Iguazú Falls, Argentina and Brazil – Impressions

On the border of Argentina and Brazil are the mighty Iguazú Falls.  One of the seven new wonders of the world, the falls connect a national park in each country. The falls are among the seven largest waterfalls in the world, a third larger than Niagara Falls.

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From the Argentinian township of Puerto Iguazú it’s easy to see both sides of the falls.  The Argentinian side has many wide cascades of water at several levels while the Brazilian side has the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped section of the falls. Here are details of both with prices correct as at June 2013:

Argentina – Cataratas del Iguazú

The trip from Puerto Iguazú by bus takes about 15 minutes. The Argentinian side is the more expensive of the two parks at $170 pesos (about US$34), but it has the larger tourist area. There are several different walks in the park and a boat tour that takes you up close to the cascades. The boat tour – the Gran Adventura – is fairly expensive at $350 pesos (US$70) but I booked it anyway. Near the booking area I came across some South American Coatí scavenging for food.

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It was raining on the day of my visit, so I bought a cheap rain poncho. After booking the Gran Adventura, I had an hour to kill so went for a walk around the park along a trail creatively named, ‘The Lower Trail’. Because of the rain and an excess of water going over the falls The Upper Trail was closed, which was a shame as it leads across a series of bridges to a platform above the Devil’s Throat.

The lower trail leads down the bank, past many smaller waterfalls to several lookouts with different views of the flatter side of the falls. At one point, the trail gets very close to the cascades where the spray is thick in the air.  Thankfully for the poncho I stayed mainly dry.

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The Gran Adventura begins with a 30 minute safari through the rainforest where a guide introduces several different native trees and I got to see my first ever monkeys in the wild.

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Then we were strapped into the boat and shot off at full force along the river.

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With so much of the thick dirty brown water coming over the falls, the water eddies like crazy and even the big jet boat was thrown around. With the amount of spray coming off the falls it was difficult to get close to the churning water coming down the Devil’s Throat…

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…so we spent more time getting close to and drenched by the cascades section.

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Then it was a crazy ride back along with the river, back into the safari trucks and out of the park.

Brazil – Cataratas do Iguaçu

The trip to the brazilian side of the falls takes about 30 minutes, including a short stop at customs. Because it’s considered a tour, no fees or visas are required.

Brazil’s park is larger overall but with a smaller tourist area. It’s cheaper at $41 Reals ($US21). To get to the viewing platforms, you need to take an internal bus which can drop you off along the way depending on what tour you want to do. They also have  boat tours similar to the Argentinian side.

The park’s main path is slightly shorter than the Argentinian side but has better views, beginning with a view across the river to the cascades section of the falls…

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As you get closer to the Devil’s Throat, the trail zigzags up the wall to a viewing platform right at its side, which provides awesome views of the upper river pouring right down the Devil’s Throat.

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While there was a section also closed because of the height of the water, the views were still amazing.

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With no rain today there were plentiful moths and butterflies about. They will land on everything at a moments notice.  If they weren’t so colourful, they’d be considered pests.

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Overall, the falls are a definite must see. While you can be happy seeing just one side, it’s not hard to see both and well worth the money spent.

Next I’m off to see the wonders of Brazil and Rio De Janeiro.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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Buenos Aires, Argentina – Take 2

After several months travelling around the southern portion of South America I returned to my starting point of Buenos Aires. On my initial visit, I’d only spent 3 days there and hadn’t seen a lot of the city. On my return visit, I stayed 10 days to hang out with a group of locals I’d arranged to meet and to see some of the sights of the city, like the main courthouse.

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On my second visit I staying in the central suburb of Palermo at a hostel chain called Hostel Suites Palermo, which had an above average but nothing to rave about. Palermo is described as an up and coming suburb, but with homeless people living at the end of the block perhaps ‘slowly up and eventually coming’ is closer to the mark.

Buenos Aires has 3 million people and is quite spread out. Because of its size and with the lack of national parks in the province, walking around the city was where most of my exercise came from. One afternoon, I made plans to catch up with a new friend and walked an hour along one of the main streets lined with shops. When I finally got to the meeting point, the shops continued off into the distance.

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The next day, I walked in the opposite direction along the same street.  An hour later I arrived in the city centre and again shops had covered the entire distance and stretched on into the distance.  On my walk I stopped in at El Ateneo Grand Splendid, the bookstore to end all bookstores, an old theatre that had been converted into a book store. It’s the most famous bookstore in Argentina but has very few books in english.

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Near the centre of town is a large group of parks and on the next sunny day I wandered around a pond full of geese and sat reading on a bench as skaters and cyclists went by.

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On the next day it was forecast to rain, so together with a girl I’d met at the hostel, we checked out some of the more cultural features of the city centre, several monuments which we called ‘boob monuments’, as they all contained carvings of topless women.  Then when it began to rain, we looked around several museums and galleries in the area.

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With Uruguay on the far side of aptly named Rio Uruguay, I caught a ferry across to Colonia on the next sunny day to tick that country off my travel list.

