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Igauzú Falls – a roar to remember

Its 275 waterfalls – spanning the Argentina-Brazil border – create a raging rush as water plummets more than 200 feet off cliffs.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 5, 2008

Iguazú Falls along the border between Argentina and Brazil is among the world's largest and most impressive waterfalls.

Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

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Iguazú National Park, Argentina

We had spent an hour silently walking along a boardwalk straddling the river at Iguazú Falls, with only the glimmer of the moon to light the passage. It was so difficult to discern anything in the distance – there was the outline of a palm tree here, the bubble of the river there – that I had trouble understanding what all the hype was about.

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The moment I landed in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, earlier that afternoon, the chatter about the moon's cycle started: There was a full moon! The nighttime treks in this national park spanning the border of Argentina and Brazil are offered only five times each month, and bad weather can easily get in the way. This day was clear and promised to turn into a balmy evening. I'm generally thrilled about any activity that involves moonlight and nature in the same breath, so I signed up.

But now I was thinking, "What's the point?" Full moon or not, it wasn't easy to see. Still, I was enjoying the sweet scent of the evening air, so refreshing after the smog-filled life in my current home, Mexico City. I walked along with my group almost in a meditative state, when all of a sudden a raging roar, which seemed to come from nowhere, startled us. Welcome to "Devil's Throat," the fiercest cascade in the park. It was then that I realized this tour is not about sight, it is about sound – the gush of thousands and thousands of cubic feet of water per second plummeting down a 250-foot abyss.

Iguazú National Park sits on a massive plateau formed about 150 million years ago by basaltic lava. The river flows from mountains hundreds of miles to the east until it drops off into a series of some 275 falls, depending on the season, that form a semicircle spanning about 1-1/2 miles. Most of it sits in Argentina; Brazil also claims a share of this wonder.

When we finally approached the viewing platform, the cascade crashed down into what seemed like a black hole, with only the shimmer of spray visible. But it was sound that stole the show. I wondered whether in daylight it would seem as awesome.

I spent the entire next day at the park, booking an all-inclusive package that entailed a jungle tour, a boat tour, a hike along the rails beside the river, and a raft trip back to the starting point.

I'm not a big fan of tours, and even less one of waterfalls. I've been to Niagara Falls one too many times, the last time taking a three-hour detour on a trip from New York to Pittsburgh with my Spanish husband who'd heard about the falls his whole life and couldn't wait to see them in person. We arrived, spent an unexciting hour amid a throng of tourists, and wearily continued on. Despite the hype of Iguazú Falls, my expectations weren't high.

I was, however, looking forward to the drive through the jungle, where 2,000 species of plants share space with toucans, howler monkeys, tapirs, and even pumas. I wanted to experience firsthand the setting of "The Mission," the 1986 movie filmed here.

The first leg was disappointing. The jungle tour turned out to be a jeep ride down a dirt path cut in the middle of the forest. There wasn't a single animal in sight.

Everyone in my group remained cheerful, though – we were about to board an inflatable speedboat, which is what people really come to do. We were told to wrap our cameras tightly in plastic bags. I had done my research and knew what was coming. Iguazú is among the widest waterfalls in the world, about four times wider than Niagara Falls. Those who have visited Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe say that only that cascade compares to this. But I wasn't convinced this would be anything more than a run-of-the-mill tourist attraction.

If you go:

• Hotel St. George, www.hotelsaintgeorge.com; Telephone: 0-11-54 (3757) 420633.

• Airport: Cataratas del Iguazú International Airport in Misiones Province, Argentina. Daily flights with LAN Argentina and Aerolíneas Argentinas.

• Full tour at Iguazú National Park, including jungle tour and boat ride: about $32. You can sign up at the park. Full moon tour: about $20, advance purchase at most hotels.

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