Ted’s Travels – South America’s Best Waterfalls
‘The Cataracts of Iguazu exert a first claim upon the attention of the sightseer’ – The South America Handbook, 1924
Did you know that the world’s highest waterfall lies in South America? Despite being famous for its unique cultural heritage, this continent has never ceased to amaze me with its natural marvels. I find waterfalls mesmerizing and imposing and so, I wish to share with you the three most breathtaking views South America has gifted me so far.
Back in 1924 getting from Buenos Aires to Iguazu was a true feat (no, I am not that old – this is another excerpt from The South America Handbook). One had to catch a steamer upriver to Posadas, a trip that took about 4 days. Then, change to a smaller craft to get to Puerto Aguirre, which added another 2 days to the journey. Fortunately things have changed. Today you can fly from either Buenos Aires or Rio to Iguazu Falls in little less than 2 hours.
Embracing almost 275 individual cataracts over 2.7km and surrounded by tropical jungle, the Iguazu falls are one of South America’s most spectacular natural attractions. The river Iguazu forms in the high mountains of Sierra do Mar in Southern Brazil and travels down to Misiones Province in the North-eastern tip of Argentina (bordering the Brazilian state of Parana) to spill over the gorge; creating diverse waterfalls that range in height from 60 to 82 meters. Iguazu Falls are taller and twice as wide than the Niagara Falls. They are so impressive that they were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984 and were recently named one of the new 7 wonders of nature!
You can take an exciting rubber ducky right up to the spray of some of these cataracts (warning: it will be wet), take a helicopter ride or walk the many board walks that surround the waterfalls on both, the Argentinian and the Brazilian side. Stand over the top of some of the cascades and feel the power of the water fall right beneath your feet!
For those looking for other record-breaking attractions, Angel Falls will surely deliver. Remember I said the highest waterfall in the world was in South America? Well, this is it. Located in the highlands of Venezuela, Angel Falls have a drop of 979m (that’s 2.5 times as tall as the Empire State Building). The waterfall is named after the American aviator Jimmie Angel; who flew over them in 1933 and thus, made them famous.
Unlike Iguazu Falls, getting to Angel Falls is still relatively difficult. The falls sit within the Canaima National Park. You need to get a flight from Caracas or Ciudad Bolivarr to Canaima camp and then trek your way to the falls. You an actually kayak to the base of the falls, however, since the waterfall is so high most water turns to mist before reaching the ground. I advice you take two or three days to explore this unique area of Venezuela. The effort and landscapes are worth it.
Located in northern Peru, the Gocta waterfall is unique because of its pristine nature: it was not discovered until 2002 by the German explorer Stefan Ziemendorff, who stumbled upon it while exploring sarcophagi on the other side of the Utcubamba valley. If you want to venture into an untouched destination, this is it. The waterfall is close to the town of Chachapoyas, however, to reach it you will need to cross the extensive rainforest – a good 6 hour trek (return). I advise you stay at a nearby country lodge since there are a total of 22 waterfalls in the area worth checking out. Furthermore, Kuelap ruins, Peruvian mummies and local villages also await.
P.S. And then there’s the Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, but that’s a story for another time.
Ted Dziadkiewicz is Director and Founder of Contours Travel, Australia’s longest running tour operator to Latin America. He has been more than 100 times to Latin America over the past 40 years and visited over 20 countries. If you want to know more visit www.contourstravel.com.au