Guest travel editor Carine Buncsi recently touched down in South America for the first of many stops on her Latin American Argentina and Brazilian Experience.
After kicking things off at a leisurely pace on the beaches of Buzios and then taking them up a notch in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, stadiums and markets, Carine jetted down to the incredible Iguassu Falls - one of the world's most awe-inspiring natural wonders located squarely at the junction of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay's borders.
What follows is a highly-photogenic dissertation on why you need to make like Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopez, drop everything, don a poncho and go chasing waterfalls.
After exhausting ourselves with all the partying and shopping in Rio, we were off on an early bird flight to Puerto Iguassu to travel back to the Brazilian side where we could bask in nature and go with the flow while exploring the natural wonder of Iguassu Falls. The Portuguese refer to it as Cataratas do Iguaçu.
The falls consists of 275 individual waterfalls and cascades, with a normal flow of 1000 cubic metres per second. UNESCO designated the mammoth falls as a World Heritage Site, bordering the countries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
To be honest, I was not prepared for this amazing natural wonder: it will seriously blow you away and is a definite must-see, must-squeeze-in whilst exploring this vast country. The greatest part is that you can get really close-up and seriously drenched with many of the falls - a raincoat won't cut it. The sheer power, intensity and force of the thunderous water is undeniably the most incredible spectacle and the sound is deafening. You'll be so overwhelmed and in awe of its grandeur.
Yes, I'll admit I was giggling like an excited schoolgirl and couldn't get rid of the ridiculous smile on my face, but when that rainbow rolled into view, it truly was a magical site.
Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, pretty much summed up the spectacular waterfalls by famously exclaiming, "Poor Niagara! This makes it look like a kitchen faucet."
You'll need at least two full days to explore both sides of the falls that spans through Brazil and Argentina. There are trails and catwalks built on both sides providing a myriad of angles to get snap happy; you can even get closer and more intimate views of the mega falls where you'll experience mistier and wetter moments.
Both sides MUST be explored to get the absolute full experience and scope of the sheer size and beauty of this mammoth wonder and the type of activities on offer, such as helicopter rides over the falls, above-the-falls rafting trips as well as a chance to cross over to Paraguay on the Friendship Bridge to indulge in some shopping. There are also motor-boat rides through the falls for the thrill-seekers, or subdued and relaxing rainforest river tours.
IGUASSU FALLS - BRAZILIAN SIDE
Day 1 was spent exploring the Brazilian side of the falls in the Iguaçu National Park. This side encompasses the area north of El Rio de Iguassu (Iguaçu River). There's a short walk through the rainforest as you pass through flora and fauna and small reptilia along the way, before hitting the catwalks where you can run through the sprays of the intense falls. I thoroughly enjoyed the distant panoramic vistas of the Argentinean side and frontal views of the thunderous Devil's Throat, or in Portuguese the Garganta do Diabo.
HIGHLIGHTS The magical distant panoramic views of the Argentinian side and frontal views of the thunderous Devil's Throat.
THE HELICOPTER RIDE offers incredible and breathtaking views and memorable crazy dives. Only from the sky can you really appreciate the greatness of Iguassu, a must-do optional!
BEWARE of crazy sugar-obsessed coatis (also known as the hog-nosed coon or Brazilian aardvark) roaming the trails and hunting for sugary treats. Actually, they're kinda cute but they will steal your Mars Bar.
IF YOU'RE LUCKY you'll spot the predatory and graceful jaguars, pumas and ocelots, beautiful butterflies, raccoons, lizards, snakes, yellow breasted caimans and the feathery rainbow-coloured macaws, toucans and parrots.
After a day of embracing nature and working up quite an appetite, it was time to feast buffet-style and take in a show at Rafain, a colourful and energetic, traditional Latin America Dance spectacle in Foz do Iguaçu.
Did I mention that it's all-you-can eat?
There's a fine selection of Brazilian and international dishes with an impressive and mouth-watering dessert section.
Rafain Churrascaria Show
Foz do Iguaçu, Brasil
IGUASSU FALLS - ARGENTINIAN SIDE
It was time to say goodbye to Brazil and embark on a trip to the Argentinian side of the falls with an early a.m snapshot at the border.
Cataratas del Iguazú, the Spanish name for the Argentinian side of the falls, makes up almost 80% of the immense natural wonder. On the border between Brazil and Argentina is where the main attraction runs through the Devil's Throat.
We caught a touristy train which runs along the walkway and across the river. It drops you off at the head of the catwalk which leads to the main attraction.
As you journey through the 1km walkway across the river, (known as El Paseo de La Garganta del Diablo) you'll pass an array of flora and fauna, spotting turtles basking in the sun's warmth, piggybacking the river rocks.
DEVIL'S THROAT 'Pièce de résistance'
Before even hitting the Devil's Throat, you'll hear the thunderous roar of this tremendous awe-inspiring gift from Mother Nature.
The U-Shaped Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo) in Spanish, measures an impressive 82 metres high, 150 metres wide and 700 metres long waterfall. You'll be amazed at how thrillingly close you can get to the treacherous vortex of swirling water and its sprays. There is so much power and force behind this sensational wonder.
TRAILS, ISLANDS AND CASCADES
You can spend all day marvelling at the different views, walking through the misty catwalk trails of Paseo Superior (the upper catwalks) and Paseo Inferior (the lower catwalks), admiring the forested scenery, picturesque islands and stunning cascades.
And this is only scratching the surface.
The Argentinian side encompasses a much grander portion of Iguassu Falls than its Brazilian counterpart. The area comprises San Martin Island and series of islands splitting the falls into two main components – the thunderous Devil's Throat, and the majestic Salto Bossetti, and that's just to name a of the pleasing few sites.
Upon trekking through the rainforest you'll discover the catwalks are longer in length and you can really get right up close to the majority of the waterfalls.
HIGHLIGHTS include the Devil's Throat, you'll have an amazing frontal and top-down view.
TAKE THE GRAN AVENTURA RIDE through the greenery along the Sendero Yacaratía trail with an informative guide, finally connecting to the lower circuit of Saint Martin Island. From the floating platform you'll be able to jump onto the motor-boat for some exciting thrills and spills.
And for the grand finale, the powerful motor-boat will speed through Saint Martin waterfall – yes, into the falls. You will be soaked, I promise!
If that's not enough to convince you, the below video showcases all the thrills, spills and aerial views you can enjoy when visiting this amazing natural wonder.
Click here to read The Best of Buzios or Favelas & Football in Rio de Janeiro