Although there are higher, deeper, and wider waterfalls around the world, Iguazú is the largest waterfall system in the world.
“Iguaçu” means “big water” in the native language.
This gorgeous system of falls forms part of the boundary between Brazil and Argentina in South America, and both countries have national parks to protect the pristine beauty “just as it had been created by God” (—André Roboucas, 1876).
Both national parks are also now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
If you’re into native legends, it seems the falls were created when a deity plotted to marry a beautiful human named Naipí. However, Naipí attempted to escape in a canoe with her mortal lover, Tarobá. In a fury of unrequited love, the deity sliced the river in front of them, condemning them to an eternal fall.
Of course, I believe Iguazú Falls were created by the hand of the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, who is eternal Love and creates beauty to be enjoyed, not out of spite! 🙂
However you slice it, it’s one of the most breath-taking wonders of the world!
In fact, it’s so majestic that Disney’s imagineers have featured it in Epcot’s simulated flight ride around the world called “Soarin.'”
(“Soarin'” is our family’s personal favorite ride and a “must see” if you ever go to Disney and might not ever go to South America).
The entire falls system is 1.7 miles long and fashioned from super hard igneous basalt columns that are part of the 3,300-foot thick Serra Geral Formation, so there’s only minuscule erosion each year.
(Only about 1.5 cm per year, versus 30 cm for Niagara!!)
Our guide, Jose, said there were 275 falls,
but the water level was so low that it looked more like “hundreds” to me!
The weather was perfect, and Jose also mentioned that it was ideal for actually seeing the falls, since when the river is really full, there’s so much mist that it’s hard to see much of anything in the canyon!
Half the river’s flow is through a long, narrow chasm called the “Devil’s Throat,”
where the highest and deepest falls disappear into billows of rainbowed spray.
If you want, you can take a boat ride
that challenges the outer edges of the turbulence,
but I didn’t know that was an option before we signed up for our tour.
Ultimately, I was completely satisfied with how we spent our time,
because our guide was a local Brazilian who spotted all sorts of wildlife
in the distance
that we would never have noticed had he not pointed things out!
Jose spent two days hiking us over twelve miles
along trails on both sides of the falls.
He was an expert in the natural, historical,
and even personal aspects of living with the falls.
Jose could tell all sorts of stories,
including how his father used to fish the falls fifty years ago!
On the Argentine side, a rainforest ecological train
transports you through the jungle to three access points:
The upper and lower falls, and the Devil’s Throat.
We arrived early, but the line for the train was already an hour long, so Jose had us walk through the jungle path to the Devil’s Throat.
Although it was a little early in the season for jaguars and pumas (which I was ambivalent about confronting face-to-face anyway), we enjoyed watching the antics of monkeys
and the bumbling progress of iguanas and various lizards of all sizes.
We also had many opportunities to observe what they called “raccoons,” although we call them “coatis” in America.
The coatis seemed completely nonchalant about interacting with people, although they can bite your fingers off or give you nasty scratches,
so there are signs everywhere warning people to stay out of their way.
In fact, they are so aggressive about looking for food that there are cages—not for the coatis, but for the tourists, if you prefer eating in peace without being challenged!
(We ate inside a lovely “cage” that kept the coatis at bay!)
By comparison to the world’s others greatest waterfall systems, I think overall the Iguaçu Falls are the most beautiful I’ve personally seen! The largest by volume of water is Boyoma Falls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (600,000 cu ft/s versus Niagara in second place at 85,000cu ft/s). However, none of the seven cataracts of Boyoma Falls are more than 16 feet high, so they might not be as dramatic to view (although I’ve never been there, so it may be more the remoteness of the Congo and the civil unrest that keeps it from being a big tourist attraction).
The highest falls in the world are Angel Falls in Venezuela (3,212 ft), although they’re so far into an isolated jungle that it’s very difficult to actually get to see them, so I’ve not attempted to visit them either.
The largest “curtain” of water is at Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe (5,604 ft wide with an over 354-foot drop).
We visited Victoria Falls a couple of years ago, where we went swimming in the Zambezi River and cozied up in the Devil’s Pool for a bit, so we could look over the edge into the misty abyss below the falls.
Last but not least (among the world’s great falls), is our very own Niagara Falls between the United States and Canada. Although it isn’t “first” at anything, among the highest waterfalls in the world it does have the greatest mean annual flow rate because the Niagara River is typically so much deeper than the Iguazú River system.
Hope this wasn’t statistical overload, and I hope you enjoy numbers. However, I think you’d love visiting Iguazú Falls if you’ve not gone yet, and meanwhile, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing a little bit of our adventure! It always makes me happy to be able to share!
“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
(Photo Credits: *Aerial view of entire falls system by Claudio Elias – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1517981.
** Angel Falls: Used by permission; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SaltoAngel4.jpg)
The rest are mine, taken a few weeks ago while visiting in Brazil and Argentina. 🙂