Foz de Iguazu and Iguazu
You probably still have no idea what to expect when you come face to face with the almighty Iguazu Falls, on the
border of the Argentina province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Parana.
Unlike over-hyped destinations that can leave you feeling disappointed, Iguazu Falls instantly turns even jaded travelers into a raving fan.
Judging by the sheer number of visitors -- more than one million a year -- its pulling power is showing no sign of weakening.
By any measure, Iguazu Falls is a monster.
made up of a system of 275 waterfalls or cataracts, with the exact number depending on the season.
It spans an area 2.7 kilometers wide.
The tallest of these waterfalls, called the Devil's
Throat, drops by more than 80 meters into a milky abyss that creates a permanent cloud of mist.
To put that in perspective, Iguazu Falls is nearly twice as tall as Niagara Falls and rivaled only by Zambia and Zimbabwe's Victoria
Falls, which is taller at 108 meters.
It's nearly three times as wide as Niagara Falls and significantly wider still than Victoria Falls.
The amount of water pouring from these falls to the
Iguazu River is equally staggering.
On average, about 1,500 cubic meters of water flows every second.
Depending on the time of the year, the rate of water flow can be as much as 13,000 cubic
meters per second -- enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools -- especially during the rainy months of November to March.
It's little surprise then that the river that the water flows into, as well as the waterfalls, are
both named Iguazu, which literally means "big water" in native Guarani Indian language.
Straddling the border of Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
2011, it was selected as one of the winners of the New Seven Wonders of Nature competition.
It's easy to see why it's piling up awards and accolades.
It's located within one of the few remaining
inland rainforests in South America, the Atlantic rainforest, which has been wisely preserved by both Argentina and Brazil.
The lush, sub-tropical national parks surrounding it are teeming with wildlife. This is a haven for
more than 2,000 plant species, about 400 bird species, 80 types of mammals and countless insects and invertebrate species.
According to local tour guide Francis Almeida Barros, it's not uncommon here to encounter colorful
toucans, monkeys and even jaguars on the way to the waterfalls.
This jungle experience, albeit briefly, sets Iguazu Falls apart from its more popular global rival.
Unlike Niagara Falls, which
is surrounded by development such as casinos, a revolving restaurant and Starbucks, Iguazu Falls is pure nature.
Devil's Throat: The largest water curtain
It's possible to explore the spectacular Devil's Throat waterfalls by speedboat.
Most people head straight to the main attraction, that being the Devil's Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish). Shaped like a horseshoe, the Devil's Throat is the largest water curtain in the whole system and includes 14 waterfalls.
It's possible to take a speedboat to the falls, but be prepared to get really wet as these boats take you right under the falls.
You could easily spend the whole day exploring this side of the
waterfalls without even noticing time passing.
After getting soaked, the Brazilian side of the falls offers an equally gratifying view.
While you don't get as close to the falls, the Brazilian
side offers incredible panoramic views that help deepen an appreciation for their grandeur.