Visiting Iguazú Falls Without a Tour: The Argentinian Side

Massive, powerful, and incredibly impressive. Iguazú Falls is a breathtaking natural wonder that draws in over a million visitors annually, so our expectations for our visit were pretty high. Let me tell you, we were not disappointed!

The falls run through the jungle along the Brazilian-Argentinian border. Due to not wanting to pay the $160 USD per person to enter Brazil for just a day, we only visited the Argentinian side of the falls. However, this visa fee is no longer required for U.S. citizens, making it more budget-friendly to also visit the Brazilian side of this stunning landmark. As we were not able to experience the falls from Brazil while we were there, note that this post will focus on solely visiting Iguazú Falls on the Argentinian side.

The many falls that make up Iguazú are truly stunning
The many falls that make up Iguazú are truly stunning

About Iguazú Falls

Iguazú means ‘great waters’ in the language of the indigenous Guarani people. Legend has it that the falls were created by the wrath of a serpent deity that watched over a tribe living by the river long ago. A beautiful, young girl was to be sacrificed to the God, but her lover wanted to flee with her in order to spare her life. The God was furious with their attempt to escape, and to stop them from fleeing down the river, he split the earth below their boat, sending them over the falls into the violent waters of Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat).

The powerful Garganta Del Diablo
The powerful Garganta Del Diablo

Later, in the mid-1500s, Spanish explorers came across the falls. Since then, millions of people have come from near and far to see this natural wonder. The area surrounding the 275 falls became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 in order to protect it for the enjoyment of millions more.

Getting to Parque Nacional Iguazú Without a Tour

Unlike some places we explored in South America, Iguazú Falls was easy to reach without a tour or car rental.  There are daily buses leaving from the main terminal in Puerto Iguazú every 20 minutes, costing about 170 pesos round-trip, or $8.50 USD (in 2018). Before hopping on a bus, confirm that it is heading to the side you intend to visit!

We caught the bus further in town and paid for our ticket upon boarding. If you are staying a ways from the terminal, ask your accommodation where you can best catch the bus. We caught the earliest bus just after 7 a.m. in an attempt to beat some of the crowds. After a 45 ish minute drive, we were dropped at the entrance to the park.

The bus schedule sign at the park entrance. Note that this is subject to change
The bus schedule at the park entrance. Note that this is subject to change

Exploring Argentinian Iguazú Falls

Entry to the park cost 500 pesos per person ($25 USD) when we were there. The cost is now listed at 800 pesos (less than $15 USD) due to the drastic fluctuation of the value of the Peso. Once you pay your fee, you’ll find yourself in a developed area with a guest shop, restaurant, and the train station.

Your entry ticket includes the train ride through the park. We were there early, but there were still quite a few people waiting to catch the first train. After being in some lesser-traveled parts of Bolivia, we weren’t quite used to being among throngs of tourists. We boarded the train and, after a short ride, we hopped off at our first stop.

Taking the train through the park.
Taking the train through the park.

Circuito Inferior

We began quickly along the metal walkways of Circuito Inferior with hopes of finding some quiet spots.

The path wound by the base of some gorgeous falls and we welcomed the cooling mist in the heat. A group of playful coatis greeted us along the way. Beware though, as their cuteness disguises their bold behavior when it comes to food. The many signs picturing nasty wounds serve as a reminder to admire them from afar and watch after your belongings.

A couple of coatis hanging out on the stairs
A couple of coatis hanging out on the stairs

This circuit is just over a mile long (about 1.7 kilometers) and consists of stairs and bridges through the jungle. Note that the mist can make the metal walkways somewhat slippery in spots. We took our time to take plenty of photos and completed the circuit in less than an hour. The loop led us back to where we could begin our walk along Paseo Superior.

Paseo Superior

Paseo Superior led us through the jungle on the upper tiers of the falls we walked by on Circuito Inferior. The views of the expansive waterfalls from the top were breathtaking, though the many people crowding the walkways made it a little more challenging to take in and capture the beauty of the place.

