If you're fortunate enough to visit Iguazu Falls with your kids like we were, there are some things that are not-to-be missed. Here's my list of five things to do with kids at Iguazu Falls:
1. Hike the trails in Iguazu National Park, Argentina: Most of the main trails on the Argentina side are well marked and paved. There are three main trails, or Circuits to walk. The Upper Circuit offers panoramic views of the falls, and takes about 30-35 minutes. It is easily accessed by people with mobility impairments, and kids should have no trouble keeping up. The Lower Circuit takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to complete, and includes stairs and catwalks. The Green Trail is a quick 10-15 minute walk to the beginning of the Upper and Lower Circuits. Be sure to stay on the trails, since there are snakes lurking, and you don't want to come face to face with an anaconda without being prepared! Many of the trails have brick pavement that you could push a rugged stroller over. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and insect repellent along for the journey.
After visiting the spectacular Brazil side of the falls, our tour guide Edson from Iguassu Falls Tours drove us to the Parque das Aves (Bird Park). The entrance is a small, white stucco building with a colorful sign outside that doesn't quite prepare you for what is inside.
Frank had read about this place online, in a blog kept by a Berkeley student doing an externship at the park. He wrote her and she responded that it was a very safe, wonderful place and that our little guy would just love it. We talked it up quite a bit to Alexander, who was excited to see all the birds. We told him we would see toucans, and he said, "What about One-cans?"
Unfortunately, we didn't see any one-cans, but we saw lots of toucans, flamingos, macaws, parrots of all varieties, and birds with amazing colors and plumage. The black crowned crane (on the right) was one of my favorites. I'm sure a dedicated birder would be able to spot many of these birds in the rainforest on a hike, but for us, this was a great way to spend an afternoon with a noisy three-year old in tow.
The foliage inside the park was quite dense, and by this time of the afternoon, it had gotten cloudy, so my pictures are a bit dark and don't do justice to how exquisite these birds were. I was still using a film camera (Canon Rebel) at the time, so I had no way to know how the pictures would turn out until I got home.
I have always been fascinated by birds, although I'm not a birder by any stretch of the imagination. I think it is thrilling to see birds in the wild, but they are usually too fast for me to be able to identify what they are.
Some of the birds were in cages, and some were left out wandering about in the rainforest-like enclosure of the park. We would be walking down a path, and look up and see a toucan above our heads, staring down at us suspiciously, or see one hopping around on the ground. I had only seen pictures of toucans before this trip, so it was quite a treat to see them in person, with their yellow and orange beaks, they looked more like cartoon birds than anything you would expect to find in nature. I felt a little sorry for the birds in enclosures, but they appeared to be well-cared for and not entirely unhappy.
Edson had to leave at one point to go pick up a colleague, so we were left on our own to wander through the park. We were told that it would take about two hours to go through the entire park, and Edson told us he would be back in an hour or so to get us.
We were warned to be sure to close the doors between the enclosures so that the birds could not go between cages and make trouble for each other. They seemed to be partitioned off based on species, and I assume some did not get along well with others.
In addition to the birds, there was also a pond with some small Caimans, a variety of South American crocodile. There are also anaconda and other snakes in the park. They must have been hiding out, because we didn't see any, which was just fine with me.
One of the enclosures was a beautiful butterfly garden with incredible butterflies swooping about, so thick they looked like flowers on the trees until they moved. The lush, deep green, waxy foliage with yellow and orange flowers was a perfect backdrop for the butterflies. Alexander looked around with his mouth agape, astonished at the wonder of it all. We sat on a bench in the butterfly garden for quite a while, quite lost in the magic of the place.
As we walked through the park, we came upon a could of park employees allowing visitors to handle some gorgeous blue and gold macaws. Frank was game, and they perched the friendly bird on his shoulder, which made him immediately begin talking like a pirate.
"Avast ye mateys! Argh!" he said, making Alexander and me laugh, along with the staff and other park patrons. I guess "Pirate" is a universal language.
The woman wrangling the birds took the macaw off Frank's should after we took a few snapshots, and held it in her arms like a baby. Alexander, without any prompting, walked up to her and held his arms outstretched, letting her know that he wanted to hold the bird. She gently laid the bird in his arms, and he cradled it like a baby. The bird lay perfectly still, and I held my breath, a little worried that Alexander would upset the bird, or the bird would upset Alexander. Both seemed to get along just fine, and it was a lovely sight to see. Alex was very gentle with his new bird friend, and the bird was very gentle with him.
I told Frank that that image of Alexander with the bird in his arms made the entire trip worthwhile, and is a memory I will cherish forever.
After making it through the fingerprinting and mug shots at the Brazilian Customs Office, we hopped in the car with our tour guide from Iguassu Falls Tours, Edson, at the wheel. We drove through the beautiful countryside with farms and thick rainforest on either side, with a few buildings and houses punctuating the deep green landscape.
As Edson drove us through the scenic farmland and rainforest and spoke lovingly of growing up in the area, moving away for his education, then coming back to the place he knew best. He taught us to say "obligado" instead of "gracias" for "thank you" while in Brazil. We pulled up in front of the entrance to the Brazil Iguassu Falls National Park, where there was a terrific visitor's center and gift shop. Alex liked the map of Brazil showing where all the National Parks were. Who knew there were so many?
We paid the park entrance fee, and did a little browsing in the shop. Edson told us he would bring us back on the way out of the park, so we didn't buy anything, just looked at all the nicely made knick-knacks, masks, and t-shirts with colorful embroidery on them.
We drove deeper into the park, where there are several lovely hotels, and parked at the Tropical Cataratas Hotel, and got out for a walk. At the entrance to the trail down to the main viewing platform, we spotted another coati (called a quaxti in Brazil), walking around, probably looking for snacks. He seemed unruffled by the busload of tourists around snapping pictures, and fairly tame. At times, he looked annoyed, looking at people with a glare that said, "If you're not going to feed me, get the heck away from me."
I don't think it would be a good idea to try to pet one of these critters, but it did seem like they weren't particularly ferocious.
After a glorious day at the
Argentina side of Iguazu Falls, we decided to check out the Brazilian
side. Since we don't speak Spanish or Portuguese, Frank arranged for a
private car and tour guide from Iguassu Falls Tours to pick us up at the
hotel and take us over. Our guide, a friendly young man named Edson,
picked us up right on time in a small white car, and we were off to
The best advice I can give to families with
small kids traveling in a country where you don't know the language is
to hire a private guide. Often, it's as cost-effective as a bus tour for four or five people and less nerve-wracking
than trying to rent a car and navigate on your own. You have control
over your schedule, and if your kids melt down 2 hours into it, you can
change your course quickly. Native guides can often get the "inside
scoop" on places and people that you won't get from a packaged tour,
help you find a store that sells diapers or toys or whatever else you
might need, or help you navigate a tricky situation. We've had great
luck finding guides on-line and through recommendations of other
travelers. This time was no exception.