Located in the midst of cascading sheets of water and behind a wall of thundering noise Victoria Falls boasts a variety of beautiful rock formations. A visit to the falls is never quite the same as everything from the water level to the gentle but constant erosion of the stone that supports the falls is ever present and forever shifting. The falls have a reputation for majesty, for size, and for being truly memorable. Most rank them as the greatest falls in the world and a natural wonder of the world often just ahead of Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Niagara Falls in the United States. This reputation is well deserved and while I’m still torn on which is more captivating – Iguazu or Victoria – I know that Victoria ranks as one of the most spectacular natural wonders I’ve ever seen.
As I paused briefly, fighting a rainstorm of mist despite the day’s sunny weather, I noticed a face staring back at me. A water spirit, one that emerged from the stone’s cliff face casually stared back across the ravine at me. Can you see it? Its large moss covered nose, voluptuous lips with gently upturned smile. Its pronounced chin jutting out of the water. The face stood there, brought to life by the water coursing over/past it and gave me pause. This was a special moment in a wondrous place. A moment and place that the face demanded I take time to properly enjoy and reflect upon.
Victoria Falls is situated on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe and is part of the Zambezi river. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is 355 feet at its highest point (drop). It is also 5,600 feet wide which is incredible to think about, but even more spectacular to see in person!
Have you been to Victoria Falls? Were you there in wet season or dry? What did you think!?
Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera using a Canon IS 18-135mm lens.
My legs pumped furiously. The burn forced a slight grimace. Mossy step after mossy step I launched my 6’4″ 200 pound frame up the narrow staircase. Still damp from my swim in the falls and in a subtle supplication to the region’s tropic environment, I’d long since sacrificed my t-shirt. My jeans were darker around my waist, revealing where I’d lazily pulled them on over my still-wet boxer briefs. Pausing briefly to look up and take stock of my location, I quickly realized I was nearing the top of the island – the Isla de San Martin. A gorgeous spire of land that stands resolute against the falls. Located smack dab in the center of the river, the one-time peninsula has gradually been overwhelmed leaving a small island with steep cliff faces, a wealth of local wildlife, and incredible views of the falls.
As I reached the top and the narrow stairs gave way to a wider path, I found my attention swinging sharply to my right as a rustle in the underbrush startled me to alertness. As I hopped back slightly a large lizard about the same size as a fully grown iguana slowly stalked its way out of the underbrush. Harmless (to the best of my knowledge) I still kept my distance, quickly reaching for my camera and video equipment. All the while eyes locked with the creatures armored scaly flesh and piercing dark eyes. Tongue periodically flicking out, it carefully stalked across the path before being startled in turn by a passing tourist, at which point it launched itself forward and into the brush.
What had started as a perfectly cloudless day had now evolved into something far more picturesque. Still sweltering hot with leave-you-drenched humidity, puffy made-for-Hollywood clouds had formed up and drifted in. I found myself facing a fork in the road. Two paths, each to different sides of the island and different views of the falls.
With a chuckle at the decision facing me I quickly started to meander happily along the path to the right with a gentle hum on my lips and a skip to my step. My initial fears had been proven completely unfounded. This truly was a natural wonder of the world and a destination that I’d already realized would go down as one of my favorite experiences to date.
As the jungle gave way to bushes, small pools, and grassy areas it was obvious I had entered the more recently cut/oft flooded area of the island. I could hear – almost feel – the roar of the falls and found my glasses constantly misted by the water in the air.
Iguazu’s charm isn’t just that it’s one of the largest waterfalls in the world. It’s the contrast of stunning rich green moss and vegetation cut by vibrant white falls all set against incredibly blue skies. In some areas large clumps of moss and flower-covered stone appear to hover in space, suspended by white pillars of water.
The view from the lookout was incredible. Located immediately next to and over parts of one of the major falls the sound was thunderous, the spray from the falls invigorating, and the plant life in bloom. All the while, inexplicably, a small army of gorgeously colored butterflies survived the humid river air and waterfall spray, to flutter in and around my head.
After a few minutes spent in consideration and perhaps relaxed meditation I struck back to the center of the island where I came across the most peculiar of wild birds. Mostly black, the little creature had two vibrantly colored blue eyebrows which left it looking more like a comedian than avian predator. I slowly stalked the strange creature pausing to take several photos and enjoy its odd coloring before striking down the island’s second path.
