappelling down gorges or zipping along through the trees.
Visiting Iguazú Falls? Don’t miss the chance to tour the Argentinean city of Puerto Iguazú and...