Puerto de Iguazu, Toucans and an Animal Rehabilitation in Argentina

Tucan in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

After a delightful evening filled with relaxation, socialization and an absolutely delicious Argentinian steak it was time to decide what my second full day in Puerto de Iguazu would consist of. I debated a return to the falls and explored my options for a quick visit to he Brazilian side. There is a $140 visa fee for entrance into Brazil, in addition to a 1-2 day wait. Both unwilling to spend the $140 for a 1 day visit and lacking the time to wait for the visa I explored rumors that it was possible to visit the Brazilian side of the falls without a visa if you took an organized tour.

Unfortunately, as with most travel rumors they turned out to not only be false, but led to a short conversation with a very annoyed tour salesman. Unwilling to experiment with the second option I’d heard mentioned – trying to sneak or bribe my way across – I turned my attentions towards other options. There was the usual zipline option which didn’t strike me as overly appealing or cost effective and waterfall/cliff repelling adventure tour which looked interesting but was sold out. Frustrated by my limited options I asked the front desk girl for suggestions – her response? The animal rescue located just outside of town.

Monkey in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

With my interest piqued I quickly looked through the brochure, asked a few questions and then prepared to catch one of the local buses out of town. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was eager to see local wild life above and beyond the butterflies, coati, large lizards, cows and horses I’d encountered so far. After all, what’s the value of a trip to the jungle if you don’t see at least one Monkey or Toucan?

Bid in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

The Guira Oga Center is located a few minutes outside of Puerto de Iguazu and stretches across a large, sprawling green area of mixed jungle, raised boardwalks, small buildings, rookeries and spacious cages. I paid my $30AR (about $7 USD) and settle into a chair near a lazy cat content to lounge by the gift shop and completely oblivious to anything occurring around him. Before long another tourist showed up and shortly after that a large tractor rumbled out of the jungle. The tractor had a decent sized open air trailer behind it which was ideal for a tour and reminded me of adventurous trips to the pumpkin patch as a kid.

Tucan in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

As the tractor wound back through the jungle our guide explained a bit about the Bird Rehabilitation center and how it had also added several mammals. He talked about the approach they take, where their animals come from, and which they’re able to re-introduce into the wild. He informed us that the tour would include visits to Coatis, Toco Toucans, Guans, Turquoise-fronted Parrots, White-eyed Parakeets, Scaly-headed Parrots, Macaws, general small and medium sized birds, Plumbeous Kites, Peregrine falcons, Hawks, Stygian Owls, Barn Owls, Tropical Screech Owls, several monkeys and an alligator.

Tucan in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

The birds were an incredible mixture of vibrant and muted colors, large birds, small birds, vocal birds and silent birds. Some were capable of flight and others mirrored modern domestic chickens preferring quick hops and glides over long-duration flights. The cages were mostly open wire with raised wooden boardwalks running beside them – each isolated by vines and swaths of jungle like small bungalows at a fine resort. Our guide was careful to pause periodically to remind us to watch our fingers and to keep them out of the cages.

Owl in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

At one point we paused outside of large windows which offered a view into the incubator rooms where they’re protecting, and hatching some of the rarer and more endangered inhabitants offspring. Some will go to Zoos and similar places, but most will be groomed for introduction into the wild. In addition to the incubators there were also other areas where food was being raised and bread for the carnivorous birds.

Eagle in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

Some of the most impressive birds at the rescue were the eagles and falcons. Several were tied up on perches in an open area where they were able to stretch their wings, screech loudly, and stare at us with inquisitive eyes. The main eagles were truly massive. The size of a medium-sized dog, their wingspans were massive and they dwarfed their handlers as they carried them in and out of the common space.

Eagle in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

As we wound our way towards the end of the tour we paused at a small construction area where the guide informed us that they were building an enclosure for several big cats (jaguars or leopards I can’t recall). So, if you get the chance to visit sometime soon, there’s a good chance there will be a lot more to see than beautiful birds and gorgeous butterflies.

Guira Oga Center was an absolute delight to visit.  What they’re doing there is fantastic.  The birds were gorgeous and the way the facility is laid out and the tour is given is delightful.  If you find yourself with a spare hour or two in Puerto Iguazu, definitely don’t miss it.

Like the photos in this post? They were shot on a Canon G11, check out the Canon G12 now on Amazon.

Iguazu Falls, the Devils Throat and Wild Beasts: Adventure in Northern Argentina

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

View part one of this post: A Traveler’s Dream and Natural Wonder of the World – Iguazu Falls in Northern Argentina.

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.

Giant Lizard - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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 Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Strange Bird with Intense Eyes - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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 Falls With a Vulture - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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 Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Strange Grasshopper - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Butterfly at Iguazu Falls - Iguazu, Argentina

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.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

View part one of this post: A Traveler’s Dream and Natural Wonder of the World – Iguazu Falls in Northern Argentina.

Questions? Have your own experiences at the falls? Please share them in a comment or as a tweet and remember, you can subscribe to this blog by RSS OR get my updates delivered directly to your e-mail. Thanks for reading!

Like the photos in this post? They were shot on a Canon G11, check out the latest version the Canon G12 on Amazon.

A Traveler’s Dream and Natural Wonder of the World – Iguazu Falls in Northern Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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 Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Standing Above the Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Beach and Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

Swimming at the Foot - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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.

There’s a lot more to share, including my visit to the Devil’s Throat, wild insects, dragon-esque lizards and more. Jump to Part II: Iguazu Falls, the Devils Throat and Wild Beasts: Adventure in Northern Argentina.

Have questions about the falls? Comments or your own experiences? Please post a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Like the photos and video in this post? They were shot on a Canon G11 (latest version: Canon G12) and a Vixia HF200.