Iguazu Weekend

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Albert, Nov 1, 2014.  |  Print Topic

  1. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    Having been to South America multiple times, I never made the side trip to Iguazu, so when there was a relatively cheap fare from JFK-IGU via LIM on LAN, I decided to finally make the trip down there.

    The LAN flights were rather uneventful, as I have flown LAN multiple times before. I have always found the hard product and service on LAN to be great, the trouble I have with LAN has always been on the ground. This was no exception. The outbound flights were fine, I ended up having a 5 hour layover in LIM. I decided to just stay in the lounges, as I didn't get much sleep on my JFK-LIM flight and just wanted to stay put. With Priority Pass, I had access to both the SUMAQ lounge and the VIP lounge in the international terminal. The two lounges are next to each other and appear to be run by the same folks, as they had similar wifi passwords (and problems) and essentially the same food and beverage spread. From the hours of 6am-9:30am, the lounges were very packed and you could barely get access to food and drinks. At around 9:30am, the lounges cleared out, as most of the flights were boarding.

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    Outside area of Sumaq lounge filled with people at 8am

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    Inside area of Sumaq lounge at 8am, can barely get a seat

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    An empty VIP lounge at around 10am
     
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  2. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    The flight from LIM-IGU was rather uneventful. After being on the plane for 4 hours, where they served a light snack, I was ready to start my trip and very happy when I landed in IGU. I decided to stay on the Brazil side the first night, as I did not want to deal with the border crossing to Argentina that night. Given that I flew into IGU (instead of IGR on the Argentina side), it was the best decision I made for this trip, as it took me about 30 minutes to get from IGU airport to the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas.

    I ended up getting a car service directly to the hotel for R$90 (which I know is expensive), as a taxi ride to the entrance of the Iguassu National Park (Parque Nacional do Iguaçu) would have been R$30. I just did not want to deal with negotiating with a taxi and wanted a direct ride to the hotel. As cars are not allowed in the park beyond the hotel shuttle and the park buses, it was just the easiest way to get there.

    The Belmond Hotel das Cataratas (formerly an Orient-Express property) is the only hotel located inside the National Park right alongside the Iguassu Falls inside Brazil's Parque Nacional do Iguaçu. One of the reasons why I decided to stay there ended up being the best part of this trip, as hotel guests are allowed to walk the trails after the park is closed and it was fantastic to have the falls to yourself without the crowd.


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    They opened up both 1L and 2L to allow us to deplane the flight. I was not ready for 31ºC when I landed, but I was very excited to start my trip.


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    Walking towards the rather small IGU terminal

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    Obligatory snap of the terminal


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    As expected, customs took a little while, as there were only two custom officers for the airport. It was rather quick to get my luggage and find my driver.

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    Car rental is to your left when you exit the luggage area. There is also a taxi stand right next to the car rental area.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2014
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  3. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    The Belmond Hotel was expensive, but worth every penny. I don't really get impressed, but the service was delightful and it was so great to have the Falls basically down the street from the hotel.

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    The exterior of the hotel at sunset

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    My deluxe room on the ground floor

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    The epic buffet with churrascaria - the food was great, although quite expensive.

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    I loaded myself with basically all the dessert options...it was fantastic.


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    Watching the Falls at sunset was fantastic...this is directly across the street from the hotel.
     
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  4. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    The photos basically speak for themselves. Such impressive views of the Falls from the Brazil side. It really was fantastic to have the place to myself (I think I saw 10-15 other hotel guests) in the morning before the Park was open to the public. I was able to really enjoy and take in the scenery.

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    View of the Falls steps away from the hotel

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    A small crowd for the stunning view

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    Walking along the trail on the Brazil side (view of the Argentina side)

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    An empty Devil's Throat

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    Walking along Devil's Throat
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2014
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  5. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    After some breakfast at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, I took the bus to the exit of the National Park and visited the Bird Park. The open double-decker bus takes you along 5 stops inside the National Park. There are organized safari and boat trips in the forest and the water, but I decided that I wanted to head over to the Argentina side.

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    The crowds started now where I was earlier in the morning, but the view is still pretty amazing.

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    I really liked the cartoon drawings on the bus. The entry fee to the National Park is R$52.20, which gives you access to the complimentary bus that goes to the hotel and to the entrance of the safari and boat tours.

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    The entry way for the Iguazu National Park (Brazil side).

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    Close-up with the Toucan in the Bird Park.


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    Map of the Bird Park.
     
  6. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    From the Bird Park, I hired a taxi and tour guide to drive me to the Argentina side (through a service offered by the Belmond). The taxi ride was R$260 and the tour guide was another R$200. The tour guide was completely unnecessary, as he took me through the Upper and Lower Circuits of the trails at the Iguazu Falls on the Argentina side, which was something that I could've done on my own, given that those trails are walking distance from the Sheraton Iguazu, where I spent my second night. I wish I had just stayed at the Belmond and took a half-day tour of the Argentina side, as that was all that I needed. The Sheraton Iguazu was adequate, but the Belmond was so much nicer. Unlike the Brazil Iguazu National Park, the Argentina Iguazu National Park is closed to everyone when it closes at 6pm. There are two trails on the Argentina side: the Upper Circuit and the Lower Circuit.

    The "can't miss" part of Argentina is supposedly the view from Devil's Throat (La Garganta del Diablo). I was told that there is a lookout area where you can see the biggest fall, which would have been the reciprocal view of what I posted from the Brazil side). Due to heavy rainstorm, however, the train that gets you to the Devil's Throat Station was out of commission until the end of the year, so I had to miss the "can't miss" part.

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    The view of one of the falls from the Upper Circuit.

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    Landing at the Lower Circuit.

