Puerto Iguazu

Puerto Iguazu and Iguazu Falls, Argentina

We landed in Buenos Aires and hit the ground running, almost literally. 

Puerto Iguazu, located in the northern part of Argentina, was our first destination on our two-week adventure exploring Argentina. To get there, we first needed to travel from Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery Airfield (AEP).

The task of getting a taxi and asking the driver to take us to another airport seemed easy enough but, as with most things, it was more complicated than it should have been. 

Taxi from EZE to AEP

The arrivals hall of EZE was rammed with people and lacked basic services.

First, we needed – or thought we needed – local currency. There were only two ATMs in the arrivals hall and one of them was out of cash for the day. It was 9am.

We were able to withdraw the maximum daily Argentine pesos allowed (~$200 +$4 fee) for the second ATM. We thought this would be enough to get us through a couple of days but the taxi journey ate up nearly half of it straight away.

Second, we needed to get our hands on a local SIM card. There were no kiosks or vending machines in the arrivals hall so we threw caution to the wind and ventured out of the airport with no cell/mobile service. Living on the edge!

Protip: EZE and AEP offer free wifi via their network “AA2000.”

Third, we needed to secure a taxi and the struggle was real. As best I can understand, there are two types of taxis in Buenos Aires.

  • Radio taxis – not metered, haggle for a fixed rate
  • Curbside taxis – metered, pay fixed-rate + kilometers traveled

I immediately regretted not doing more research on the taxi situation before departing for Argentina. At a minimum, I should have educated myself on what the average fixed rate was to travel from one airport to the other but I went into this vacation thinking that this was a somewhat normal taxi journey and rates would be posted at an official taxi rank/queue at the airport.

The problem was that there was no official taxi rank/queue or at least one that we could see from where we were standing. All we saw after exiting the airport was a taxi kiosk where drivers loitered, pestering travelers as they exited the airport. We approached a driver and he said $70. The journey was only 28 mi / 45 km. (I read later that the average fixed rate for this journey is $45.)

We did our best to talk him down in price but he knew we had no other options and we settled on $65 and spent the next hour aggressively driving in traffic without air conditioning and breathing in tons of pollution. The pollution in Buenos Aires was some of the worst I’ve ever experienced.

Protip: There is an Orange Tienda Leon taxi kiosk in the middle of the passenger drop-off lanes at EZE. It’s not necessarily visible from the airport exit. Check their rates as well as rates with other drivers at the taxi kiosk.

We arrived at AEP and the driver expected a tip, which was unexpected because tipping is not expected in Argentina.

Protip: If you are happy with your service (typically restaurant service) by all means tip up to 10% but don’t feel obligated to tip.

I felt gross and in need of a shower by the time we arrived at AEP but we still had one more flight to go and little did I know, it was going to be more hot and humid in Puerto Iguazu than it was in Buenos Aires.

We arrived at AEP three hours before our flight which was too early to check in for our flight and drop off our bags. We asked the agent if there was any way we could get on the earlier flight and she said yes, for $30/person.

We did not hesitate with this offer and she rebooked our tickets and then we hustled through the airport – we only had 35 minutes to get on the plane!

Two hours later, we arrived at our hotel in Puerto Iguazu and slept for a couple of hours. Our mega 24-hour travel period had finally come to an end.

Itinerary

Below was our itinerary for Puerto Iguazu.

DayTimeDetails
110:10Flew to Puerto Iguazu (IGR)
12:00Landed in Puerto Iguazu
210:00Visited Iguazu National Park (5 hours in the park)
314:00Flew to Buenos Aires (AEP)
15:55Landed in Buenos Aires

Puerto Iguazu tourist fee

On the drive from Cataratas airport to Puerto Iguazu, the vehicle you are traveling in will be required to stop at a checkpoint. 

An officer will approach the vehicle and will demand each passenger pay a 20 peso (~$1.25 USD) tourist fee. This is a legitimate fee that can be charged by the city/park, however, it is an optional fee. To help improve the infrastructure in the area and improve the lives of the people who live there, pay the fee and carry on with your journey.

