Iguazu Falls - Planning and Preparing for Your Trip

Sendero Macuco near Iguazú Falls
Planning and Preparing for your trip to Iguazu Falls?

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Iguazu Falls is shared between Argentina and Brazil. If you want to see the falls from both sides (well worth it), you'll have to abide by the Visa and Passport Requirements for both countries. Here's the breakdown of the requirements we were faced with from our trip in 2007.

For Argentina, all we needed was a passport. There was no Visa required for U.S. citizens. However, US, Canadian and Australian citizens are required to pay a reciprocity fee PRIOR to arrival.

For Brazil, click here to see Brazilian Visa Requirements by Country. They did require a Visa for U.S. Citizens PRIOR to arrival. (even though we were visiting just for a day). It was basically a stamp on a page of our passport signaling that the Brazilian authorities endorsed our visit to their country. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, here's where it was a real pain though I guess it depends on which country you're from.

Since we were from the United States, we'll relay what we had to go through.

First, we had to apply for a Tourist Visa. This was doable through the Brazilian Consulate. To find other Brazilian Consulates in the U.S., visit this link . To find a Brazilian Consulate in other countries, visit this link.

Even though we could have submitted the completed form directly to the local office, we didn't want to take the chance of not having our passports when it came time to leave for the trip so we went through a Visa Agency because we were short on time. We submitted our application barely three weeks before our trip so the possibility of not having our passports (let alone Visas) back in time was a chance we couldn't take.

Click here to see Visa Fee. Visa Fee must be paid by U.S. Postal Service Money Order only . The turnaround time was 10-15 business days, which meant we were without your passport for at least those days.

The passport must have at least 1 blank page (for the big Visa stamp) and be valid for 6 months after our trip. You'll probably want a few more blank slots on your passport pages (a problem for frequent international travelers like us) for other stampings that occur when you cross borders by air or by land.

A valid application must contain a passport-sized photo, a valid printed itinerary of your time in Brazil (meaning you have to book a tour providing such an itinerary), foreign airplane ticket, and of course the fully completed form. The drawback for booking in advance is that you're locked into the dates you've paid for, which can be restrictive if you're staying in Argentina. So that was what we were faced with. If you're staying in Brazil (which we weren't), then it's probably not as bad (as you'll just have to indicate where you're staying).

Once all this was done and we got back our Passports with the Visas, we were finally good to go. For all that trouble, it might be worth noting that the Visas lasted for 5 years, which would be fine if we planned on coming back to the country in that time. Unfortunately, we never took advantage of this, and unless things have changed, we'd probably have to go through this again if we were to visit Brazil.

Hopefully with the information we've provided here, your decision is more informed.

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As of our trip in 2007, there were no vaccination requirements that would've denied us entry to the country. I wasn't sure if there were additional restrictions or vaccination certificates needed had we been in countries prone to Yellow Fever in the last 90 days (and this probably included Brazil), but it didn't apply to us at the time.

Still, mosquito-born diseases and water-born illnesses are a real threat so getting vaccinated is like your insurance policy protecting your long term health after this trip.

The big caveat is that most insurances will not cover vaccinations. We tend to get lots of mosquito bites (even though we generously apply DEET) so we didn't want to take any chances. Thus, for our battery of injections and pills, we paid over $600/person. Among the diseases we were either treated for or had pills for were...
  • Yellow Fever
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid Fever
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella)
  • Malaria
Keep in mind that Dengue Fever (definitely present in South America) currently has neither a preventative vaccine nor cure. Your best bet at minimizing your exposure is to apply DEET and wear long sleeves and long pants (even though it's hot and humid over there).

For the official list of health threats, you can visit the websites for the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the World Health Organization.

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In order to ensure a relatively safe trip, here are a few things you might want to consider packing for your trip in addition to your basic toiletries and clothes.
  • Comfortable Shoes - it's probably wise to wear closed-toe athletic or hiking shoes. You never know if you walk into a trail of stinging ants or a mosquito carrying Dengue Fever is going after your feet. Also, you don't want to have to contend with blisters or twisted ankles.
  • Hat - given the intense tropical heat and sun, this will at least keep your scalp from getting severely burned. If you're wearing a broad-rimmed hiking hat, it could also help protect your neck, ears, and face.
  • Sunscreen - again, given the intense sun, it's a good idea to protect other exposed parts of your skin from sunburn.
  • Insect Repellant (preferably with DEET) - since mosquitoes are present here (many of which carry diseases), this will help prevent them from biting you and passing their diseases to you. This is especially the case with Dengue Fever.
  • Quick-drying Clothing - since you're in a subtropical environment, you're probably going to sweat from all the walking you're going to do. These clothes will at least help keep you relatively comfortable. Long sleeve and long pants also serve as an additional protection against both sunburn and mosquito bites.
  • Sunglasses - prevents cataracts or other harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays on your eyes
Some other things worth bringing to enhance your experience include...
  • Lots of Memory or Film or Portable Hard Drive - the first and third items are for digital photographers. In any case, you'll be taking heaps of photos and you'll want to make sure you can bring all your photos home
  • Wide Angle Lens - useful for expansive landscape photos, especially for a waterfall as wide as Iguazu Falls
  • Telephoto Lens - if you're a wildlife buff, you'll want these to take photos of wild animals (parrots, toucans, coaties, monkeys, and even snakes or jaguars) without getting dangerously close to them.

