This cruise is the longest and most adventurous I have taken to date, and as part of that I booked two very expensive, but epic shore tours. The first of these was to go and see the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, which I documented in my post L1602 – Sambódromo. This post documents the second epic shore tour, taken on our first day (of two) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The shore tour in question was to visit the mighty Iguazu Falls, an awe-inspiring set of waterfalls in the north of Argentina, on the border with Brazil. Iguazu, both the name of the waterfalls and the river which feed them, means “big water” in the native Guarani Indian language. This is for good reason, as the Falls consist of around 275 waterfalls or cataracts, in an area spanning 2.7 kilometres wide. In the rainy season up to 13,000 cubic meters of water pour over the Falls every second, enough to fill 5 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The Falls are nearly three times as wide and nearly twice as high as the Niagara Falls. The Iguazu Falls were one of the 7 natural wonders that received top votes in a global vote organised by the New7Wonders of Nature initiative.
The Iguazu Falls are approximately 1,300 kilometers north of Buenos Aires, so the usual coach tour was out of the question. Instead we would fly to Iguazu and back, with just short coach journeys at either end. This of course significantly contributed to the high cost of this tour, but despite this and the long duration (around 14 hours), it was a tour I just could not resist taking.
A few days before taking the tour, we received a one page document about the tour and what was involved. It gave the flights and times, and I was surprised and a little concerned to read that our flight did not get into Iguazu until 13:05, I wondered how much time we would actually get to view the falls. However the document did go on to say that our tour would include two elements, each lasting two hours – the first by train and on foot to view the most dramatic part – the Devil’s Throat – from above, the second on foot to view the wider Falls from below.
As we are travelling outside of the E.U. on this cruise, the ship held on to our passports when we checked in at Southampton, so that they could be inspected and stamped by the various immigration authorities as we sailed around. However we would need our passports for the flights on this tour, so they were returned to us for the day when we checked in for the tour.
We left the ship by coach around 9am for the short ride to the domestic airport in Buenos Aires, during which we were given boarding cards for our two flights, which happened to be on different airlines. Next came the tedious part of flying, sitting around in the airport waiting for the time to board the flight. At least I secured a seat by a window looking out on the apron, and watched this small vehicle drive around and around in circles thoroughly cleaning the stand in front of our departure gate:
In the end we did not use this freshly cleaned stand, as we were bussed out to our aircraft standing remotely. Our aircraft was an Airbus 320, with three seats in each row either side of the central aisle. Predictably I had the centre seat of three, and in the very back row of the plane. The flight took around 1.5 hours, and as we approached Iguazu we could see the extensive forest in the area – the Iguazu Falls are located in sub-tropical rainforest.
As I left our plane, I was immediately struck by the very high temperature and particularly the humidity, and after a short walk through the small airport I was grateful for the bottle of chilled water waiting for us on every seat of our coach. Our local guide introduced himself as we drove for around 15 minutes to the Iguazu National Park surrounding the Iguazu Falls.
When we reached the Park, there was a short wait while the local guide collected and distributed our admission tickets. Entering the Park on foot, by then at 13:45, our guide then dropped some bombshells – the Park closes at 18:00, and before we started the first element we were to go to the restaurant for lunch, which would last an hour. I’m sure you can do the maths, there was no way that the promised two 2 hour elements could be completed before the Park closed.
It was a very nice lunch – various barbecued meats, with a good range of salad items to help yourself from, and various fruits and jellies for dessert. However that was not what I had paid all that money and travelled all that way for!
Reconvening after lunch, we walked for around 5 minutes to the station for the narrow gauge railway that would take us close to the Devil’s Throat, the U-shaped and most dramatic part of the falls. Well at least that was the plan, but a mechanical failure meant we were not able to take a through train, and instead had to change trains at the intermediate station.
While the initial station was quiet, this intermediate station was very busy, and on alighting from the first train we had to join a long queue and wait around 15 minutes for the second train to arrive. It was touch and go whether there would be room for all the tour party (around 40) to board, but we all squeezed on, dotted around the train.
At the end of the line we then had a walk along 1200 meters of catwalks between various islands in the raging river, before we reached the platform alongside the Devil’s Throat, and we could see the Iguazu Falls at last!
Here the river plunges 82 meters, but there is so much mist and spray coming up that you can only see a small part of that distance down. While this mist and spray was refreshing in the heat, it did not exactly help the photography:
On the platform were some professional photographers who had stepladders and umbrellas, who used these to take pictures looking down at you, to get more of the waterfalls in the background to the picture. The guy taking our pictures met up with us before we left the park so we could purchase the pictures taken.
All too soon it was time to walk the catwalks back to the station for the next element of our visit. During this walk I was with the Tours Department representative who accompanied us on this tour, and I conveyed my frustration and disappointment at the timings, particularly with regard to the long lunch, and was told that they would be passed on.
Once again it was a tight squeeze to get us all onboard the return train to the intermediate station. From here we walked to get a wider view of the falls, but as there was only around half an hour before the Park closed, it was not the planned long walk to view the falls from below. We did get to see the full extent of the Falls though, and appreciate their width and the number of separate waterfalls that make up the Falls – while the Devil’s Throat was dramatic, you only saw a small part of the Falls from there.
During the walk back to our waiting coach, I was able to purchase the photograph taken of me at the Devil’s Throat earlier:
Again waiting for us was a very welcome bottle of water, which together with the air conditioning in the coach helped cool us down after the heat and humidity of the Park. The coach and local guide left us at the airport at around 18:30, but our flight back was not until 20:55 – this was the time we should have had our main meal!
Before he departed, the local guide tipped us off that if we were to go outside the airport building into the car parks, we were likely to see toucans at that time of day, dusk. Indeed he was correct, and they made a nice addition to the other wildlife I had seen and photographed in the Park that day:
Our flight back was on a smaller jet, with rows of two seats either side of the aisle, and once again I didn’t get a window seat. However as we approached Buenos Aires, in addition to all the lights of the city which made a good sight, I could see a flash and then other in the distance. As the number of flashes increased it was clear it was lightning, and so we were all grateful to be safely back on the ground a short time later – even if the pilot slammed on the brakes so hard we nearly went into the seat in front!
The domestic airport in Buenos Aires was bigger than I had realised in the morning, and it was quite a walk for our weary legs to our waiting coach. On boarding the coach our passports were taken from us, and after a short drive we arrived back at the port terminal building. Another walk and a short queue through security later, we boarded the port shuttle bus to take us back to our ship.
They had promised that one of the restaurants would still be open on our return, and although it was 23:30 by then I still went to the restaurant for some food, as I did not want to wake up hungry in the night. The next day one of my dining table companions, Lynda, said she saw me there, but didn’t come over to speak to me as I looked so shattered!
It had been a very long and very tiring day, with all that travelling, and walking in the high heat and humidity in the sub-tropical rainforest. It was so disappointing and frustrating that such poor organisation of the day, particularly in regard to meal times, had meant that such a small proportion of the time had actually been spent viewing the Falls. However the Falls themselves were truly astonishing and wonderful, and like the Rio Carnival, will be a sight and memory that stays with me for a very long time. I have no hesitation in recommending a visit to the Iguazu National Park and the Falls, but try to do so in a way that gives you much more time there to view the Park and the Falls than we had.
In conclusion we flew high, the Falls were wide, but the organisation of the day fell wide of the mark.