Foz do Iguaçu And The Forgotten Guaíra Falls

Foz do Iguaçu is a city in the Brazilian state of Paraná, situated on the borders of Argentina and Paraguay. The city is the gateway to the world famous Iguaçu Falls and the Itaipu hydroelectric dam.

Foz do Iguaçu city

Foz do Iguaçu skyline seen from Hotel Flôr.

I am going briefly to tell you about the two, since there is another far more interesting story to tell: the story of the forgotten Guaíra Falls.

The Thundering Iguaçu Falls

We travelled to Iguaçu Falls in March 2016. The easiest way to get to the waterfalls and the national park is to take the bus no. 120. It costs R$3.2 and it takes around 30 mins to get to the park entrance. The bus stops by the airport so technically you can see the waterfalls and fly back the same day, without even seeing the city, if that’s something you’re into.

The entrance fee to the national park was R$57 for foreigners and R$34 for Brazilians. It is even cheaper if you are a resident in the city. So, you know, why not take the step and move there?

After paying the ticket, you hop on another bus that takes you through the park. If you want to see the waterfalls with a boat or do a hike around the River Paraná, there are designated stops for these activities on the way. We went all the way to the second last stop where you take the panoramic walk to the heart of the waterfall, the epicly-named Devil’s Throat.

It is a stunning 45-minute walk with multiple viewpoints and countless photo opportunities. We chose to go to the park in the weekend and if you want to avoid getting hit by a selfie stick by photo hungry crowds, for the sake of your well-being and mental health, go during the week! It is much more quiet during the weekdays.

View to Iguazu River

Views from the subtropical forest to the waterfalls and Iguazu River.

Also, take a rain coat or be prepared to get absolutely soaked! We forgot to take the rain coats while packing for the trip. Fortunately, they sell plastic coats (also towels!) near the entrance to the Devil’s Throat.

Quati animals

Quatis are not afraid of people. Perfect example of how to attract them close to you.

There are small raccoons called Quati (Nasua in English) around the park. Do not feed them! The park is full of warning signs but I saw many people feeding the poor bastards. The thing is, Quatis in the park scavenge food from people and sometimes territorial fights break up among the animals. They can scratch you, bite and leave you bleeding. Also, they suffer from illnesses such as diabetes due to their lousy diet of eating from clueless tourists and from the fast food restaurant in the park. It is now much easier for them to eat out than hunt in the wild.

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Iguaçu Falls has the sixth-greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world, just a bit behind Niagara Falls.

We only saw the Brazilian side of the falls. The waterfalls are actually located on the Argentinian side but the Brazilians have the better overall view to the area. There you go Argentinians! On the other hand, you can see the waterfalls much closer on the Argentinian side. There are numerous hiking trails around the area and it is said to be more immersive experience.

We didn’t go to Argentina or Paraguay due to the situation with my tourist visa. I will tell you more about this in an upcoming post.

The Electrifying Itaipu Dam

The Itaipu Dam is the second biggest hydroelectric power station in the world after the Three Gorges Dam in China. The dam is located on the Paraná River on the border of Brazil and Paraguay, around 40 km north from Iguaçu Falls.

It is a binational project run by Brazil and Paraguay, supplying approx. 75% of the electricity consumed by Paraguay and 17% of that consumed by Brazil. And it is huge! With the same amount of concrete you could build 210 Maracanã stadiums and with the same amount of iron and steel you could build around 380 Eiffel Towers. [1]

Source: [1] Wikipedia

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Itaipu Dam with the lights on.

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Lighted up dam and the powerlines leading to Paraguay.

We went to see the lighting of the Dam (Barragem de Itaipu) where you are taken to a small tour around the night lighted concrete monster. In the beginning they showed us a video in the central observation point. I must say that I have never seen such a cheesy propaganda video. Quotes like: “40.000 men working tirelessly and uniting the great countries of Brazil and Paraguay” reminded me of some of that stuff that comes out of KCNA, North Korean Central News Agency.

Yeah, the dam is elected as one of the seven modern Wonders of the World and it creates extremely cheap energy for the two countries. But, it is hard to think of something that is more harmful to biological, chemical and physical properties of natural environments than large-scale dam projects. The governments of Brazil and Paraguay went to great lengths for building the Itaipu Dam. Like, let’s say, blowing up one of the biggest waterfalls on Earth, The Guaíra Falls.


There isn’t an awful lot of English material about the Guaíra Falls. I am relying on the information provided by Wikipedia, World Waterfall DatabaseInternationalrivers.org, Encyclopædia Britannica and this video on YouTube.

The Forgotten Guaíra Falls

“…seven ghosts murdered by the hand of man, owner of the planet… Seven falls passed us by, and we didn´t know, ah, we didn´t know how to love them, and all seven were killed, and all seven disappeared into thin air, seven ghosts, seven crimes of the living taking a life never again to be reborn”.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, “Farewell to Seven Falls” (excerpt, translated from the Portuguese) Source: internationalrivers.org

The Guaíra Falls (Salto del Guairá) or “Seven Falls of Guaíra” (“Sete Quedas”) were a series of 18 waterfalls on the Upper Paraná River at the Brazil-Paraguay border, in the city of Guaíra, 220 km north of Foz do Iguaçu. Popular tourist attraction by locals and foreigners, the falls were 114 meters in height, not the world’s tallest, but easily the most powerful in volume. With the flow of 1,750,000 cubic feet per second, the falls had 12 times the flow over Victoria Falls. [1]

Guaíra Falls were so powerful that the roar of the water could be heard from 30 km away. [2]

Source: [1] Internationalrivers.org, [2] Encyclopædia Britannica

Paraná River flowing in the Guaíra Falls. Source: Screenshots from YouTube / Original video by Globo - Meu Paraná.

Paraná River flowing in the Guaíra Falls. Source: Screenshot from YouTube.

Tragically, the falls don’t exist anymore. The regimes of Brazil and Paraguay claimed the ownership of the Guaíra Falls National Park during the time of building of the Itaipu Dam and the artificial lake. The water reservoir for the dam was fully formed in October 1982 and Guaíra Falls were drowned. Later, Brazilian government used dynamite to blow up the submerged rock face of the falls to promote a safer navigation for the waterway. [2] This destroyed all the hope of restoring the waterfall in the future.

Today, the remains of the waterfall are located somewhere deep below the Ayrton Senna bridge, connecting Brazil and Paraguay.

Tourists crossing a bridge in Guaíra Falls. Source: Screenshots from YouTube / Original video by Globo - Meu Paraná.

The collapsed bridge after the tragic event in 1982. Source: Screenshots from YouTube.

Another tragedy happened in January 1982, months before the falls were to be drowned. 80 people were killed when a poorly maintained bridge over the Paraná River collapsed. Tourist crowds were there to say goodbye to the soon disappearing falls.

Sources: [1] Internationalrivers.org, [2] Wikipedia

The Silent Falls

Visiting Foz do Iguaçu is a loud experience. It is quite overwhelming to be inside the Devil’s Horn in Iguaçu Falls with all the roar and the bustle. Further north, the tour guides burst with information and statistics of the Itaipu Dam. It is hectic.

But there is another city upstream of the river. It is dead quiet. Actually, it has been like that for 30 years already. And it will never get its voice back. That’s the saddest part.

 

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