Saturday, July 21, 2012

Argentina's Iguazu National Park

by Julie R Butler, Expat Daily News Latin America:

Located at the edge of the farthest reaches of northeastern Argentina, they are called Cataratas do Iguaçu in Portuguese, Cataratas del Iguazú in Spanish, and Iguazu Falls in English. In the indigenous Tupí-Guaraní language, the name Yguasu means “big water.” 

Whatever you call them, they are magnificent, worthy of being named one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature” on 11/11/2011 as well as being a double UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to the existence of the two national parks on the Brazilian and the Argentinean sides of the river.

The Iguazu River begins far to the east of the falls, near the city of Curitiba on the western slope of the coastal mountains called Serra do Mar. It makes its way over 800 miles through dense semitropical forest across the basalt plateau that was formed by a lava flow, over the edge of which the falls cascade so dramatically.

Rather than spanning straight across the river, this ledge stretches for 1.4 miles, bending and curving across a river that, helped by the numerous islands just above the drop-off, spreads itself out in a wide bend, providing for many waterfalls and cascades, all to spectacular effect.

Devil’s Throat, so-named because it is in the form of a narrow chasm that channels an astounding half of the river’s flow, is the highlight for anyone who comes to experience this wonder of the natural world. 

Visitors to Argentina’s Iguazu National Park can ride the tourist train to the farthest station and then follow the catwalk that crosses the placid upper waters from island to island to reach the viewing platform at the very edge of the chasm. As one draws near, the sight of spray rising in a beckoning fog quickens the heart with anticipation. 

Upon arrival, the initial up-close encounter with the power of so much water plummeting at the chokepoint is, indeed, breathtaking. Not only is the cascading water mesmerizing, but the misty spray, the tenacity of the tufts of green clinging to life on the precipices, and grandeur of it all cause the visitor to linger, basking in the amazing energy of this inimitable setting.

The other train stop, named the “Catarata Station,” is the access point for viewing more of the falls via two walking circuits: the Upper Trail and the Lower Trail. If time or ailing knees are a concern, the upper path is the one to go with. 

It offers many views of the long line of cascades from the tops of waterfalls such as Adam and Eve that reveal its vast scope - complete with stunning rainbows, recreating the Garden of Eden (but without any tempting apples, as it’s too hot here).

For the good-of-knee, the lower of the two is well worth the effort, bringing the visitor to the base of several cascades to experience the thrill of the water’s pounding arrival at the termination of its fall. 

This more extensive circuit also leads to a different part of the river, affording unforgettable panoramic viewpoints. Those who have scheduled plenty of time at the park can hop on a launch and head over to explore the wonders San Martin Island for a couple of hours.

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