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Here are some more things to think about with regard to safety in Iguazu Falls.

Depending on who you're talking to, there are different sides to the story about whether Argentina's Puerto Iguazu or Brazil's Foz do Igassu is safer. Puerto Iguazu has a considerably smaller population than Foz do Iguassu and by this reason alone might be considered safer. I've also heard of generalizations from people (I have to caution they may be biased) that Brazil's cities tend to suffer from a rising rate of street crime, and Foz do Iguassu is no exception. However, that doesn't mean Puerto Iguazu is free of crime as evidenced by the presence of security guards at the visitor centers on both sides of the falls as well as at hotels.

So our advice would be to stay vigilant about minimizing your chances of being victimized. That means you'll probably want to conceal your money in a body pouch beneath your clothes to minimize your chances of being seen with money. It's also probably not wise to be wearing signs of wealth like jewelry or fancy clothes. What do you need them for anyways while on holiday? Finally, we were wary about using our credit card as we know of people who had charges run up for using a credit card at a restaurant (both foreign and domestic so take this advice for what it's worth)...

In addition to crime, here are some other things to consider regarding your safety...
  • Bottled Water - If you don't trust their tap water, you can go for bottled water (as much as I hate the environmental impacts of plastic). We had been advised to drink carbonated water (agua con gas), which is less likely to harbor bacteria. Personally, I don't like the taste of carbonated water. Flat bottled water (agua sin gas) is not considered as safe, but it's better than unbottled water since pathogens can exist in freshwater streams in the rainforests of South America. Then again, if you had access to fire or some kind of stove or heater, you could also boil water before drinking or brushing your teeth.

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Around Iguazu Falls (also known as the Triple Frontier Region), generally the Argentinean peso, the Brazilian real, and the United States dollar were all accepted on our trip in 2007.

If you're in Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, I understand that they'll take US Dollars or Brazilian Real.

The following are brief summaries of each currency (besides Paraguay since we didn't deal go to Paraguay).

In Argentina, the currency is the peso. For various economic and political reasons, the value of the peso collapsed in 2002. However, it had been recovering during our trip and I understand it still continues to recover. Even with the rising stability of the currency, we noticed that things were certainly cheap as far as the strength of the US dollar at the time was concerned.

As of late 2007, the exchange rate with the US Dollar was roughly 3 pesos to 1 US dollar. We were told by our operator representative/guide that sometimes Brazilians stay on the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls because it's cheaper for them (see discussion below about the Brazilian real). Finally, if you spend money in cash on the Argentina side and you don't have exact change, you will get change in the Argentinian peso.

In Brazil, the currency is the real. Around Brazil, foreign currency is not accepted except for the immediate area around Iguassu Falls. As of late 2007, the exchange rate with the US Dollar was roughly 2 reals to 1 US dollar. It's generally more expensive in Brazil than Argentina since the real is stronger than the peso. If you spend money in cash on the Brazil side and you don't have exact change, you will get change in the Brazilian real.

The US dollar is mostly accepted in the immediate Triple Frontier area (around Iguazu Falls). It is also accepted at the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I'm not sure about the Sao Palo Airport in Brazil since we did not go through here.

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How much time should you spend at Iguazu Falls?

Based on our experience, I'd say give yourself at least 3 days and 2 nights (not including the travel days) to allow enough time to see the falls from both the Argentina and Brazil side on your own plus time for an excursion or two. This was precisely what we did though we probably could've used the third night so we could've spend more time in good weather at the falls (conditions were best on the day we had to leave). However, even as I say this, it might still feel a bit rushed if you're staying in Puerto Iguazu instead of inside the National Park since you'll need to either take a bus or arrange for a taxi to even get into the park.

Certainly the more time you spend there, the less rushed it will feel and the more time you'll have to explore other options (see activities). You'll also give yourself a greater chance of experiencing the falls in good weather with the bigger time window. The drawback to a longer stay will be cost and time (especially if you're on limited vacation time).

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Have you been to Iguazu Falls?

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