Iguazu Falls: Tourist Trap or Natural Wonder?

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world.  But like all tourist attractions, visiting it creates a conflicting experience of both ‘tourists’ and the ‘attraction’.  

“Excuse me – can you please take our photo?”  The couple in front of me handed me their camera and turned to pose in front of the thunderous crash of water that dominated the scene behind them.  It wasn’t the first request I’d had today and it wouldn’t be the last.  The DLSR around my neck often made me a target for tourists wanting their photo taken.  I guess they felt it increased their chance of getting a focused photograph with all limbs included.

I took the shot, handed back the camera and waited for the nod of approval that told me the photo was acceptable.  As they thanked me and moved on, I took their place at the edge of the platform and turned my attention to the spectacular scene in front of me.

Iguazu Falls

Water was flowing down the cliffs with such power that it looked like it was in slow motion and accelerating at the same time.  It met the river with a thunderous crash before changing pace and direction, an overwhelming display of nature’s strength.  As I lifted my camera to try and capture one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls, I let the sound of the crashing water fill my ears, a form of meditation that helped block out the sounds coming from the crowds of tourists standing behind me.

It was working.  I barely noticed the stranger who had just elbowed me in the side.  The shouts of excitement from tourists seeing the waterfalls for the first time faded into whispers.  And the crowd that was thickening behind me was becoming invisible, creating an illusion that I was enjoying this incredible location on my own.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls is one of the largest and most impressive waterfalls in the world.  It drops 80 metres across a stretch of nearly 3km, with more than 200 cascades dividing Iguazu River into an upper and lower section.  The river’s horseshoe shape flows through protected national parks in Argentina and Brazil before eventually flowing into the Parana River, sharing the location with 200 identified plant species, 400 types of birds and a number of insects, reptiles and mammals.

Its spectacular setting, a developed tourist infrastructure and contrasting experiences from both Argentina and Brazil make it one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area.

Iguazu Falls

Visitors are encouraged to base themselves on one side of the falls (in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina or Foz de Iguazu, Brazil) and enjoy the other on a day trip over the border.  Based in Puerto Iguazu, I had chosen Brazil for my first view of Iguazu Falls before planning to complete the experience back in Argentina the next day.  I started the day in a long but fast moving ticket queue with tourists from all over the world who seemed undeterred by the high temperatures, soaring humidity and threatening storm clouds.

Iguazu Falls

I was now standing with them, at the front of a crowded viewing platform.  But the sight and sound of the powerful falls continued to meditate me, bringing me to an almost hypnotic state.  The view in front of me outweighed the crowds behind me and I held my camera steady, ready to take the shot.  I had just released the shutter when I noticed an uninvited object creeping into my view…

A selfie stick!

I took a deep breath as the trio to my left held the stick within centimetres of my face and tried to ignore the ironic realization that they were taking a photograph with the crowd behind them instead of the falls.

They moved on but the spell was broken.  I sighed, conceded defeat and turned around to fight my way through the group behind me who were already scrambling like vultures to take over my position.

Iguazu Falls

I continued to walk along the platform, slowly following the crowd on the one-way walkway.  The scene in front of me was a colourful array of t-shirts.  The scene to my right was a panoramic view of Iguazu Falls.  The spray of water coming from the falls was getting stronger, providing refreshing respite from the humidity but mixing with the sweat on my body to create a cocktail of discomfort.

I was enjoying the sight of Iguazu Falls but I wasn’t enjoying the experience of being there. 

Iguazu Falls

Was it because I had just arrived from the open space of Patagonia?  Was it because I had spent the three weeks before that switched off from reality on a ship in the vast and spectacularly silent Antarctica?

Or was I simply trapped between a natural wonder and the tourists that had come to see it.

Have you been to Iguazu Falls?  Did you experience a tourist trap or natural wonder?

Iguazu Falls


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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com


  1. I loved Iguazu. I’ll always remember it as the best New Years Eve ever!!

  2. Hi Kellie
    Well as usual your photos are amazing and really capture the experience….falls and people. i had no idea of the number of tourists that would be in the location. I guess more and more people are travelling so it makes it harder to have these locations to yourself:) Whoa…what an experience though!

    I was recently on the Great Ocean Road, out of season and the car parks were full then so hate to see it in full season.

    Happy & safe travels.

    • I also had no idea how many people would be there! I think my visit clashed with local holidays as there were a lot of Brazilian, Chilean and Argentinian families there. My visit to Iguazu was a nice add-on because I was already in the country, not the focus on my visit, so I didn’t really look into whether it was busy season or not! It’s the challenge of travel isn’t it – wanting to visit the places that attract tourists because they are amazing places..but having to share the experience. We get so greedy as travellers 🙂

  3. Guess I’ll just have to go in the off season instead and try and have it all to myself 😉

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