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    Nearing the end of the Lower Circuit.

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    The Circuits are walking distance to the back entrance of the Sheraton.

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    View from my room with the Falls in the background (and the Belmond on the very far left)

    The Sheraton Iguazu is a well-located and well-meaning property that needs to be renovated. The staff was very friendly, but it was a bit of a disappointing stay coming from the Belmond. I was pleased to be given a room with the view of the Falls, but the rooms are quite outdated and the shower barely worked. As the hotel is the only hotel situated inside the park on the Argentina side, you are in a similar boat as the Belmond in that you have to take the hotel's taxi to get anywhere else. Unlike the Belmond where the food is excellent, the food at the Sheraton was really disappointing, so I took a very expensive cab ride ($460 Argentinian Pesos) to get dinner in town in Puerto Iguazú, where my meal was half that price. It was interesting to see the town of Puerto Iguazú, which has around 80,000 people as its population.
     
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  7. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    Both sides of the parks make it abundantly clear that you should not feed the coatis, as they were super aggressive in the food court area of the park

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    An aggressive coati was eating the leftover that someone left at a table.

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    Crossing the Argentina border again to get back to Brazil

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    Crossing the bridge and still on the Argentina side...

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    ...and now we are entering the Brazil side.

    I was told that it would take about an hour to get from the Sheraton Iguazu to the border crossing between Argentina and Brazil, it took about 45 minutes. One important thing that I neglected to think about was that there is a one hour time difference between Argentina and Brazil, with Argentina being an hour behind. Another interesting thing is that given that you are at the border of 3 countries (Paraguay being the other), the folks on the Argentina accepted all currencies (including US dollars at a favorable blue market exchange rate in some places), whereas the Brazil side generally only took Brazilian reais.

    From the border, my taxi driver drove through the town of Foz do Iguaçu. As it was Sunday afternoon, very few places were open. I had a couple of hours to kill before my flight back to LIM, so I decided to see Itapúa Dam, the largest operating hydroelectric facility in South America, which was a bi-national collaboration between Paraguay and Brazil. I was told that it would be a 3-hour tour by the Sheraton front desk, little did I know that 90 minutes of that would be waiting in this line to get my ticket. If this is something you want to see, make a reservation online and have your ticket printed, as much time was wasted in this line.

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  8. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    The only tour available of Itapúa was now the 4pm "panoramic" tour, which was basically a bus tour of the property that took about 90 minutes.

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    The second stop showed some close-ups of the dam.

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    The first stop was actually this panoramic sign where people can take tourist photos with the dam. The tour ended at around 6pm and the driver took me back to IGU airport at around 7pm. Little did I know that my 8:45pm LAN flight to LIM was delayed until 11pm, which meant that I would miss my connection back to JFK. Luckily with my early arrival to IGU, the agent was able to put me on a 7:40pm flight on TAM from IGU-GRU, with a very short layover (where I almost missed my connection) back to JFK. It took her some time to get my ticket, as I had checked into my original flights online to secure decent seats. I did not know it at the time, but she booked me on a connecting flight that had basically a 20-minute connection as I ran to get on the 7:40pm flight from IGU-GRU.

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    When I took this photo from the "restaurant" area of IGU, I didn't know that I would be on this flight to Sao Paulo (GRU).

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    The check-in area at TAM

    We had a small delay getting into GRU and it took another 10 minutes for the door of my flight to open. We had to take a bus to the terminal, so I had a very short window to make my flight when we landed at Terminal 2. I ran over to Terminal 3 (which was very nice) to catch my flight, only to be told after clearing immigration that the flight I should be on was back at Terminal 2. Thankfully, there is a very long underground walkway to Terminal 2, so I did not need to leave the secured area and I ran for 15 minutes to get to my gate. Apparently, the flight that I had been booked on was at Terminal 3, but that flight had already departed at 9:45pm (considering that I landed at GRU at 9:25pm, there would have been no way for me to make that flight). I was then moved to the next JFK flight (with a departure time of 10:15pm), which I barely made when I ran to the gate.

    Upon landing, I was not surprise that my luggage did not make it. The agents at JFK was not helpful at all and kept asking me to inventory what was in my bag. He filled out the lost luggage form and I had to call in to determine if they had located my luggage. As expected, it was not loaded at GRU and would come the next day. As I was not going to be home the next morning, I told the agent that it would be great if they could deliver the bag after 9pm that night. Of course I get a call at 8:30am the next morning that the van was already at Midtown Tunnel and that it would get to my place at 10am. At this point, I knew that I should wait at home for the bag, as it might get more lost if he had to return later that night, so I had to take a half day to be reunited with my luggage. The van ended up arriving at my place at around 11am.

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  9. MX

    MX Gold Member

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    Great report and pictures, thanks for sharing!
    Did you have to get a visa to enter Argentina in Iguazu?
     
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  10. Albert
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    Albert Gold Member

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    I have a non American passport, so it made getting into Argentina and Brazil rather straightforward. You could pay the reciprocity fee at the Argentina border if you needed to do so, as I understand it. You do also need a Brazilian visa to enter Brazil.
     
  11. mht_flyer
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    mht_flyer Gold Member

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    Awesome report, this is a place I've definitely wanted to go for a long time (and I have a 10 year Brazil visa so that helps too).

    Pictures look beautiful, thanks for sharing.
     
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  12. theblakefish
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    Great report!
     
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  13. jbcarioca
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    Nice report. BTW, Orient Express renamed their hotels Belmond last year. There was no change in management, policies or accommodations involved. So both Copacabana Palace and Hotel das Cataracts continue to be their wonderful selves.

    Your report makes me want to go back; I haven't been there for a couple of years.
     
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