A Natural Water World; Iguaz Falls, South America

Straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, the Iguazú Falls are one of the world's most dramatic waterfalls. Comprised of 250 separate cascades, the falls tumble about 200 ft from the Upper to the Lower Iguazú River below. The combination of massive waterfalls, lush subtropical vegetation, and varied local fauna makes this UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site a top-tier photo destination.

Both Argentina and Brazil have national parks on their respective sides of the waterfalls. The Argentine park is called Parque Nacional Iguazú; the Brazilian park is called Parque Nacional do Iguacu. Both parks offer well-developed facilities to make your visit more enjoyable, such as easy access, information, guided tours, trails, restaurants, sanitary facilities, and lodging. There are also plenty of lodging and restaurant choices outside of the parks.

Parque Nacional
Iguazú, Argentina

Offering the more extensive experience of the falls, the Argentine side includes a number of short, well-marked hiking trails, a Jungle Train, and a very short boat ride to San Martin Island in the middle of the Iguazú River (no additional charge to take the train or boat). Make sure you pick up a free map on the way in, as you will need it to get around.

Floriano Falls, Iguazú National Park, Brazil.
All Photos © 2008, Efraín M. Padró, All Rights Reserved

Green Train of the Jungle, Iguazú National Park, Argentina.

Without a doubt, the massive Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) is the most impressive set of waterfalls in either park, and can be seen up close and personal by taking the Jungle Train to the Garganta del Diablo Station (last stop), followed by an easy 2/3-mile walk on a metal catwalk over the Iguazú River. At the end of the walk there is a viewing platform where you can set up to take your pictures. Before you start photographing, however, wait a few minutes to take in the spectacular view and allow other visitors to begin making their way back to the train (because of the train's schedule, visitors come in groups, and it's best to photograph during the regular lulls in tourist activity).

I recommend bringing a medium telephoto zoom (a 24-105mm zoom or equivalent digital would be ideal) to photograph from the Garganta del Diablo platform. The wide setting will allow you to capture the grand spectacle in front of you, while the long end will let you zoom in to photograph sections of the falls. Bring a polarizing filter to knock down reflections and saturate the sky. For shots involving long shutter speeds (to give the water an attractive "frothy" appearance) bring your tripod, but be aware that the metal platform vibrates when others are walking around you, so wait for the right moment to release the shutter. Because the platform faces east, afternoons are best to photograph the Garganta del Diablo.

Walkway and Salto Bosetti/Bosetti Waterfalls, Iguazú National Park, Argentina.

People on platform and Floriano Falls, Iguazú National Park, Brazil.

To best portray the falls' jungle setting, take a hike on the park's Upper and Lower Circuits. The much easier (flat) Upper Circuit offers fantastic views of Salto Bosetti ("salto" literally means "jump" in Spanish) and Salto Mbigua. The views from their respective overlooks will be from above, similar in perspective to the view of the Garganta del Diablo. Early in the day you might encounter mist and fog hanging over the dense vegetation, making for atmospheric, almost primeval images.

The Lower Circuit is more difficult because it drops down to river level, but offers spectacular, up-close views of the Salto Bosetti and nearby waterfalls. From the Salto Bosetti viewing platform you can get close enough to make semi-abstract images of the waterfalls striking the rocks at their base. Be creative and use different shutter speeds, compositions, and white balance settings. These types of photographs work best when contrast is low, so make sure you visit them when the skies are overcast or when the falls are in the shade (afternoon).

Detail of Bosetti Falls and rocks, Iguazú National Park, Argentina.

Waterfalls near Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat), Iguazú National Park, Argentina.