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Iguazu Falls, also known as Iguazu Falls and Iguazu Falls, are a series of exquisite waterfalls on the Iguazu River, located on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The 275 individual waterfalls are what divides the Iguazu into the lower and upper parts, a fact that has given rise to several legends and myths about their origin. Iguazu Falls are 2.7 kilometers wide and have heights varying between 60 meters and 82 meters, making it the largest waterfall in the world. Niagara Falls in North America is only a third the width of Iguazu Falls.

Site

Aerial view of Iguazu Falls from the helicopter tour, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil.

The Iguazu River is a tributary of the Parana River and an important geographic and political feature of the South American continent. The river forms a natural border between Brazil and Argentina, separating the state of Parana and the province of Misiones. The Iguazu Falls are located approximately 23 kilometers above the confluence of the river with the Parana River, on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The waterfall is part of Iguazu National Park, a 2,530 square kilometer national park divided into Puerto Iguazu (Argentina) and Foz de Iguazu (Brazil) National Park. In Argentina, the falls are approximately 18 and 29 kilometers from the cities of Puerto Iguazu and Foz de Iguazu, while in Brazil, they are 27 and 29 kilometers from the respective cities.

Geography

Iguazu Falls
Aerial view of Devil’s Throat, the largest waterfall on the Iguazu River in South America.

Iguazu Falls contain 275 different waterfalls, divided by the many forested and rocky islands along the edge of the 2.7 km long escarpment into which the Iguazu River plunges. The waterfalls vary in height, between 60 and 82 meters. Iguazu Falls are about twice the width and about 20 meters taller than Niagara Falls. However, Victoria Falls in Africa is taller than Iguazu, with a total height of 108 meters.

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls.

Almost half of the water in the Iguazu River falls into the Devil’s Throat, a sinkhole 700 meters long, 80 meters wide and 82 meters high. The other half of the river water forms about 200 individual drops. From the foot of the Devil’s Throat, a mist rises more than 120 meters in the air. The falls flow at a maximum rate of 12,750 cubic meters per second and a minimum of 1,756 cubic meters per second. The largest Iguazu Falls are Adam and Eve, San Martin, Bergona, and Penoni.

Distribution

Iguazu Falls
Part of Iguazu Falls viewed from Puerto Iguazu National Park, Argentina.

The Iguazu Falls straddle the border between Brazil and Argentina, the demarcation line crossing the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat). The two countries share the 62,000 square kilometer Iguazu River basin, with 95% of the basin area in Brazil and the rest in Argentina. However, around 80% of the falls are in Argentina, with Brazil having only 20%. Falls on the Brazilian side include Deodoro, Benjamin Constant, and Floriano, while on the Argentine side, falls include San Martin, Dos Hermanas, Rivadavia, Escondido, and Bozzetti.

Brief history

Boats bringing tourists closer to Iguazu Falls.

The name “Iguazú” comes from the word tupi or guarani “Yguasu” translated by the Spanish as “Agua Grande” sense “Big water”. Although Brazilians and Argentines knew of its existence, it was discovered by Europeans in 1541 when Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish conquistador, met it during his trip to Paraguay. Amazed by the beauty of the falls, Alvar named them “Saltos del Santa Mary.” Later, the Jesuits arrived in the area and settled in the province of Misiones and other parts of Brazil and Paraguay. However, the place was forgotten for decades after the Spanish crown expelled the Jesuits.

In 1907, Argentinian politician and businessman Gregorio Lezama sold the land to Domingo Ayarragaray, who discovered the region’s tourism potential. With more tourists visiting the falls, the surrounding area was designated Iguazu National Park in 1934. Fifty years later, UNESCO declared the park as a World Heritage Site and as Outstanding Universal Value in 2013 due to the natural and cultural significance of the park.

Tourism

Iguazu Falls
Tourists admiring the Iguazu Falls in Foz de Iguazu, Brazil.

Iguazu Falls is one of South America’s popular destinations, with hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting the park each year. In 2019, around 1.6 million foreign and local tourists visited the park. The park is accessible from Foz de Iguazu in Brazil or from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. Both cities are served by international airports, making it easy for tourists to access Iguazu National Park.


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Erica Gill

The author Erica Gill

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