Overall, Buenos Aires felt different to my previous visit. But during that earlier I’d been suffering culture shock. The ever-present doggie doo was still a major problem in Buenos Aires. I did see a handful of people pick up after their mutt only to find the bags of doggie doo left in the middle of the footpath. Progress is slow…

Next I headed to my final Argentinian destination, Puerto Iguazú and the country’s other major attraction, Iguazú Falls.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Colonia, Uruguay – Impressions

Uruguay’s full name is ‘The Oriental Republic of Uruguay’, an english translated perversion of the name which actually means ‘The republic east of the Uruguay (river)’.

From Buenos Aires the ferry takes just over an hour to get to the small town of Colonia del Sacramento. It’s a must visit if you’re in Argentina’s capital for a few days. Although the trip can be a little expensive, about US$75 return, half of that for border taxes.

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After a mad dash across Buenos Aires in a taxi, I made the ferry with about 30 minutes to spare and once through customs and onboard the catamaran, I promptly went for a nap for the hour and ten minutes it took to cross.

Compared to the madly bustling metropolis that is Buenos Aires, Colonia is small, quaint and tranquil. Much of the 500-year-old original town is still there with its original cobblestone roads and buildings.

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As part of the ferry booking there was a walking tour around the original township, nestled at the end of the peninsula. We walked to what was left of the wall that had separated the town during the War of Independence. The wall is now only about 30 metres long with a single gate and drawbridge, the rest having been removed. As a welcome there was a white-faced mime standing on a boulder just on the inside of the gate.

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Many of the old buildings have survived through the years and are protected by the government. Some of the buildings weren’t so lucky and have had new buildings built within their old structures…

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Other buildings have been refurbished and converted to other uses, in this case a restaurant…

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After the tour, I went to find something to eat and found a restaurant where a singer could be heard inside. Outside, there were three old cars that had been converted to other uses… this one into a two-seater table for the restaurant. The other behind has a garden growing in it.

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The restaurant was lovely as was the entertainment and they gave the prices for the meal in US dollars, Argentinian pesos and Uruguayan pesos, but it was expensive unless you’re actually paying in US dollars.

After lunch, I walked around the township enjoying the quiet. I stopped at an ATM in hope of getting some US dollars but it had run out.  Many people come to Uruguay from Argentina to get US dollars to sell on the black market, sometimes for twice its value. I was unlucky, they’d run out by the time I’d got there. Later I headed to the bay to watch the sunset. Just to the left of the island, the buildings of downtown Buenos Aires can just be made out.

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The trip back across the bay was uneventful and at approximately 10pm local time, I arrived back in Buenos Aires.

This was my only trip into Uruguay. After a couple of more days in Buenos Aires, I traveled north by bus to my final destination in Argentina, Puerto Iguazú – one of the 4 largest waterfalls in the world and home of the Devil’s Throat, Iguazú Falls.

The Lone Country Hopping Trail Wanderer

Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito

About 2 hours by bus south-west of Córdoba is the small Condor Gorge National Park. There is no formal transport to the National Park, you simply book a ticket to the nearby town and ensure the driver drops you off on the way.

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Córdoba province is at the northern ‘dry’ end of Argentina. Most of the upper regions are desertlike pampas, not sandy like the Sahara desert, but arid dry plains much like the Australian Outback just not as red.

After my two hour bus ride, I walked beyond the national park sign and along a dirt road between two private properties until it finally opened out into rocky rolling hills. After 10 minutes I arrived at the registration building and signed the book to say I was in the park.

There’s only one main natural attraction in the small national park, the gorge. It’s about 2 hours walk (according to the admin staff) to the southern lookout. You can continue down to the river and up the other side to the northern lookout, but that’s about it.

So, I set out from the the administration building and headed up the road a little further until the sign sent me onto a rocky trail heading up a gradual hill.

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I was told there are markers every 15 minutes on the way towards the southern lookout, but it only took me 10 minutes to reach each one, so I guess the markers are for the family groups and slower walkers.

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About 30 minutes in I reached the top of a cliff and looked down across the hazy pampas to the lake and the small villages scattered below. Then, as I began walking again, a condor swept up and floated on the air currents not 2 metres above.

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10 minutes later and I came to a sign warning me about Pumas and snakes. This actually gave me the sense that I was walking in Australia again with its dangerous wildlife. It’s like living on the edge!

Half an hour later I arrived at a split in the trail, to the left it headed to the southern lookout, to the right down to the river and up the other side. I took the left track and climbed down the side of the cliff a little to where the lookout was. I stopped there for lunch looking down on the gorge below and the small river running through it.

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The walk so far hadn’t been terribly hard, although it was rather hot in the sun with no trees for shelter. After lunch, I headed back to where the trail split and took the other route, following it until it began heading fairly steeply down into the gorge. It’s about a 500 metre climb down to the river, but it didn’t take me long and eventually I came out to the bridge and crossed to the other side.

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With the hard part to go, I paused under the bridge for a few minutes before starting back up the hill. It took me a fair amount longer to get back up the side of the gorge because of the constant climbing, but after a couple of rests along the way I did eventually make it and headed back across the rolling hills to the administration. Just as I left the admin building, I saw a bus go by on the road in the distance and knowing that they only go past every hour, I slowed my pace. After waiting almost another hour and unsuccessfully flagging down 3 other buses, one did stop for me and I was whisked back off to Córdoba.

