Yguazú - from the Tupi Guarani language family

The Iguaçú Falls

from the Brazilian side

Cataratas do Iguaçú - Brasilian name
Cataratas del Iguazú - Argentinian name
Iguassú - older Portuguese
.... With an average height of 72m / 236 feet across a river's edge 2.7 km / 1.6 miles wide and with at least three names they are greater than Niagara. In some dry seasons there are as many as three hundred separate falls and in flood times there are as few as three. They lie within two national parks in subtropical forest filled with countless birds and butterflies. Many mammals including jaguars, giant otters, coatis and bush dogs live in places off the beaten track. The falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and and one of South America's greatest natural spectacles.
Photos and text by Tony and Marion Morrison

These remarkable falls on the border of Brasil and Argentina approximately 550 km / 340 miles inland from the Atlantic ocean and are named after the river they dominate. The name varies according to the various local languages though the same suffix or ending açu, assú or azú is used. It is derived from Tupi Guarani the original language family of the area and means 'big'. The falls comprise roughly 300 falls. Below the falls the river races through a narrow gorge before entering the River Parana the major tributary of the River Plate. The falls were were discovered early in 1542 by a Spanish commander Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and were declared a World Heritage Site in 1984 and1986 The falls lie within the boundaries of two National Parks - one Argentinian and the other Brasilian.




Roads and airports connect the towns with many places in South America

The river Parana running north to south is one of the world's greatest rivers. It rises in Brasil and with a major tributary the Paranaiba has a length of about 3998 kms / 2484 miles. This makes it South America' s second longest river after the Amazon.The Parana carries a a huge volume of water and in this region is crossed by a bridge between two cities in the top left. Ciudad del Este in Paraguay and Foz de Iguaçú in Brasil, literally meaning ' mouth of the Iguaçú '.

The huge Itaipú dam straddles the Parana river between Paraguay and Brasil just outside the top right of the map.

The river coming in from the east in the top right is the Iguaçú or Iguazú as it is known in Argentina. It rises close to the Brasilian city of Curitiba within approximately 50kms / 31 miles of the Atlantic ocean and has a total length of approximately 1198kms / 745 miles most of which is in Brasil. The falls are in the green shaded and forested area on the right where the river narrows upriver from the meeting with the Parana. A bridge crosses the Iguazú at the Argentinian town of Puerto Iguazú close to the confluence.
The Iguaçú /Iguazú river above the falls from the Argentinian bank.aga0059The Parana river from the Argentinian bank with the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este beyond.

The Iguaçú / Iguazú river pours over the edge of an ancient basaltic lava flow dating from Mesozoic Era of geological time over 135 million years ago

The gorge of the river begins below the falls which are very slowly being cut back upstream due to erosion

Photo; Danny Aeberhard

The marker of The Three Frontiers - the meeting point of Brasil, Argentina and Paraguay at the mouth of the Iguaçú / Iguazú river. From the Brasilian side.


THE DISCOVERY By 1542 Spanish and Portuguese explorers were getting to know their way around South America. Ten years earlier over on the Pacific coast Francisco Pizarro had found his way in to the Inca Empire. On the Atlantic coast the mouth of the Amazon was discovered by a Spaniard in January 1500 and Portuguese traders soon began small settlements for collecting a richly coloured 'brazil wood' from the forests. The name is derived from the Latin 'brasile' meaning red. Meanwhile the River Plate from the Spanish word 'plata' meaning silver attracted explorers trying to find a way to a land they believed was rich with the precious metal. One expedition left Seville in Spain in 1535 and headed for the River Plate. The adventurers set up a base near the site of present day Buenos Aires and exploratory groups were despatched inland. One commanded by a Spaniard Juan de Salazar went up the river Parana and then to the River Paraguay where his men built a stockade they called Asunción.

Back at base the leader of the main group fell ill and decided to return to Spain. He died at sea and when news of his death and the isolated garrison at Asunción reached Spain a relief expedition was sent out. The commander Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was a travel-hardened Spaniard from the city of Jerez de la Frontera in southwestern Spain. He had already made his name by exploring Florida, parts of Texas and some of Mexico beteween 1528 /36. Álvar Núñez eached Santa Catalina Island [now Santa Catarina] on the coast of Brasil late in 1541 and decided to strike boldly inland at roughly the right latitude to reach Asunción overland. In late 1541 Álvar Núñez set out with two hundred and fifty men and twenty six horses from close to where the city of Florianopolis stands today.

The expedition headed into an incredible wilderness of low mountains - the Serra do Mar, dense forests and huge rivers. The Spaniards had no idea of the kind of reception they would meet from the indigenous,Tupi Guarini native population.aga0156 Reports from friendly people along the way were good and they found the headwaters of the Yguazú river and followed it westward downstream. Some of the explorers used canoes and others travelled by land. In January 1542 the reached the falls.....' The current of the Yguazú was so that the canoes were carried furiously down river, for near this spot there is a considerable fall and the noise made by the water leaping down some high rocks into a chasm may be heard a great distance off and the spray rises two spears high and more over the fall....*

They were the first Europeans to report the falls. The extract is taken from written accounts and translations 1555 - 1567 - 1891


A viewing platform on the Brasilian side
The entry to the gorge below the falls
Palms beside the gorge on the Argentinian side
The Devil's Throat / Garganta del Diablo -Photo Danny Aeberhard

THE NATIONAL PARKS - Bem vindo.... Bienvenido!

BRASIL     Parque Nacional do Iguaçú, - State of Paraná, Brasil

The park was created in 1939 and covers 185,000 hectares / 457,135 acres. In 1986 it was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site . The entrance is 18 kms / 11 miles by road from Foz do Iguaçu. From a visitor centre at the entrance to the park luxury omnibuses make the journey to the forested edge of the falls. An observation tower stands beside the largest fall and below and at the water's edge walkways extend over the river to even more views of the falls.brff0215
ARGENTINA    Parque Nacional Iguazú - Misiones Province Argentina
The park was created in 1934 and covers 55,000 hectares / 135,905 acres . In 1984 it was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The park entrance is 18km / 11 miles by road from Puerto Iguazú. From the Visitor Centre at the entrance to the park a mini-railway takes a route into the forest with stops at Cataratas Station for many of the falls and walks through forest beside the river. The train then continues to the Devil's Throat station where another walk at a higher level leads above one of the most spectacular fallsaga0162
Which side is best? Both can be visited easily in one day and both are wonderful. To see much of the wildlife a longer stay is needed with arrangements to trek deeper into the parks



Tiny fungi grow on fallen branches above the river. This is a tropical wet forest and the rainfall averages 1600mm per year. It is a forest of several layers including emergent canopies. The humid air from rain and spray from the falls helps the growth of many plants, especially bromeliads, mosses and ferns



Richly coloured lichens on the trunk of a rainforest tree



On the left- strangler plants cover the trunk of a tree. Above a Katydid or bush cricket lays eggs at night. This insect has long antennae and is naturally camouflaged as a leaf

On the right a small Mazama or brocket deer in the forest at dusk Local name is Corzuela roja


A giant otter, Pteronura brasiliensis is one of the rarest animals in the park. large specimens may be as much as 1.3m . Local name is Lontra gigante or Arirai

Toco Toucan Ramphastos toco locally known as Tucán grande or Tucano toco or tucanoaçu



Tapirs are the heaviest of all South American land mammals. This is Tapirus terrestris the species of the lowlands and known locally as the Anta - a large specimen may be almost 2m long


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