The Iguaçu Falls (in Portuguese, Iguaçu; in Spanish, Iguazú) are situated on the Iguazú River, along the border between the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná, and lie chiefly within the Iguazú National Park of Argentina. Discovered in 1541 by the Spanish governor, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the falls are made up of 275 waterfalls that range from 130 to 230 feet in height. The Iguazú National Park (Argentina) and the Iguaçu National Park (Brazil) were declared World Heritage Centers by UNESCO in 1984 and 1986, respectively. The two parks work together to conserve the habitat.
The name Iguazú (as well as Iguaçu) comes from the Guaraní indigenous language and means "great water." The climate is humid subtropical, with the average temperature in the area 60 degrees F in winter and 85 degrees F in summer. Flora are rich and abundant (laurel, ceibo, cedar, lapacho, silk floss tree, ombu, bamboo, tacuara cane), as are fauna (grey foxes, pumas, coatis, tapirs, and coral snakes). The ecosystem is similar to that of the Amazonian rainforest. Insects, toucans, and lizards can also be found. The Iguaçu area was transformed by the construction nearby of the Itaipú hydroelectric dam, on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, which began operations in 1984 and has become another tourist attraction.
The waterfalls in Argentina's Iguazú National Park can be approached on foot via two paths, the lower and the upper. There is also a tour available by train and another by boat, which takes visitors to within 165 feet of the largest fall (in terms of its height and volume), the Devil's Throat (Garganta del Diablo). Brazil's Iguaçu National Park has extraordinarily beautiful panoramic views. The infrastructure at the waterfalls, visited by thousands each year, is adequate to handle tourism. Nearby cities are Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil, 300,000 inhabitants) and Puerto Iguazú (Argentina, 35,000 inhabitants). The Jesuit ruins of San Ignacio, of exceptional cultural interest, are located 37 miles from Posadas, in the Argentine province of Misiones.
Comamala, Martín, and Ariel Mendieta. Cataratas del Iguazú; Argentina. Buenos Aires, Edifel Libros, 2006.
Petraglia de Bolzón, María Luisa, and Bolzón Norberto Domingo. Gazú: Guía de Flora y Fauna. Series Vida y color. Buenos Aires, Autores Editores, 2006