After leaving the tropical paradise of Ilha Grande I headed to Iguazu Falls in Brazil and Argentina – one of the natural wonders of the world.
Given its fame for vast cascades of water, 2,600 metres of them to be precise, few people would think to go wildlife watching in Iguazu. But those who do so will be pleasantly surprised. The threatened Atlantic Rainforest is home to hundreds of different species of butterfly and bird, as well as a multitude of different mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
In addition to hosting a natural wonder of the world from a geographical perspective, the biodiversity value of the area is vast and pretty wonderous, even if justifiably playing second fiddle to the falls.
wildlife watching in iguazu Falls
The vast rainforests surrounding Iguazu Falls contain the following species which caught my eye, sightings of which come with varying degrees of difficulty:
Snakes – lots of variety and fairly likely to be seen if you look for them
- Caiman – if find yourself in the right place (especially the wetland areas), it is feasible to see these guys
- Jaguar / puma – very unlikely, unless you can find a specific tour, which I wasn’t able to find in Iguazu (and even then there is no guarantee)
- Capybara – definitely live in the area (perhaps the Macuco trail is your best bet), but you are more likely to see them in Ibera National Park, which is located about 250 km away in Argentina
- Coatis – very cute and very likely, on either side of the falls
- Monkeys – both howler and capuchin monkeys are fairly likely on the Argentinian side
- Harpy eagle – fairly unlikely, but incredible if you get to see one
So, vast quantities and variety of biodiversity were on offer if myself, Rob, and Mark could get ourselves out into the forest.
Now, what I haven’t yet mentioned is that the if is a rather big if. In our desire to fit in as much cool stuff as possible before my travel companions abandon me two weeks from now, we allowed ourselves the satisfyingly round, although rather small, number of 20 hours to visit Iguazu Falls. Yup, that includes an international border crossing and two different national parks. Oh dear, here we go.
22:30 – land in Brazil.
23:00 – arrive at hostel, arrange surprisingly cheap taxi to drive us everywhere we need to go tomorrow.
24:00 – sleep.
08:00 – leave hostel in taxi for Brazilian side of falls.
08:45 – marvel at the organised chaos of the Brazilian national park, wait in queues.
09:45 – embark bus to be taken along the park road to the falls.
10:30 – marvel at first sight of what is a true natural wonder of the world.
10:45 – run into these little guys, so cute!
11:00 – marvel at the 11th wonder of the human world (i.e. hordes of tourists at Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side).
12:30 – back in taxi (now realising the taxi was an excellent decision).
14:00 – border crossing – fairly smooth, a bit of a queue.
14:30 – pull up at National Park Iguazu Falls in Argentina.
14:45 – acquire tickets and marvel at the three-person queue.
15:00 – eat empanadas while boarding slightly ridiculous miniature tourist ‘train’.
16:00 – enjoy seriously spectacular view of falls.
16:15 – on our walk back (instead of taking the train), stumble upon a million butterflies drinking from puddle. Wow!
16:30 – start out on ‘Upper Circuit’ trail.
16:45 – run into capuchin monkeys. Awesome!
16:55 – more mad-cute coatis.
17:15 – casually catch a ‘William’s South-American side-necked turtle’ swimming in the river. I won’t include the picture, which was very poor as it slid away into the depths.
17:20 – wait, is that a caiman? Rob: “Is it alive?” It was definitely alive. Not sure its eye would look like a portal of darkness if it weren’t alive…
17:30 – what is that weird croaking noise?
17:32 – seriously, this is really creepy.
17:33 – ouch, it’s a frog desperately trying to escape this parrot snake! (Spoilers, but maybe don’t look at the photo if you’re squeamish).
18:00 – back in the taxi.
18:30 – arrive at airport for flight. Phew, made it!
So still no big cats… although the national park authorities clearly view sightings as a real possibility.
TOP TIPS FOR Iguazu Falls
We’ll post a full page on WildSide soon, for now here’s my top tips for wildlife watching in Iguazu Falls:
- It is possible to visit both sides of Iguazu Falls in 24 hours, but it is without a doubt a rush.
- If you try to do that, we recommend you get a driver for the day if you can afford it. It was about $40 each and our hostel organised it for us.
- If you go in search of wildlife, I would suggest going for a few extra days and perhaps find a specific wildlife tour. There’s plenty to be seen, but going with someone who knows the area will increase your chances.
- The Argentinian side of the falls had several different trails to do. If you’re looking for wildlife try the Macuco trail, which is specifically marketed for wildlife opportunities (mostly monkeys).
- The Brazilian side of the falls seemed to have much less to do and far more visitors. It was pretty stifling. However, if it’s your only option it is definitely worth doing, as the sight alone is incredible.
- On the Argentinian side, we saw all of our wildlife on the Upper Circuit trail (we only had time for this one), which also has spectacular views of the falls. The Lower Circuit trail would also seem to be a good bet for wildlife. Try to get away from big bunches of tourists on the walkways to increase your chances (charge ahead or let them pass you by and wait a while).
- Don’t feed the wildlife, it does bite!