South America's "Great Water"-the Falls of Iguacu-is rated as one of the great natural wonders of the world.
South America's "Great Water"-the Falls of Iguacu-is rated as one of the great natural wonders of the world. But, isolated by dense jungle it was a sight that few people had experienced until it became an established tourist attraction a few years ago.
SYNOPSIS: Early Spanish explorers named the cataracts the Santa Maria Falls. But the local Indian name, Iguacu, meaning "Great Water" has persisted. And for obvious reasons. The Cataracts-there are 279 of them-are spread along three kilometres (1.8 miles) of cliffs. Their roar can be heard 24 kilometres away (13.2 miles). Made up of three gigantic groups of waterfalls, Iguacu borders on three South American countries; Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
Nature has created this spectacle at the point where the Iguacu river tumbles about 270 feet (84 metres) over the edge of the Parana Plateau.
When the Iguacu is in full flood, water thunders over the falls at the rate of half a million cubic feet a second (14,150 cubic metres). Downstream and almost out of earshot of the falls, the Iguacu River joins the Parana River-one of the most important waterways in South America. Local boatmen provide tourists with a breathtaking view of the falls, rowing right up to the edge.
Using their knowledge of the backwash and currents, the boatmen end their trip at the edge of what is known as The Devils Throat. The ride is cheap, but the boatmen operate without the burden of safety regulations.
The boats carry no anchors, lifejackets, or even spare oars. For those who want to take a more modern view of the falls they can take to the air in a helicopter. It's the latest innovation for tourists.
Early this century Brazil and Argentina recognise the necessity to protect the natural environment of the area and two great national parks were established, one by each country. Hunting is prohibited in the parks and several members of the cat family, including ocelot and jaguar, still thrive close to civilisation.
The potential of the falls for generating hydro electric power has already been assessed. For a decade now Argentina and Brazil have been negotiating on harnessing the power, but the talks have met with political disagreement and engineering difficulties.