Argentina has its finger stuck between Paraguay and Brazil. Yes, really! Look on the map… there’s long, narrow, finger-like, sticky-up bit in the far north-east of Argentina: Misiones province. We crossed into Argentina from Paraguay at the bottom of the finger and set a new northerly course through Misiones, up to Brazil and Iguazu Falls.
Argentina’s province of Misiones has two notable attractions for visitors: some waterfalls and, perhaps not surprisingly given the name of the region, some Jesuit Missions.
First, the Jesuit Missions. You must surely by now be wondering when we’ll make good on the promise in our last blog (Paraguay) to report on the Jesuit Missions of Argentina 🙂 Well… sadly, as with Paraguay, the clue here in Argentina is in the name… Jesuit Mission Ruins. Being generous, Paraguay’s and Argentina’s mission sites might be described as ‘pretty’; but another (arguably, slightly harsh) view might be that they’re little more than a pile of nice old stones requiring vivid imagination to visualise the life of the Jesuits there.
In Argentina we went to see a night-show where they tried to bring the missions to life with projections into smoke screens around the ruins. The technical effect is excellent and an interesting story is told, but the ruins are still nevertheless greatly surpassed by the many beautifully restored missions in eastern Bolivia, which are a far more worthwhile trip. The whole ‘Jesuits-go-to-South-America’ story is very interesting, but rather than explain the whole palaver here, we’ll simply refer you to the excellent Bob De Niro and Jezza Iron’s 1980s movie ‘The Mission’ for a far more entertaining version of the events in these parts.
Little Falls – Moconá
In addition of Jesuit Missions, this whole region of South America has mucho, mucho waterfalls to be visited. It would take an unhealthy level of enthusiasm for the waterfall concept in general, to visit all these falls, so we picked a couple to see on our way through.
On the eastern border of Misiones is the Rio Uruguay with the Moconá Falls. These aren’t high. In fact they’re so low that when the river level is very high, the ‘falls’ disappear in the river. At their best, they’re up to 10m high. But the unique thing with these falls is that they run vertically down the river rather than horizontally across the river. A long geological fault-line runs down the middle of the riverbed and it’s an extraordinary trip in a zodiac boat to blast along the fault-line up and down the river.
As the boat bounces over the rapids, it’s a cool sight to approach the beginning of the line of waterfalls. But then we continue the rough ride, further and further up-stream past the continuing line of waterfalls, over three kilometres!! It’s an exciting ride: the boat handler skilfully drives the zodiac along and then into the falls as if riding up into the cascading water and we cling on to the side-ropes whilst receiving a soaking. It’s a hot, sunny day with temperatures around 35C, so it takes only seconds to dry-out when we get back to shore.
The falls face away from Argentina towards Brazil and aren’t visible from the Argentine land, so it’s only possible to photograph them from a bouncing zodiac boat on the water (that’s our excuse for the slightly hap-hazard photography results of the day!) If you want to search, Mr Google can provide you with lots of great photos to see the full phenomenon from the air.
Moconá Falls are rather remote and it’s a bit of a drive to get there, but even knowing that we are on our way to see the ginormous and much more famous Iguazu Falls next, this detour to Moconá is well worth the effort.
Big Falls – Iguazuuuuu!
Victoria Falls (tick)… Niagra Falls (tick)… around 25 years ago I even made a fairly arduous three day trek to the world’s highest, Angel Falls in the deepest, darkest Venezuela. I loved them all, but adding Iguazu Falls to my personal ‘Big Falls’ list creates an unusual case of words failing me. It’s a rare day when I’m stuck for something to say J but Iguazu Falls managed to achieve just that. Adequate superlatives are hard to find, but how about: ‘splendiferous’? That’s a good old English word! Our pics might help to explain the marvel, but they don’t do it full justice.
Iguazu Falls sits on the Rio Iguazu on the border between Argentina and Brazil. As with Victoria Falls sitting between Zimbabwe and Zambia, at Iguazu there are very different views from each side of the river, so it’s worth the effort to cross the border and visit from both sides. On the Argentina side we have fabulous sunshine and clear skies. Next day, on the Brazil side we have dull, grey, overcast skies. We’ll leave you to guess which photos are taken on which side of the river 🙂
To protect the wildlife and the environment, the views on both sides of the river are set in a national park, and one such protected species is the pesky coatí. Oh, they’re cute alright when you first see them scampering around the rocks and trees, but for good reason there are plenty of warning signs around the place! As we’re sitting in the open-air café enjoying a tasty bit of lunch, one of the pesky critters leapt up onto the table and whipped my bowl of fruit salad right out my hand! Cheeky little sod!
Being one of the biggest tourist attractions of the continent, if not the world, one disappointing aspect of Iguazu is the inevitable huge crowd with which we have to share the otherwise special experience. We often stand in awe of natural wonders like this and imagine how it must have felt for the indigenous people and the early western explorers to experience such sights in solitude. Nevertheless, crowds (and pesky coatís) aside, Iguazu is still ‘splendiferous’ and earns its top-of-the-tour status for many tourists to South America.
Just down the road from Iguazu, our final quick visit before leaving Argentina is to the junction where the Rio Iguasu meets the Rio Parana. Just a couple of rivers? Well, not really. This is the point at which three countries: Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina all meet each other across the rivers. It’s a pretty spot, but on the Argentina side at least, it’s rather beset with bothersome vendors. We hop out of Cuthbert, take a quick selfie and move swiftly on.
After just a few days in Argentina this time, we’re heading into Brazil. Lots of things to see but BIG distances to cover between them. Best we get driving then!