There are a few things that cameras cannot capture in their entirety and must be experienced in person to feel their spectacular grandeur and power. The vast semi-circular Iguazu Falls are definitely one.
The wider world became aware of their existence through the 1986 movie The Mission. In the opening scene a Jesuit priest is tied to a cross by a Guaraní tribe and sent down river to the mouth of the giant waterfall where he plunges to his death.
This dramatic image and the sheer power and roar of the Falls certainly ignited the desire to see them first hand and it is an extraordinary spectacle. The Falls are 80m high and 700m in diameter comprising of a series of 275 broken falls on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
They are made even more magical and alluring by the surrounding subtropical rainforest where over 2,000 species of exotic plants and wildlife thrive in the thick vegetation. If you decide to stay in the only hotel within the Iguazu National Park as I did, you will hear the calls of howler monkeys, ocelots, jaguars and caimans in the still of the night.
And there is, of course, the constant roar of the Falls themselves.
Most travellers stay one day and rush off to the next destination, but the magic of Iguazu needs to be savoured over a four or five-day stay during the full moon. You can spend the daytime hours visiting the Argentinian and Brazilian side on separate days, taking a helicopter flight over the entire area and driving south to explore the ruins of Jesuit Missions.
These ruins are almost impossible to stumble upon. Many have been reclaimed by the jungle. They consist of what were once very imposing buildings surrounded by the remaining foundations of entire settlements where the native tribes lived after conversion to Christianity. There is the poignancy of their former grandeur and eventual demise at the hands of slave-traders and colonial militia.
It is special experience to return to your hotel to see the full moon rise over the falls, floodlighting the jungle. Your ultimate treat will be to walk the 1km track to “La Garganta del Diablo” (Devil’s Throat) as it glows in the moonlight. When I was there I saw a rainbow soaring across the spray as the moon rays crossed its path.
“A journey of the spirit only starts with somewhere wondrous. It continues wherever we are, through the doors that wonder has opened.” ~ Pico Iyer