The route wound me along the opposite side of the island and gave me a view of the Brazilian side of the falls, as well as my first taste of what I’d later come to learn was fondly called the Devil’s Throat. As I walked I paused, once again, to capture an incredible combination of sights. A large vulture was resting in one of the branches which left a view of the falls perfectly framed. All the while one of the local tour boats – boats like the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls – rushed at, and into one of the smaller falls before being driven back by the force of the water. Though obviously modern, I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d been transported back through time to a distant, wild, and undiscovered jungle. Places such as this must have served as ample inspiration for authors writing great romanticized texts like the Lost World.
As I wound back down, caught the small ferry back to the mainland and began my trek back up towards the top of the main falls I found the path full of wonderful delights. Small places that demand a brief pause, some to enjoy the brightly colored flowers, lazy fluttering of butterflies, and others a beautifully framed view of the falls.
The path back towards the top of the falls offered fantastic close-up views of the falls. The amount of water, and the sheer power of the falls themselves is staggering. It left me feeling small, insignificant, and fragile.
One of the things that makes the falls so gorgeous is the different types of falls present. Some are mighty chutes, others are long thin curtains, yet others are tiny streamers spitting out tiny trails of water.
Growing a bit tired from my hike and having already burned through my entire bottle of water I was thrilled to stumble across a small store and food stand sandwiched back and away from the falls. For a relatively reasonable price I was able to buy a mediocre sandwich, new bottle of water, and small soda. As I ravenously set upon my sandwich I quickly discovered a new friend – an odd grasshopper/cricket with incredibly long legs and antenna. As we enjoyed brunch together another of the area’s local creatures, a Coati, emerged from the underbrush and began to make his rounds. The raccoon-like creatures are the size of a mid-sized dog or large cat, have long noses, large tails and tend to be particularly friendly, though I avoided trying to give him a scratch on the head.
Re-fueled and ready to renew my adventure I struck out along the path that offered an incredible look out over/along the leading face of the falls. Viewed from the top, rather than the middle or bottom, it really dawned on me just how expansive the falls were and how much water was passing over them.
My next destination was the fall’s main cutting edge – the Devil’s Throat. The path to it was a small adventure in and of itself. A raised metal walkway which cut out and across the massive shallow-water river. The walk spanned a number of small islands, was mostly raised over the water, and lasted some 5-10 minutes. The small islands along the route (most the size of a small house) were full of gorgeous butterflies, and the water offered the periodic sight of a large catfish or turtle lazily relaxing in the gentle current.
As I approached the throat I could hear it roar, and see a small plume of mist. Obscured by the smooth curvature of the water’s forward face as it gently bent before breaking completely into a churning cauldron the true size of the Devil’s Throat was invisible until I got closer.
A giant V, there is a semi-dry island which serves as the secure base for the raised platform which stretches along one side of Devil’s Throat offering otherwise incredible views of the falls.
The thunder of the falls made conversation difficult as I paused to talk to several other travelers. The view out over the falls was spectacular. With thick mist obscuring everything down river, the whole area was turned into a magical wonderland. Decorated by rainbows, birds were diving in and out of the mists. It left me feeling as though I was floating in a magical city.
As spectacular as the rest of the falls were, I think the most magical part of Iguazu was the view out over Devil’s Throat. The way the water was ejected out off of moss and grass covered cliffs into the mists, with bottom in sight left me feeling as though I was on one of the floating islands from the recent blockbuster Avatar, or the magical Cloud City in Star Wars. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was….dare I say it? Mist-ical.
My state of awe seemed to slow time and left me enjoying the sheer wonder of the falls for what may have been a few minutes, but was more than likely closer to half an hour. Even now, several months later, as I think back to that moment I can close my eyes and feel a sense of awe wash over me. Aware that I was burning, hungry, and exhausted I eventually tore myself away from the falls, made the walk back to the small in-park shuttle train, and then found the bus back to Puerto Iguazu.
The falls at Iguazu are one of those places that I hope everyone will visit in their lifetime. The weather can be problematic, the route to get there expensive and time consuming, but I can say with complete confidence that it’s all worth it. Travel always touches us and leaves us changed. There are some places, however, that go beyond that and captivate our hearts. For me, Iguazu Falls was one such place.
