I love waterfalls; it’s my favourite feature of nature.

I also love rainbows. We all do, don’t we? However, I feel I can make it a special claim, since my youngest daughter’s middle name is Hóng, meaning rainbow in the Hakka language.

Rainbow over Iguazu

Waterfalls crossing borders

Just like Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya marks the international border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and Niagara Falls marks the border between Canada and the USA, Iguazu/Iguaçu Falls marks the border between Argentina and Brazil. I’ll use the names Iguazu (Spanish) and Iguaçu (Portuguese) interchangeably here, since I can’t seem to choose one or the other. You’ll just have to deal with it.

Paraguay is also part, or rather party, to the falls. Though it’s so small, one could argue it doesn’t really count. But I’m mentioning it anyway. Seems the fair thing to do.

Let’s quickly compare these three cross-border wonders of nature, starting with the quantitative:

Niagara has a 51-metre drop, compared to 82 for Iguaçu and 108 for Victoria. Looking at height alone, neither Iguaçu or Victoria Falls can hold a candle to the world’s tallest waterfall, the Denmark Cataract!

‘Whaaat?’ I hear you say. ‘I thought you were going to say Angel Falls. I’ve never even heard of the Denmark Cataract. Why haven’t I?’

Well, unlike the others, this particular waterfall doesn’t have a PR-department. Of course, that’s probably because it’s not exactly a tourist destination, since you can’t actually see it. The 3,500-metre drop(!!) is all happening underneath us, specifically underneath the Atlantic Ocean, even more specifically underneath the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland.

However, staying on dry land (though maybe not entirely dry), you are right. Venezuela’s Angel Falls is an impressive 979 metres tall. But much like Norway’s many waterfalls (9 of the world’s 20 highest are here in Norway), Angel Falls is rather narrow: 150 metres wide, compared to Victoria Falls’ 1,708 metres and Iguaçu Falls’ 2,700. Even little Niagara is 1,204 metres from one end to the other.

Jumping to the qualitative, i.e. my opinion, well, we might as well get it over with. Pretty as it is, Niagara feels a bit like the kitchen faucet compared to the other two. Victoria Falls is stunning, no doubt about it, so it’s a close call. But in my book, Iguaçu Falls is in a category all its own. And since this is my book, let’s talk about it.

‘Poor Niagara,’ Eleanor Roosevelt is rumoured to have said, when she first laid eyes on Iguazu Falls.

Iguazu Falls

The falls can be found where the Iguazu River plunges over the edge of the world. That is surely how it must have felt to those who first encountered these mind-blowing cascades. In reality, the edge of the world is 2.7 km long and is called the Paraná Plateau, 23 km upriver from where the Iguazu and the Paraná rivers meet. About half the water falls into the abyss called the Devil’s Throat.

Hopping back in time, I’ve flown up from Buenos Aires to Cataratas Airport, and I’m staying near Triple Frontera. Watching the sun set simultaneously over three countries is also a bit mind-blowing, but that’s a story for another time.

I’m here to see water fall, thousands and thousands of cubic metres of it, so I’m on the first bus to Iguazú National Park where I hike through the forest. There’s enough space for me to dodge other visitors, but not the coatis. Very cute, but no manners. Bye-bye biscuit. The little rascals pinch it straight out of my hands.

Iguazu wildlife: coatis, flamingoes and a toucan hiding among the leaves. Also butterflies flitter about, in every colour of the rainbow. Crocs are rumoured to hang about here, too, but I don’t see any.

Nearing the first viewing spot, I first hear thunder, then see mist. And there it is. Even though this is just a few of the 275 drops, nature’s force right here in this very spot is simply jaw-dropping. The mean annual flow rate is 1,746 m3/s. That’s 1,746,000 litres (more than 461,000 US gallons). The record is 45 700 m3/s! I can’t even begin to comprehend that figure.

White and blue waters whoosh over the edge. Mist and spray seem to leap the height of the tallest building in the world. Humanity (in this case, me) seems very fragile.

Iguaçu Falls

Iguazu is glorious. And, as it turns out, Iguaçu is even better! 80% of the falls are in Argentina, which means you can see 80% of the falls from the Brazilian side. And whereas the Argentine side has paths weaving about in the forest, the Brazilian side has walkways through the jungle, along cliffs, across rivers.

In front of Devil’s Throat, it feels as if I’m almost within touching distance of that magnificent show of energy, half above me, half crashing down in front of me and on both sides. It’s been years, but I clearly remember standing there for at least half an hour, staring – and wondering what they must have thought, those who first came upon it unawares.

This is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. A cliché it might be, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Iguaçu Falls takes my breath away. Figuratively and literally and in every which way. Nature’s artistry, elegance, force right here makes me giddy, in a most delicious way. I also remember thinking this would be the most perfect honeymoon place. I’ll blindfold him, and lead him to this exact spot.

Still time.


unesco logo

Iguazu National Park and Iguaçu National Park are two separate World Heritage sites.

Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited around the world.