It was all going smoothly when we bound towards Puerto Iguazo from Paraty. Apart from when we dipped inland to spend a bit of time in the gorgeous town of Ouro Preto, this was the only other time we ventured far from the coastline to explore a region – plus we were leaving Brazil and heading into Argentina right by where both countries border Paraguay.
One of the must-do’s in this part of the world is Iguazú Falls. The plan was to head straight into Argentina, check into our hostel in Puerto Iguazú, then get the bus back over the border to see the Brazil side of the falls. Take a bus back over the border and see the falls from the Argentinian side.
The basic procedure of travelling between both border controls is pretty straight forward. You get off the bus and go through customs in Argentina, get the next bus (or the bus may wait for you, if you’re lucky) to Brazilian customs, get stamped through and jump on the next bus again.
We got out of Argentina fine, but it was when I showed my passport at Brazilian customs that the officer flicked through and couldn’t find a visa.
Australians need a visa to visit Brazil, but that was waived during the Olympic period, so I didn’t need one. The Games were already over when we were in Rio which meant if I left Brazil and wanted to re-enter, I’d need a visa. We realised this right away and could do nothing about it.
So there I was at Brazilian customs, without a visa. I couldn’t enter the country to see the falls. Dean, however, is on a New Zealand passport. They don’t need a visa.
What did we do? Dean carried on to see Iguazú Falls in Brazil, and I got the next bus back to Argentina. I was sort of ok with that, even though I did have the shits for the rest of the day.
When you come to see Iguazú Falls in Argentina, it’s likely you’d be basing yourself in the town of Puerto Iguazú; which is about 18 km from the falls. The town is compact and isn’t as geared for the tourist as much as I thought it’d be. A few main shopping streets and that’s pretty much it.
Over by the bus station is the only place that’s open early in the morning. In fact, they’re open 24 hours, which is great as anyone that likes an early breakfast can get their fill here.
Panaderia y Confiteria el Árbol Real has a really good selection of pastries, cakes and breads and some factory-made empanadas that are probably best a voided. Nothing special, so get your handmade empanadas elsewhere – like the small place at Local 30 next to Gate 7 at the bus station across the road. They’re pretty fab.
Back at the panaderia, breakfast choices don’t go beyond what I described, apart from espresso; which is pretty standard. At lunch they put on a per-kilo buffet, they sell pre-made sandwiches, wine, some charcuterie and cheese. A decent choice if you want to pack a lunch before heading to the falls.
Ice cream fans ought to head to the busiest place in town for their fill on the frozen stuff. This place was packed with locals every night we walked past, which is good enough reason to sample the wares.
You can’t go wrong when you’re paying 25 peso ($2) for two large scoops, can you?
Restaurant choices around town are pretty decent, from meaty parrillas to pizza and regional food – and you don’t have to travel too far due to how compact the centre of town is.
While Dean was off taking in Iguazú Falls over the border in Brazil, I treated myself to a really nice glass of red wine and a fugazetta (20) a the parrilla and pizza place near our hostel.
Nino’s specialises in char-grilled steaks, pasta and pizza, which are pretty much staples in Argentina. There’s seating outside on the front deck, which gets blisteringly hot during the day, or inside in the contemporary dining room that’s complete with comfy booths.
I went for a pizza that can be found in many parts of Argentina – the fugazetta. It’s basically topped with cheese, onions and dried oregano. Not quite the foccacia-like fugazetta I was hoping to get, but it’s enjoyable enough.
One thing I noticed here at Nino’s is that they make the pizza bases first, top them with tomato sauce, par-bake them and pile them up for when orders come through. The cook simply tops the pre-made base with whatever toppings you order, then finishes it off in the oven.
There’s a good selection of bars in Puerto Iguazú where you can sit back at outdoor tables and soak in the relaxed atmosphere. Most of the bars in town are found along Avenida Brasil, where things kick off from evening onwards.
It may be a tad touristy, but Bambú Restobar is one such place that’s great for drinks. Some cold beer and fantastic frozen caipirinha came our way, all enjoyed sitting outside on the deck watching close-calls with cars trying to get through the 7-way intersection without signals.
Visiting a country that’s obsessed with grilled meat, and not trying it, may be a crime to some. I was hankering some carne and got my first taste of Argentinian parrilla at Tatu Carreta, a huge restaurant that does all things grilled.
In typical non-South American fashion, this pair went out for dinner somewhere between 7 and 8 pm; unlike the locals that start turning up somewhere near 9 or 9.30 for their family meal. This means we were sitting in an empty restaurant, once again.
Great wine list and an equally great malbec that matched perfectly with my whopping bife de chorizo (210) – which has no connection to chorizo sausage, like we originally thought. Chorizo is basically a sirloin steak.
Asking for medium-rare, the way I like it, means it’s somewhere between rare and bleu, at Tatu, due to the steak being almost two inches thick. I had to send this one back as cold raw meat that isn’t carpaccio doesn’t sit too well with me. Second time around it was better, but still very rare.
There are many more edibles you can choose from the parrilla, or you can go all out and order the lot which includes pork, sausage chicken, intestines and more.
The meat comes with no sides, so those need to be ordered separately. Salad, veggies or a nice big bowl of papas campos (100) – fried potatoes with onion and garlic.
If you have room for dessert, you’re a trooper. We didn’t get that far.
