When laws of nature cross paths with a happenstance of geology, in this case water, gravity, and topography, a waterfall results. The basic configuration is the same, but every waterfall is distinctive and beautiful in its own way. By many definitions, one of the most impressive and incredible waterfalls on the planet is Iguazu Falls, proudly claimed by both Argentina and Brazil.
A number of features make Iguazu Falls special. Probably the most breathtaking aspect is the portion known as the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped formation at the beginning of the head of the falls approximately 490 feet wide and 2,300 feet in length. The amount of water and the overall drop means there is a perpetual cloud of mist, often rising above the level of the Iguazu River. The overall length of Iguazu Falls is another distinctive element, and with approximately 1.6 miles of length, Iguazu is more than a half-mile longer than Victoria Falls (1.06 miles), and more than twice the length of Niagara Falls.
Iguazu Falls is actually hundreds of waterfalls, with estimates of as many as 275 individual falls, depending on flow rate. The size of the falls range from the gargantuan Devil’s Throat to smaller falls that peek out from the forest and course between rocks.
Sure, other waterfalls have a greater mean flow rate, including Niagara Falls on the U.S. and Canadian border (number five), Boyoma (nee Stanley) Falls in Africa, and Khone Phapheng Falls in Laos (number two). But none of those has the overall drop of Iguazu Falls, at nearly 270 feet. And while Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe and Zambia border has a greater drop than Iguazu Falls, at more than 354 feet, it has a much smaller mean flow rate at 287,419 gallons per second compared to Iguazu Falls 461,244 gallons per second – an Olympic-sized swimming pool would be emptied in less than a second and a half (ranking Iguazu Falls sixth in mean flow rate). Boyoma Falls, by comparison, has the largest mean flow rate in the world, dumping a mind-boggling 4.5 million gallons of water over the edge every second.
Perhaps with the exception of Niagara Falls (which receives upwards of 20 million visitors annually), Iguazu Falls is one of the more developed of the world’s great waterfalls. There are miles and miles of trails and walkways on both the Brazilian and Argentine sides of the falls. A number of walkways enable visitors to venture toward the center of the Iguazu River to marvel at the cascading water. And on the Argentine side, a walkway goes to the edge of the Devil’s Throat where visitors can experience the thundering power of nature. But even with all the walkways that afford visitors a close-up view, Iguazu Falls only receives approximately 750,000 people each year, due in large part to its isolated location.
An exciting introduction to Iguazu Falls is the helicopter ride from the Brazilian side (Argentina prohibits such activity). The short flight creates an unforgettable visual impact for passengers to see the overall layout and majesty of the falls.
Not surprisingly, Iguazu Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated in 1984. As far back as 1934 Argentina declared the area a national park. In 1541 the first European to set sight on Iguazu Falls was Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. The name Iguazu comes from indigenous people living there who name it y (water), uasu (big). The beauty of the location has made it a popular backdrop for more than 20 movies and television shows, including Moonraker, The Mission, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Captain America: Civil War, and episodes of Miami Vice among other productions.
Iguazu Falls is a place of grandeur, a spot where Mother Nature has crafted one of the earth’s great treasures – a magical wonder of sight, sound and majesty.
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