Iguazu Falls – A Grandstand Where Rainbows Dance


In a welter of foam, the Iguazu River hurls itself off the edge of the Parana Plateau into the gorge below, whipping up clouds of spray that hang high above the falls. Dozen of rainbows dance a colourful ballet in the misty veil as the sunlight streams through.

The waters swirl and tumble from the crescent-shaped cliffs in a long line of some 275 cascades separated by islets and rock outcrops. Some plunge sheer down the cliff and others crash over stepped ledges – ‘an ocean pouring into an abyss’ is how a Swiss botanist, Robert Chodat, described it.

The river makes a sweeping bend and widens out on its approach to the falls, where the roar of the water is like the sound of rolling thunder and can be heard 15 miles (24km) away. In January and February, at the height of the summer rainy season, enough water rushes over the cliffs every second to fill about four Olympic swimming pools.

Union Falls, the highest of the Iguaza cascades, plunges into a spectacular chasm known as the Devil’s Throat. This has been cut by the river along a geological fault, and at its end, the river’s course is turned at right angles before it rushes on through rapids to join the Parana River.

Thousands of swifts wheel and dive low and fast above the water, chasing the swarms of insects that can be found there. Lichen-like water plants grow on the rock ledges behind the water curtain, and the hot, humid rainforest – with filmy ferns, bamboo and trees such as palms and pines – borders the gorge and drapes over its stepped ledges like huge green shawls.

Bright forest


Mosses, trumpet-flowered lianas and bromeliads festoon the trees, and brilliantly plumed macaws and parrots, as well as hundreds of different types of butterflies, flit among the foliage. Their bright colours vie with the masses of wild orchids, which can be found at their best in the cool of spring (August-October)

The chattering of capuchin monkeys rivals the raucous calls and screeching of the birds, and the roaring of black howler monkeys adds to the din. Deer and pig-like peccaries roam the forest depths, as do hoofed, heavy-bodied tapirs and shy, solitary big cats – ocelots and jaguars. But the commonest mammals are the rabbit-sized agouti and two cat-sized rodents – the white-spotted paca and the long-tailed coatimundi.


A Spanish explorer, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, was the first European to see the falls, in 1541. Being a pious man, he named them Salto de Santa Maria, the Falls of Saint Mary. The name soon reverted to Iguaza – which in their language means ‘Great Water’.


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