Protip: Carry the tourist fee receipt with you to avoid paying the fee every time you pass through the checkpoint.

Accommodation

There isn’t much for accommodation (or infrastructure) in Puerto Iguazu. We stayed at the Mercure Iguazu Hotel Iru for two nights.

The stay was fine, considering the isolated location, lack of infrastructure, and spotty electricity in the region.

One downside to this hotel was its location. We needed to take a taxi every time we left the hotel. When it was all said and done, we paid 1,660 pesos ($110 USD) on taxi fare in Puerto Iguazu over 48 hours.

The total taxi fare was more than double what we had anticipated. We felt lucky with the random taxi driver who picked us up the first time because he gave us his contact details and we arranged most of the journeys directly with him over WhatsApp. It was cheaper to pre-book with him than to haggle with random drivers on the street but if we were to do it over again, we’d consider renting a car.

Another downside was that there were frequent power outages but this was a regional problem, not a problem with this hotel specifically. The hotel receptionist told us that the power outages are often due to large hotel air conditioning systems causing too much demand on the system. Another common cause is severe weather.

Hotels do not have backup generators because of legal restrictions applied to businesses located in/near Iguazu National Park. Generators are not eco-friendly, therefore are not allowed. When the power goes out, you simply have to deal with it.

The worst experience during our hotel stay was the second night when the power went out for several hours. It didn’t take long for the room to become a sauna and we ended up getting little sleep that night.

Puerto Iguazu

I’ll be direct here. There is nothing to see or do in Puerto Iguazu.

There are a handful of restaurants that cater to tourists and that’s about it. The town is heavily supported by tourism yet none of the tourist dollars that have flooded into the town have been used to improve infrastructure and it’s unclear if the residents benefit from those monies either.

The taxi drivers we encountered were rude and we often felt like we were getting ripped off but some of that was to be expected. We were tourists in an isolated region and could not speak the local language.

In conclusion, I would not spend more time than necessary in Puerto Iguazu.

Iguazu Falls

When planning for this trip, we spent a lot of time contemplating if we should visit Iguazu Falls or not. The jury was out as far as blogs went – some said it was worth the visit, others said it was not worth it.

The falls are located in an isolated area and it is a long way to travel for what amounts to 5-7 hours in a national park.

My thoughts are:

If you’ve got time, can afford to fly to Iguazu Falls (versus taking a 20-hour bus), and have not seen other similar scale waterfalls, then I’d say it is worth the visit. Factoring in cost, travel time, lack of infrastructure in Puerto Iguazu, mediocre accommodation, etc., I’d rate Iguazu Falls 6/10.

The Iguazu River forms a border between Argentina and Brazil. The falls span the river and can be visited from both sides. The Argentinian side of the falls has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 and the Brazilian was awarded the prestige in 1987.

The main difference between the Argentinian and Brazilian sides is that the Brazilian side offers a panoramic view of the falls whereas the Argentinian side offers a view of the falls from “inside” the falls.

Our vacation to Argentina was our first in South America and one thing I learned is that crossing country borders are not as easy as it is in Europe.

We considered visiting the falls from both sides but the tourist fee for USA passport holders to enter Brazil, for a single day, is $160 USD per person. It would have been an enormous amount of money to spend on a few photos.

The falls are composed of ~275 waterfalls, depending on the season and water levels. At the widest part, the width of the falls is 1.67 miles (2.7 km) – it’s a massive area.

The most impressive section of the falls is Devil’s Throat which is 263 ft (80 m) tall. It’s nearly twice as tall as Niagara Falls but not quite as tall as Victoria Falls which stands at 354 ft (108m) tall.

Protip: There are lockers inside the park where you can store personal belongings, including luggage.

Depending on how much walking you want to do, your fitness level, and what you want to see, you could spend all day in the park. 

It took us five hours to complete the lower and upper circuits and Devil’s Throat and we completed this as injured people (Peter had a herniated disc and I had a fractured toe).

