Friday, January 4, 2013

Parque Nacional Iguazu

After spending 4 weeks in Buenos Aires while my husband taught and lectured for his Fulbright, we decided to take an additional 2 weeks and explore other parts of Argentina. He'd been working hard and earned a vacation. I, on the other hand, had been whooping it up the entire time, so it was 2 more weeks of fun and exploration. Buenos Aires is a wonderful and beautiful city. The food is fantastic and there is so much going on there all the time. It's also pretty crowded and noisy and busy, so it was a relief to be heading to smaller, wilder parts of the country. For our first excursion, we chose to head north to Cataratas del Iguazu, or Iguazu Falls. The falls are located in a national park shared by Argentina and Brazil. Most of the falls are in Argentina, but the best views are in Brazil. So most people visit both sides of the falls, with one or two days in each park.

The flight from Buenos Aires to Iguazu took about an hour an a half. It was neat to watch from the plane as the terrain changed below. The high-rises and suburbs of Buenos Aires stretch on forever. Soon they melt into flat farm land and then you are flying too high to see anything but clouds. When the descent begins, the landscape has changed into pure greenery--trees, trees, trees. It looked from the air like there wasn't a lot of virgin forest. You could see the squares of tree farms below. But it was very green, all the same. 

Once in the airport we could feel the humidity of the jungle. We were very close to the falls and the park, but you couldn't see them. I watched for jungle fauna from the bus to the hotel with great excitement, but all I saw were road signs warning of animals crossing--coaties, agoutis and tapirs! We didn't see any on the road, however.

Coati Crossing
Puerto Iguazu, where we stayed, is a little tourist town with gift shops, restaurants and hotels. Since most of the tourists were busy at the park during the day, it was a hopping place after 5. It was sprinkling when we landed but had stopped, so we decided to go out and explore the city. Suddenly the wind picked up and really started to blow and it got very dark. We could see that the power was out in a lot of the shops. Then sheet metal from the roofs started to blow off of the buildings and we decided that we needed to head back to the hotel. It was rather intense. Safely back in our room, we watched the storm roll through and hoped that the weather would be better in the morning.

And it was. The weather was gorgeous! We met our bus and drove to the park. There were big lines to enter, but once we were through the gates the crowds were not an issue. My husband usually prefers to walk whenever possible rather than take the shuttles or trains. He'd been to the park before and insisted that it would be better to walk up the dirt road to the falls. He was so right, because along that road were more butterflies than I'd ever seen in one place in my life. I was so happy! There were hundreds of kinds of butterflies. A guide told us later that they have over 500 species in the park. The largest numbers by far were of sulphur butterflies that wafted down along the road like a yellow ribbon. Large clusters of butterflies gathered around mud and puddles, extracting minerals from the dirt. It was magical. Then there were the birds. We saw Vultures and Kites, Hawks and Jays, Lapwings and Woodpeckers. There was an Ani, a Cacique, a Trogon, and even some Toucans. We didn't see any Hummingbirds, but I guess that gives me a reason to go back!

Eighty Eight Butterfly

Variable Beautymark

Various Butterflies Puddling

Clouds of Sulphurs

Plush-Crested Jay

Southern Lapwing

Red Breasted Toucan

Surucua Trogon


Greater Ani

Toco Toucan
As if the wildlife was not enough, the waterfalls are spectacular! They are listed as one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of Nature--kind of a silly sounding designation, but they are a wonder. The Iguazu river forms the border between Brazil and Argentina. You can see the falls at several places along the river, but the closest view is gotten from right over the top of the Devil's Throat, or Garganta del Diablo. You walk along a very long metal walkway for nearly a mile. The view from the walkway is peaceful and calm. The river flows underneath, flat and fairly quiet. And then the river suddenly drops off into the huge Devil's maw. It's easy to imagine being a boater or traveler in the past, floating peacefully along and being totally surprised by the abrupt plunge into oblivion. At the end of the walkway, you stand over the edge of the Garganta and experience the roar and power. It's almost overwhelming. Hawks and kites circle overhead and rainbows form in the mist. It's a truly beautiful place. 

The falls from Brazil

Smooth River

Edge of Garganta del Diablo

Iguazu Falls

More of the Falls

More of the Falls (I can't get enough!)
In the areas with people and food, we saw monkeys and coatis. They are cute, but can be pests and even bite. They've learned that people will feed them and they can become aggressive. But we enjoyed them from a distance. We also saw an agouti and some smaller rodents, but never saw a tapir or capybara. 

Restaurant Coati



Watch Out!
We returned to the Argentina side for another day and saw more birds, more butterflies and some cool insects, including a giant walking stick. Then we spent one day on the Brazilian side. I have to say that I didn't enjoy that day quite as much. The view of the whole falls is good, but the park is much more developed. We took buses most places and didn't see nearly as many butterflies. It felt more sanitized. But it was still amazing.

Bullet Ants with a caterpillar and my husband's finger for scale

Walking Stick and my husband's finger again
Everywhere we walked, in either park, butterflies fluttered around our heads, landed on bushes, and even landed on us. I think that was the most marvelous part. It was like being in a butterfly exhibit at a museum or botanical garden, but these were free-roaming. I could have stayed there much, much longer. But if I'd stayed, I wouldn't have had time for the adventures that followed. I guess I'll just have to go back again. Soon.

I love this place!
Click here to see more of my photos from Iguazu Falls.

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