Iguazu Falls and Jungle Biking

Yesterday we had an early start with Argecam Tur. Gustavo picked us up at 7:30am to take us to Iguazu Falls on the Argentine side. The reason for getting such an early start is because the National Park gets crowded early and it is crowded every day of the year with more than 4,000 visitors per day! Gustavo was an excellent guide, and it turned out he was our private guide as there were no others on the tour with us. He is very knowledgeable but he doesn’t just spew out facts – he made the tour enjoyable by giving us the facts and figures, but also by telling us some of the history and stories. He was also a great communicator and good at making conversation without being intrusive, and it was very clear that after 6 years, he still loves his job. Who wouldn’t love having the falls as their office?

Gustavo was with us the entire time. He explained many things to us, and pointed out insects (you should see the size of the tiger ants!), animals, birds and plants and even had a field guide book with the various animals listed in order to give us the proper English names. He also provided ample time for us to take photos. It was a slightly cloudy day, which was ok because it’s hot in Iguazu. We started out taking the train to Garganta del Diablo/Devil’s Throat (the main falls), and then we took the middle trail followed by the lower trail before boarding the Jungle Explorer boats to see the falls up close.

The sheer size of the falls is incredible – it makes Niagara look small. The main fall is 80ft tall! At the top looking down, you can’t see the bottom – it’s just a big mist. From the middle and bottom trails, we got views of how wide the falls expand – 2.75km wide. When we were there, Gustavo explained that there was more water than usual, so a lot of thunderous falls to see. The falls do not come from snow or ice – it’s all rain water. I wished we had the wide angle lens with us. I tried to take good photos, but it was actually difficult because of the crowds and because it gets quite wet as you venture closer for photos. We got to get up very close to this powerful waterfall that I cannot remember the name of. It was named after one of the park rangers from 100 years ago that was accidentally killed by illegal hunters. You were literally right in front of the waterfall and it was both wide and tall. You could stand in front and get a picture, but it would just look like a curtain of rushing water behind you.

The falls from the lower trail where also majestic but on a more peaceful scale. The lower path led down to where you could board boats that would take you right up to the base of the falls. They provide you with dry bags and life jackets and in the boat you go. I quickly popped 2 gravol and hung on tight to Nelson as they motored the boat straight towards the falls. Although we did not go directly under the falls, it certainly felt that way. Not one iota of my body stayed dry. It was frightening and thrilling at the same time. I was laughing and screaming and trying to catch my breath as the water from the falls, along with the waves splashing upwards drenched us. It was a truly memorable experience.

Afterwards, they took us by 4WD back to the entrance to meet our guide. Oh, prior to the boat ride, our guide took us into the jungle (trail) where we saw toucans, monkeys and racoons.

Dinner at Colors Grill sucked. I feel the need to point this out because the Frommer’s writer makes it sound like a popular and good place to eat. It might be popular, but the food is terrible! It was possibly the worst meal we’ve had on this trip thus far. Nelson decided to trick the cook into grilling the steak correctly by ordering his steak rare. The waiter even came back to confirm that he wanted it ‘red’. Well, guess what? It came out medium-well. I had the chorizo de bife which was also over-cooked. The dish came with fries and rice. Sure, my culture knows rice, but my God, I didn’t think you could screw up rice that bad. It was both wet and under-cooked, with no seasoning. From a Chinese restaurant, you expect plain, white rice, but typically other restaurants will have some seasoning. You could not pay us to go back. There are other good restaurants on that strip to choose from. Stay away from Colours.

Moving on….

We were going to wake up early and go to the Brazilian Consulate and try to visit Iguazu Falls from the Brazil side, but we decided not to bother. The facts on how to get the visa were varied (some said to go at 7am, while others told us to go at 6am, and both told us we probably would get the visa by the afternoon). It just seemed like a lot of work, waiting, and the cost didn’t seem worth it. We didn’t have a solid plan for today. I’m not always good at “relaxing” so I woke up myself (no alarm) fairly early this morning and went down to the lobby to surf the internet while Nelson slept. I was trying to find activities to fill our day. I wasn’t entirely successful as Iguazu doesn’t have a whole lot (the Falls is the main attraction). I managed to find out more about the animal recovery centre, Guira Oga, which we went to after breakfast. It’s an incredible place where they rehabilitate sick or injured animals. They currently have 500 animals, 200 of which have been humanized or not well enough to ever be released back into the wild. This place will continue to bread them and release the babies into the wild. 300 animals in their care are on schedule to be released. It’s impressive and inspirational. The tour is guided and you cannot take your time and walk through alone, but it’s still worthwhile. Our guide was very accommodating and spoke in both Spanish and English. It costs $40 pesos per person. The tour does feel a little rushed (90 minutes), which is the only complaint I have. I did enjoy hearing about how certain animals came to the centre, and the various rehabilitation strategies such as teaching previously caged hawks and falcons how to hunt and fly.

