The force of Iguazu Falls is omnipresent. It’s in the air, misty air that drenches my face, my hair, my clothes. It’s in the sound, the thundering drum roll of falling water that blocks out nearly all else. And of course it’s in the momentous curtains of water that bucket down over rocky edges, full speed ahead, forming a swift river that ribbons onward and leaps into the vast canyon below.
The power of Iguazu Falls is all encompassing. I feel this deeply standing on a concrete platform in Brazil surrounded by dozens of falls. Across the canyon ancient and mystic landscapes sit surrounded by thick mist.
To call Iguazu Falls the best waterfall in the world is to do it injustice. It’s not merely a waterfall but a system of waterfalls, the largest in the world with more than 275 separate falls in total that span the border of Argentina and Brazil.
“How can you be here and not know there is a greater power in the universe,” I ask aloud.
I am not alone. I am brushed up against a railing staring down over a cascade next to Luam, a Brazilian girl with bright red lips and a shaved head. Her one earing – a feather – dances violently, moved by the power of the falls.
I sat next to Luam on the bus that takes visitors from the park’s entrance to the start of the falls and I’ve been trailing her ever since as we’ve hiked through the park separately, inevitably meeting at the lookout points and stops along the path.
We are at the end of a platform, the closest visitors can get to the falls on foot (to get closer you’d have to go by boat), and here at this railing we meet again.
“I know,” she responds, slow and pensive. “Being here I feel so much. I don’t even have words. I am so moved.”
Luam looks at me, her eyes intense, like she is really seeing me. She brushes the feather out of her eyes and then removes it from her ear, placing it in her pocket.
She turns her gaze outward. While most others are entranced by the falls themselves, Luam is fixated on a green patch of land that sits across the canyon.
“I wonder who used to live there,” she asks. “If I lived here many years ago with my tribe I would have built a house over there and then I would have had the best view every day.”
We stand close, occasionally murmuring words of wonder, our eyes slowly scanning the horizon, feasting on every detail of the landscape.
Luam turns to go and pulls a leaf out of her pocket.
“Here,” she says. “This is for you.”
She gives me a hug, a deep hug, deep with a rare depth of emotion that is usually reserved for people you really love. And then she leaves, disappearing in the mist as she walks back to the bus stop.
I linger, eyes wide open and trying to enjoy every last moment I have in Iguazu. There are two sides to the falls, in Argentina and Brazil. As I’m just here for the day and have to return to Buenos Aires this evening I only have time to visit this one side. My driver Diego is waiting for me back at the visitor’s center to take me back to the airport.
The path I’m on leads past one of the widest waterfalls in the park. A rainbow spans the entirety of this particular curtain of water.
I noticed the rainbow when I got my first glimpse of Iguazu at the start of the path near the Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas. I scurried to take a picture of it fast, worrying it would disappear and the moment would be lost to me forever. But as I continued hiking, approaching this particular sheet of water, the brilliance of the rainbow remained. In fact it only grew stronger.
I look up now at its stretch, perfectly framing the falls. An artist couldn’t have painted a more perfect rainbow in this scene. Its presence is calming, soothing written as if to say that in the midst of all these acts of terror that so frequent the planet, here in this corner of the globe, for at least a moment in time, there is peace on Earth.
“Come,” the universe says. “Stand next to my glory, feel the mist on your face and know that you are loved.”
Iguazu Falls Travel Tips
Iguazu Falls is accessible from the Foz do Iguacu International Airport in Brazil and Cataratas del Iguazu International Airport in Argentina. If you are coming from Buenos Aires, Aerolineas Argentinas offers the best rates. Expect to pay around $250 round trip.
For my fellow solo travelers out there who have limited time to explore like I did, I recommend hiring a guide for the day so you can cover more ground quickly. If you speak Spanish at least semi-fluently I’d highly recommend my guide for the day, Diego Alberto Riquelme. He is kind, reliable and his rates are reasonable. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.