Overall, it was nice to get back out on the trail after a couple of weeks wining and dining in Mendoza. It was great walking on a hot trail again like I used to in Australia and definitely different to the last few months hiking around the cold south.

With my next stop being Buenos Aires, and with the lack of National Parks in the capital province, I will try to walk as much as I can around the city.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Córdoba, Argentina – Impressions

Córdoba is the city in the centre of northern Argentina. It’s the capital of Córdoba province and is the second largest city in Argentina.

After a short 12-hour bus ride from Mendoza, I arrived in the late afternoon and was promptly upgraded from a dorm to a private room by the owner. Thanks to both Turning Point Hostel and quiet season! The hostel had many outdoor areas, as much of the northern Pampas region of Argentina is desert, and had several travel inspired murals on its walls.

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Córdoba is a large city and while it was more bustling than quaint Mendoza, it was quieter than hefty Buenos Aires.  A walk around the central city streets found a city full of churches and old architecture…

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And more…

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But the further afield you walk, the more interesting the buildings become…

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Every Saturday and Sunday evening in one particular set of streets is a fair, with a massive array of stalls strewn everywhere. It’s insanely popular, meaning the place was utterly crowded and has stalls selling all of the usual home-made market style goods.

Lastly, I took a bus out into the country to Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito for a day hike in Condor Gorge.

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After Córdoba, I returned to the country’s big smoke, Buenos Aires, to take another look at the city I’d begun my journey in 3 months earlier.

Things to do in Córdoba:

  • Visit Jesuit temples
  • Hang out in Sarmiento Park
  • Catch a bus out to Parque Nacional Quebrada de Condorito

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Mendoza, Argentina – Adventures

My bus trip from Bariloche took 19 hours. For such a long trip there are two different seat types on the bus: semi-cama, similar to airplane seats, and cama, which means ‘bed’ in spanish. For the overnight trip I went for the more comfortable cama seats, although while better than the semi-cama was nothing like a bed.  Comfortable as it was, I only got half a night’s sleep I arrived in the desert city famous for its wine.

Mendoza is a city of 850,000 people and my hostel, Hostel Lao, was a few blocks from the bustling city centre. After spending so much time in Patagonia, with its small towns and cities, to come to a big city bustling with people was a shock to the system. But once I got used to it, the jewel that was Mendoza began to sparkle.

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Still exhausted from my bus trip, I went out clubbing with a group from the hostel until 6am. The night life of Mendoza on a Friday night was certainly good, although beyond the smelly fact that smoking is allowed in their clubs, there were few issues for our little group of ‘gringos’ and an awesome night was had.

After spending Saturday quietly recovering, on the Sunday a small group of us headed out to Auga Termas. 45 minutes from the centre of town, the thermal hot pools were set in a beautiful location, hidden in a gorge between rocky ridges…

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There were many different pools of varying temperatures. Inside, there was a mud pool where you cover yourself, let yourself dry before washing it off in the blast showers. Included in our visit was a huge buffet lunch, Argentinian style. We ate and ate then enjoyed a couple of bottles of fine Mendoza wine outside in the sun, before heading back to the pools. Before we left, three of us had full body massages. A fantastic day.

A couple of days later I moved to Hostel Mora, a cheaper hostel just around the corner. While Hostel Lao was supposed to be the best hostel in Mendoza if not the continent, in my opinion, Hostel Mora did it better. Pretty much all hostels in Mendoza offer a free glass of wine each night, while Hostel Lao offered it five nights a week, on arrival Hostel Mora opened this 4.75 litre bottle of Malbec…

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The weather in Mendoza was brilliantly sunny. It is the desert after all and after 3 months in the colder south, it was nice to feel warm again.

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On the western side of the city is the massive Parque General San Martin and on the far side, another 45 minutes walk, is Cerro de la Gloria.  After a rough ten minute climb I made it to the top for good if not a little hazy views across the city. All trees in Mendoza are hand planted and watered using an irrigation system based on the snow melts of the Andes.

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You can’t come to Mendoza without going on a wine tour. Some choose to be driven around but for the keen, bikes can be hired for next to nothing and a self-guided tour done.

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I’ve been particularly enjoying the Malbec, a type of red wine that is very popular in Argentina. Riding bikes around the roads of the wineries after many glasses sounds dangerous, but it was actually rather refreshing. So too was sitting at the bodegas drinking wine and enjoying the view…

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After eight days in Mendoza it was hard to say goodbye. I had such a fun time, drank an awful lot of wine and met some great people from all over the world.

Things to do in Mendoza:

  • Walk through Parque General San Martin
  • Climb the towering Aconcagua, highest mountain in The Americas
  • Cycle a wine tour around Maipu wine region
  • Cycle a wine tour around Luján de Cujo region
  • Visit one of the other 12 wine regions
  • Explore Witches Cave
  • Have a steak dinner in the city

Next I bused to Córdoba, the city at the centre of Argentina.

The Wine Cycling Trail Wanderer.