Obelisk at the Argentina side of the triple frontier
Iguazu Falls is located about 20km east of the triple frontier between Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. The triple frontier lies at the confluence of the Iguazu and Alto Parana Rivers with colored markers on each of the steeply sloping banks, although the Brazilian one is located behind a large pagoda and can´t be seen from the Argentine side. To get between the countries there is a bridge from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina to Foz do Iguacu in Brazil and then another bridge from Foz do Iguacu to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Except for the Argentine border crossing, none of the buses stop and wait for passengers to go through immigration so if you have to get an exit or entry stamp you have to disembark and then wait for the next bus to come by, a real pain.
The lesser falls and Isla San Martin on the Argentine side
But if just crossing the border for the day you don´t need to get Brazilian or Paraguayan stamps, which is very convenient.
I first decided to visit the Brazilian side of the falls as it is supposed to offer better views of the falls from a distance and gives you a better perspective of the falls. It was simple enough to get there by changing buses in Foz do Iguacu and it turned out that there really wasn´t that much to the Brazilian side of the falls. There is essentially one walking trail that makes its way along the edge of the cliff overlooking the falls on the Argentine side with great panoramic views. At the end the path approaches the dramatic viewpoint of the Devil´s Throat from a viewing platform set out in the middle of the river with smaller waterfalls to the left, the Devil´s Throat straight ahead, and the other lesser falls opposite the river on the right.
The devil´s throat from the Brazilian side
With the pounding water and blowing wind the mist from the water was carried everywhere and created almost constant rainbows lit up by the brightly shining sun. From the end of the trail you can take an elevator up to the top of a viewing tower for views over the river above the falls. That was pretty much the extent of the Brazilian side, taking only about 2-3 hours at most.
The next day I went to the Argentine side to get a closer view of the falls. The Argentine side has much more to offer with 3-4 different trails offering different perspectives of the falls and the 1km walkway out to a position right near the Devil´s Throat, being the highlight. The Lower Circuit trail leads down to a boat dock where you can take a free boat over to the island in the middle of the river that has good views over the lesser falls and one super tiny swimming area and rocky beach.
The Devil´s Throat and a rainbow
The Upper Circuit traverses the top ridge of the lesser falls and is short but still pretty. To get from those trails to the one to the Devil´s Throat you take this old train that runs every half hour and brings you to the start of the walkway. Unfortunately, the park is only open until 6pm, with the last train back at 5:30pm so you don´t get to stay and see the sunset at the falls, but even at 5:30 the light was starting to change and scenery was excellent, even of the parts of the river upstream from the falls. The river itself was actually flowing quite slowly and seemed to be only about 2-3 feet deep. The Devil´s Throat was truly amazing, with a semi-circle of waterfalls pouring into a basin with the resulting mist being carried upwards by the wind yielding endless rainbows.
Looking down the valley from the Devil´s Throat
For the few days every month around the full moon they also offer night-time viewing of the Devil´s Throat. Under the moonlight, and without as much noise or other people around it was very beautiful. They claimed that sometimes you can see rainbows at night but I couldn´t see any and I don´t really believe it either.
Since I was planning on traveling through Paraguay to get to Bolivia I had to get a Paraguayan visa, which I decided to do before visiting Ciudad del Este. I went to the Paraguayan Consulate in Puerto Iguazu, after having to ask 2 different people as it had moved, and they told me that they don´t issue visas and would have to go to the one in Foz do Iguacu. So I took the bus across the border and found the consulate. I filled out the form and they told me to come back in one hour.
The Devil´s Throat under the full moon
I thought that it was too simple, except for the fact that you can only pay in US Dollars so I had to change Reais to dollars. I came back in one hour and they told me that it wouldn´t be ready until the afternoon, at 1:30pm or 2pm. So I returned again at 1:30pm and they told me that it was lunch hour and to come back in an hour. I didn´t see any point in arguing so I just left. I came back again at 2:30pm and waited for 15 minutes before they called me into the office. They asked if I was planning to work in Paraguay and if I had a ticket out of Paraguay. I have a ticket back to the US but not from Paraguay and I didn´t have it with me. Then she made a phone call and after some quick talking asked me if I had a credit card, which I showed her, then she asked if I had a visa for Brazil.
The packed Friendship Bridge between Brazil and Paraguay
After this she took my form, a passport photo, my money, and my credit card and disappeared for 30 minutes, then re-appeared with my credit card, change, and my passport with the visa. Thankfully now that is two visas down, with only the one for Bolivia remaining.
The next day I crossed into Paraguay by taking a bus to the Friendship Bridge and then walking across the disordered mess of traffic and pedestrians crawling across the bridge. While Puerto Iguazu is by far the least developed of the three border cities, Ciudad del Este is overwhelmingly chaotic. Either side of the main avenue leading to the Friendship Bridge is packed on both sides with stalls and shops selling all sorts of fake watches, sunglasses, clothes, every kind of electronic good imaginable, and lots and lots of crap.
The Itaipu dam
I had one guy selling fake Puma socks follow me for almost 3 blocks, without a single word of encouragement on my part, trying to sell me the socks. After wandering through the markets and quickly becoming fed up with the sheer effort it took to even navigate around all the voracious salespeople I caught a bus out to the Itaipu Dam, now the world´s second largest dam after the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in China. The dam provides 80% of Paraguay´s power and 25% of Brazils. At the moment Paraguay uses only a fraction of its share and sells the rest to Brazil at cost until 2030 or so, however the new president of Paraguay has talked about nullifying this contract. The scale of the dam itself was very impressive and the film they showed was interesting, and they did a good job of trying to spin the amount of environmental destruction the dam caused by flooding much of the upstream area and displacing people and wildlife.
Squatter camps opposite the bus terminal in Ciudad del Este
On the other hand, the bus tours of the dam were lacking, with only 2 stops, one at the base and one in the machine room, without one on top of the dam.
With nothing else to see in the triple frontier area it was off to Asuncion to see more of Paraguay. To show the poverty in Paraguay, there was a squatter community just opposite the bus terminal of considerable size with people living in makeshift plastic tents and total squalor, a marked difference from Argentina and Brazil, at least in such a central area. But such is life in the second poorest country in South America.