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After a relaxing day spent at the Marco Polo Backpacker’s Hostel in the town of Puerto Iguazu (located immediately across from the bus station) I set out to explore Iguazu Falls. As I bought my bus fare (transportation/price info here) and hopped on the shuttle to the falls, I did so with slight trepidation.
I say trepidation because, while hailed as a natural wonder of the world, I feared disappointment. In the past my experience with famous destinations with grand reputations has been mixed. Which is not to say that places like Knossos and Chichen Itza aren’t incredible – they are – but often they’re so sterile, over stabilized, full of tacky tourist crap and – I don’t know – dare I say bland? That I often leave slightly disappointed. For example: Was Chichen Itza impressive? Yes. Does it have the incredible pyramids, wild and untamed essence, and majesty of nearby Tikal? No.
I’m a huge waterfall guy and my expectations for Iguazu were every bit as expansive as the famed falls. Luckily, despite my initial concerns and hesitation I can honestly say that Iguazu was one of the most spectacular, incredible, and breath taking things I’ve ever visited. It was worth the 36 hour round trip bus ride from Buenos Aires and in truth, would have been worth the entire trip in and of itself, even if I hadn’t managed to see other parts of Argentina. It really is that magnificent. If you’re like me and are a bit skeptical about visiting, bury your skepticism and book a ticket immediately. It’s worth it.
The 15 minute bus ride out to the falls was on a small bus packed with a mixture of sweaty locals and tourists alike. As we bounced along the uneven paved streets I overheard the two girls next to me speaking in Aussie English. Before long we’d struck up a conversation, and exchanged all of the usual questions and answers. As we pulled into the roundabout in front of the visitor’s center and disembarked we decided to team up and explore the park together.
I had read online that the small island of San Martin was incredible, only accessible by a boat/shuttle, and was subject to water levels and flow. The information I’d read suggested starting with it, as the water levels tended to rise later in the afternoon. It didn’t take much to convince the girls to head for the island, and with maps in hand we made our way along small paths, which cut through the thick jungle vegetation before giving way to raised metal boardwalks.
The metal boardwalks were well done. Unobtrusive natural metal colors and made of open wire and mesh, they blended into the scenery without leaving ugly scars across the jungle floor. They also allowed us to effortlessly pass over, beside, and around large waterfalls and uneven jungle terrain.
While the main falls are the primary draw for any visitor, it’s important to note that the whole region is full of small falls tracing their way down towards the river. Some of these more intimate falls, while smaller, offer their own natural beauty and a more delicate sense of power.
As we slowly traced our way down towards the river we wound along metal walkways, stone stairways, and small cliff-side paths. We found ourselves pausing regularly to take in a particularly elegant vantage point, wild life, or to pause for a quick photo op. At one point one of the numerous butterflies in the area landed on one of the girls mid step, in the midst of one of the stairways. Each new step seemed to reveal more and more of Iguazu’s magic.
Before long we reached the “dock” area. Which consisted mostly of two small metal docks and some old tires. From the area, there were two lines. One for the small ferry which would take us out to the island in the middle of the river and a second which served as the boarding and prep station for the waterfall excursion boats. These high power speedboats offered a similar service to the Maid of the Mist at Niagara falls and would take eager passengers up into the falls outer mists before, drenching their passengers, before allowing the water to push them back down, and out towards saftey.
To our delight, once we reached the Isla San Martin we discovered a small sandy beach had been cordoned off and made available as a beach. Eager for the opportunity to fully experience the falls and escape from the steamy-hot summer day the girls and I quickly agreed on quick stopover, before we climbed the massive staircase to the main part of the island. As the girls did their best to change into their swimsuits in as subtle a fashion as possible, I kicked myself for not wearing my swimsuit, stripped down to my boxer-briefs and made a B-line for the water. It was warm, with a strong-but manageable current and made the entire visit and experience that much more real. As the water bombarded my senses with a different set of stimuli it shaped and re-crafted my relationship with the falls. As odd as that may sound – I think my experience would have been every bit as wonderful, but fundamentally different without the chance to actually swim in the river and to connect with the falls in a more tactile way.
After a relaxing break in the falls/river the girls realized more time had passed then they had expected and after a quick exchange of information they re-boarded the ferry and made their way back towards their scheduled boat tour. Sad to see them go, but glad to have had the company for the first part of my time in the falls I turned my sights to the long, steep stairway which would take me up the side of the Island’s cliff face and eventually lead me to one of the islands two incredible viewing areas.