For those that like a spot of shopping, Avenidas Victoria Aguirre and Brasil are peppered with touristy places selling local crafty bits, maté and maté cups and the usual garb.
Food-wise, there’s O Salame Maluco with its very nice array of wines, oils, preserved and pickled vegetables, cheeses and, of course, salami.
Head a couple of blocks further along Avenida Brasil and you arrive at salami, cheese and olive heaven. This is our favourite part of Puerto Iguazú, and one that saw us several times during our time in town.
La Feirinha is home to something like 70 barracas (vendors) that all sell very much the same things. Locals from Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina all flock to this place to stock up on cheese, salami, many varieties of olives, plus alfajores, cakes, sweets and more. You can even grab pre-made bags of chimichurri herb & spice mix to take home, where all you need to do is add some good olive oil and your steak sauce is done.
The air is thick with the smell of salami and olives everywhere you walk around the feirinha and stopping to gawk at what they all sell is pure bliss. They’ll even let you try before you buy.
The feirinha isn’t all about shopping, either. The best part is you can take a seat infront of many of the barracas, order an ice-cold beer or glass of vino and enjoy a plate of the goods.
A few of them are open during the day, but the best time to get a taste of what this place it all about is the evening onwards. This is when it fills with people lounging about – drinking booze, eating and chatting.
We went to Barraca da Sonia a couple of times, where they put on a simple plate of salami, cheese and olives or fire up the small grill for some steak.
A few doors down is Bar do Sebastião which has a printed menu with sausage, chicken, steak, tripe, fish or provolone – just about anything that’s cooked on the parrilla. The only vegetable here is potato fries, so an appetite for meat or fish is paramount. For something like picanhas porções (500g steak with fries and bread) expect to pay 180 pesos. The meat is cut and served with toothpicks – easy finger food, no cutlery required.
Now, this is what people come to this part of Argentina for. When coming to Iguazú Falls there’s always the question of whether to see it from Brazil or Argentina. Which is better? Well, it’s easy enough to do both, providing your visa situation is in check, so why not see both?
For the Brazil side, you can see Dean’s photos at the end of this post. He got the good weather, as well, but keep reading to see the Argentinian side.
The Argentinian side is by far the larger one. Not necessarily the falls, but your access to them. There are far greater walkways and vantage points that put you indirect contact with this incredible natural wonder.
Even walking through the surrounding rainforest is a glorious experience – plenty of birdlife, including toucans. You bound to see the cheeky coatis sniffing around the eating areas and train stations in search of scraps. These things can bite, so don’t go feeding them as some people do. They’re cute but they can also be a pest.
The best thing to do when you arrive is grab a map and work out which trail to tackle first. To get infront of the hoards of tour groups, we sped past them and made our way to the second train station – Estación Cataratas – where you jump onboard and end up at Estacioón Garganta del Diablo.
The crowds around the falls can be unbearable at times, especially on the overwater metal walkways that can slow you down when you’re stuck behind a group of people that take up the whole thing.
Don’t get me started on the selfie stick brigade. You’ll be swerving and ducking out of the way just to avoid being hit in the face, trying to get further along the walkways.
The weather for us was wet, to say the least. We spent a good half an hour sitting undercover waiting for it to ease as an electrical storm moved in and whipped up a frenzy. Walking across the overwater walkway to the 150 metre-wide Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat, holding an umbrella when a lightning bold struck the water 100 metres away kind of made me shit my pants. Especially when I felt a zap run through its handle. It got folded away in a flash.
Shitting my pants aside, Garganta is an absolute thrill to see, and feel. Yes, you do get wet from the mist that shoots up every few seconds, but the sight truly is something. That energy!
Two other main trails are Superior (where the upper rim of the falls can be seen) and Inferior (a longer trail that leads to the bottom by Salto Bossetti, Ramirez, Chico and Dos Hermanas falls. Personally, I prefer seeing the falls from below as you get a great perspective looking up and across the falls, rather than just the drop point.
To get into Iguazú National Park foreigners pay $330AR and locals pay $200AR. A bit of a kick to the guts when we’re all there to see the same thing, but this is very much the norm with entrance fees to national parks and museums in Argentina. The ticket includes the onsite train as well as the short ferry trip to San Martin Island, which can be accessed on the Inferior trail.
Food-wise, there are kiosks that sell sandwiches, snack and drinks, but if you want to save the pesos, bring your own.
How we got to Puerto Iguazú from Paraty.
From Paraty we got the 11.40pm Reunidas overnight bus to São Paulo, arriving at 6.15am at Rodoviário Tietê. Cost pp R$76.
From the bus station we got the metro to Saúde – R$3 pp, then a local bus transfer to Congonhas Airport for a flight to Foz do Iguaçu airport on the Brazil side of the falls. We found flights online that were cheaper than the 12-hr bus from São Paulo. Great time-saver, as well.
From the airport we got a local downtown bus (R$3.5 pp), got off near Hotel Bourbon, crossed the road and got another bus bound for Argentina (R$4 pp).
This bus takes you to Brazilian immigration, you go through border control and then wait for the next bus (same company) to take you through to the Argentinian immigration point. Be sure to get a connection pass from your driver so you can get onto the next same company bus that comes past. If not, you’ll be paying for another ticket.
This bus will go to the main bus station, Terminal de Ómnibus de Puerto in Puerto Iguazú.