We had no plans for the afternoon. The sun was out, making it feel like an oven outdoors. It was so hot, that I was permanently damp. It’s evident why in Puerto Iguazu, the locals close businesses for afternoon siestas (naps). After eating such huge lunches, with wine or beer, plus the oppressive heat, you can’t help it but to want to lie down and close your eyes. After our lunch, we decided to hit the pool at our hotel to stay cool. The poolside has loungers and a bar, so we set ourselves up on the loungers and snoozed for a while after taking a dip in the cool water. It seemed that the sun had started to disappear, but we were wrong. We decided to hit the town square later in the afternoon and the sun was still as strong as ever. The palm trees by the pool made it seem cooler than it really was. We found this out because we ventured out again around 4pm and once again, I was dripping in sweat.

In the evening we went jungle biking in the moonlight with Iguazu Bike Tours. Actually, how we got on this tour was an adventure in itself. In the morning we went looking for their shop front downtown. It was off a side street so it was difficult to spot right away, and when we asked around, it didn’t seem like it was known even though the town isn’t big. When we finally spotted it, a young woman, Joanna, came out and approached us. She did not speak a lick of English and no amount of broken English/Spanish plus hand gestures was getting us anywhere. So I finally asked her if I could use her computer (again, using a typing gesture and pointing to her laptop). Thank goodness for Google Translate. We started communicating in this manner until her boss, Alejandro (Alex) called her back. She explained the situation over the phone and then passed him to me. Everything got sorted out and we were set for our moonlight ride.

Alex is an enthusiastic guide. His company seemed to be one of the few that offered jungle bike rides in the area and even better, his website was one of the few that offered a map and address of his location. For $150 pesos per person, he outfits you with a helmet, mountain bike, water, and bug repellent. Once we were fitted, we hit the road. Within minutes, we were on a dirt path in the jungle. I have never ridden in the dark before, let alone in the dark in the jungle. It’s a little bit creepy, but once you let yourself relax, it’s an amazing adventure. Since your sense of sight isn’t very good, your sense of sound is enhanced and you can hear all of the sounds of a night jungle, which is oddly soothing. Alex must have hawk eyes. We’d be riding along while he is telling us things and mid sentence, he’d jump off his bike and point out the tiniest critter, or a camoflauged spider. How he can spot these things in a quick glance using a head lamp is beyond me. It was amazing to say the least. He is also very good at making certain bird calls and when he did, we saw a bird fly over us, land in a nearby tree and repeat the call. It’s mating season in the jungle, so he only did the calls a few more times. Nelson was very skeptical at first and was sure that after the first bird call Alex made, it was simply a bat that flew overhead. I got to see fireflies, a gigantic poisonous spider, a few different types of frogs with one of them being yellow and the size of my baby fingernail. I saw pink snail eggs, birds that nest on the ground, a beautiful moth and one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen – a highway of leaf cutter ants. When I say highway, I’m not kidding. The path was about 30 meters long and you see all these pieces of leaves moving. Apparently leaf cutter ants can carry 400x their weight. Alex explained that this was happening because they use the leaves to build up the nest (underground) and the leaves are also used as food for the babies that were about to hatch. We also stopped at a marshy area where the symphony of frog and toad sounds was actually quite defeaning. It sounded like drums with a multitude of other sounds, including loud chirping.

The ride, possibly 12km, was a mixture of hills, gravel, bumpy dirt and cement. Some parts were very dark and we all had to turn on our lights. Once we got into the more cleared areas, when could be guided by the moonlight. Sadly, the cemented part of the trail is being built by future hotels moving into the area. It was such a memorable 2hr experience and I highly recommend it to anyone that likes nature, adventure and is somewhat fit.

Here are videos from our day at Iguazu National Park:

Videos from our Moonlight Jungle Bike Ride:

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