Far below, we could see the boats of people venturing to the base of the larger roaring falls, and we were eager to get closer to these massive features.

A classic Iguazú view, rainbow and all
A classic Iguazú view, rainbow and all

Paseo Superior also loops back to Estacion Cataratas. Like Circuito Inferior, it was just over a mile long and consists of metal walkways (no stairs this time). The train can be caught between Estacion Cataratas and Estacion Garganta; however, we wanted to see more of the jungle so we decided to walk. Though it was nice to get a bit of extra exercise, the pathway mostly led along the tracks and the views were nothing spectacular, so you’re not really missing anything if you decide to skip the walk.

Garganta Del Diablo

The pathway to Garganta del Diablo was the shortest and perhaps the most crowded. We just happened to run into a friend we made while exploring Salar de Uyuni! The short trail crossed over multiple sections of the sprawling river eventually reaching the edge of the massive Garganta del Diablo.

Boardwalk with the mist of Garganta Del Diablo in the distance.
Boardwalk with the mist of Garganta Del Diablo in the distance.

The name (Devil’s Throat) is very fitting as an incomprehensible amount of water barrels over the edge of the falls and crashes over 200 feet into a churning pool below. The constant cloud of mist from below made it all the way up to the boardwalk, dampening the spectators. Hundreds of butterflies fluttered around, clinging to people’s hair, bags, cameras, and arms.

Butterfly over Iguazú Falls

After admiring this natural wonder for a bit, we made the 1.4 mile (2.2 kilometer) walk back to Estacion Garganta to eat our packed lunch. By the time we took the train back to the park entrance, it was 2 p.m. Since we caught the bus in town instead of from the main terminal, we had to buy a return ticket to get back to Puerto Iguazú. We purchased this ticket right outside the entrance in a building near the bus pickup area.

No photo or video can really capture the enormity and power of Iguazú Falls
No photo or video can really capture the enormity and power of Iguazú Falls

Beyond the Walkways

If you desire to view Iguazú Falls from beyond the walkways, there are some stellar ways to do so.  Visitors used to be able to get a better panoramic view of the falls from Isla San Martin by taking a boat from Circuito Inferior. However, we were told that there was damage to the infrastructure on the island and that an estimated open date was unknown.

Tour boats in the mist below
Tour boats in the mist below

You can still leave the shores to get close to the base of the Salto San Martin and towards Garganta del Diablo by boat; however, this does require a tour. The cost of this ride is about $35 USD per person, including the truck ride to the dock from the main entrance. Keep in mind that you will get absolutely soaked!

Boat rides may be cancelled depending on the amount of rainfall. During peak season, it is best to book your tour as soon as possible in order to secure your spot.

There are also helicopter tours offered, though this will cost upwards of a couple hundred USD. If you have the means to do this, we imagine that it would be incredible!

Up close to the falls

General Things to Keep in Mind When Visiting Iguazú Falls

  • Wear shoes that can get wet but will also provide support and traction on the slippery walkways.
  • Even if you don’t take a boat, you may still get damp, so protection for your camera and other valuables may be necessary. Consider a sealing plastic bag or a rain cover for your backpack.
  • Food in the park is not cheap, so consider packing your own food or snacks. Bring plenty of water!
  • The weather can be very hot and humid or chilly in the rain; prepare accordingly.
A (very faded) map of the Argentinian side of Iguazú Falls
A (very faded) map of the Argentinian side of Iguazú Falls
  • Seeing the Argentinian side of Iguazú Falls is easily doable in a day. We saw everything we could in a leisurely 6 hours. If you choose to come back a second day, let the ticket staff member know when you buy your ticket or before you leave in order to get a discount on your second day.
  • This is a very touristy destination. You may have to wait a bit to take a photo in front of the falls, stand in line for the train, and you will not have the boardwalks to yourself. Plan accordingly and make the best of it! It’s an amazing place to enjoy, with or without the crowds!

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