One popular thing to do in the park is to hop on a boat and visit San Martin Island or pass near the thunderous falls. I would have liked to take the boat to San Martin Island but due to the water levels, the island was not accessible on the day of our visit. 

If you chose to hop on a boat, then it’s recommended to add two hours to your visit, at a minimum.

After purchasing our park tickets (Argentinian pesos only), we began the long walk to the rainforest train’s “central” station. 

We forgot to apply sunscreen before leaving the hotel and within five minutes of walking, we started to feel sunburnt. The sun is brutal in the park. We stopped and applied sunscreen immediately.

The Disney-like train runs on liquified petroleum gas. It does not pollute the environment and is clean combustion, leaving no solid waste. It can seat about 250 people. Wheelchairs, prams, strollers, and pushchairs are strapped to the top of the train carriages.

The speed at which the train travels is approximately .00008775 miles per hour; prepare yourself for lengthy journeys between stations.

There are three stations on the line (not a loop): Central, Cataratas, and Devil’s Throat. 

The lower and upper circuits are accessed from Cataratas station and it should go without saying but Devil’s Throat is accessed from Devil’s Throat station.

View from the lower circuit

We completed the lower circuit and then the upper circuit and, finally, Devil’s Throat. This is the order in which I recommend touring the falls because the lower circuit is the least impressive and Devil’s Throat is the most impressive and if you’re like me, you’ll want to save the best for last. 

View from the upper circuit

The trails consisted of pavement and grated walking bridges. We occasionally came upon a few stairs but, generally speaking, the park was wheelchair and stroller accessible. 

Grated bridge

Expect to do a lot of walking. As an example, Devil’s Throat station to Devil’s Throat is two-thirds of a mile each way.

View of Devil’s Throat

Iguazu National Park is a rainforest microclimate.

It was hot and humid inside the park – the complete opposite of Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. The hotel recommended that we bring a change of clothes so that we could change into dry clothes before hopping into a taxi back to the hotel.

We packed a change of clothes, including shoes, but did not change into them at the end of our visit. In retrospect, the change of clothes would have only been needed if we had gone on a boat ride inside the park. 

And since I’m on the topic of clothing, I recommend wearing athletic clothing or swimwear like boardshorts. Any clothing that is breathable and quick-drying will suffice. Don’t be that guy in the park in a three-piece suit (what was he thinking?).

A tank top would have been a better choice but overall, a good choice of clothing

The park is well-organized with toilets, restaurants (including a Subway sandwich shop), and kiosks (snacks, drinks) throughout. 

Protip: Be aware of the wild coatis in the park, especially around food settings. They are food aggressive and their nails will cause serious injury. 

I found the coatis terrifying but I was not in the norm with that feeling. Many visitors willing threw food scraps on the ground for the coatis.

Note: Human food kills these animals. Do not feed the animals and discard food containers in the appropriate bins immediately. 

After our park visit, we returned to our hotel to shower, and then we ventured into Puerto Iguazu for dinner. The topic of discussion was how we would do things differently if we could do them over again. 

Key takeaways

  • The tourist fee is optional but be nice and pay it
  • Puerto Iguazu is not a great place to spend time
  • Power outages in the region are common
  • Be wary of eating frozen foods as they may have thawed and refrozen multiple times due to power outages and could contain salmonella
  • Consider renting a car
  • Wear loose-fitting and quick-drying clothing to Iguazu Falls

What we’d do differently

With the exception of possibly skipping Puerto Iguazu and Iguazu Falls entirely, we would have either visited Iguazu Falls as a day trip from Buenos Aires or, more realistically, reduced our stay in Puerto Iguazu from two nights to one night.

Here’s what our do-over itinerary would look like.

DayTimeDetails
108:00Fly to Puerto Iguazu (IGR)
09:50Land in Puerto Iguazu
10:15-ish-Taxi from Cataratas Airport to Iguazu National Park (10 minutes)
-Visit Iguazu National Park (5 hours in the park)
15:15-ishTaxi from the park to our hotel
2MorningFly to Buenos Aires (AEP)

The next post on Argentina is here.

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