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Iguazu National Park

Argentine National Parks

The Iguazu National Park of South America contains one of the wonders of the natural world, the Iguazu waterfalls or Cataratas del Iguazú in Spanish.

The Iguazu National Park of South America contains one of the wonders of the natural world, the Iguazu waterfalls or Cataratas del Iguazú in Spanish. Located on Argentina's northern border with Brazil, the Iguazu Falls attract nearly 2 million visitors each year making it one of the most popular sites in the whole of South America. People travel from all over the globe to experience the power of one of the world's largest waterfalls. The Iguazu National Park is also home to an array of exotic flora and fauna. Since 1984 the park has benefited from its status as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

The name Iguazu originates from the local Guarani and Tupi tribes' words for “big” and “water”. According to local legend, the falls were created when an enraged god slashed the river into two levels to thwart the escape attempts of a beautiful woman that had planned to marry who left him for another man. The waterfalls split the upper and lower levels of the vast Iguazu River, which forms a significant part of the Parana River, South America's second largest river after the Amazon. Overall, the Iguazu Falls are made up of an impressive 275 waterfalls with drops that vary from 60-82 meters at the highest point. The edge of the upper plateau, from which the water drops, stretches for 1.7 miles and is broken up by numerous islands that form the separate falls.

One of the most impressive features of the Iguazu Falls is a narrow chasm known as the “Devil's Throat”. This 150 meter wide and 700 meter long U-shaped enclave is the best place to truly appreciate the raw power of Iguazu Falls as water thunders down from all sides. Over half of the water that passes over the Iguazu Falls does so through the “Devil's Throat”. This dramatic site is what gave rise to such an evocative name as is Devil's Throat.

In terms of average annual water flow, Iguazu River is ranked after North America's Niagara Falls. However, when Iguazu River is at its highest, Iguazu Falls becomes the largest waterfall on the planet with a maximum recorded water flow of 452,000 cubic feet per second. With a superior height than that of Niagara Falls, and less restricted views than that of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, some argue that Iguazu Falls is the most impressive set of waterfalls in the world. In fact, the New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation selected Iguazu Falls in Argentina as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

These famous falls are located in the Iguazu National Park, one of thirty Argentine national parks. The first Argentine national parks were founded as far back as 1903 in Patagonia's Lake District. The Iguazu Park has maintained national park status since 1934, providing protection to local flora and fauna by prohibiting hunting and logging in addition to putting tight restrictions on development in the area. The Iguazu National Park currently spans 212 square miles on the Argentina side alone, continuing on the Brazilian side of the Iguazu River to create an even larger protected area for wildlife and plants.

Animals that can be found in the Iguazu Park are typical to those found in any South American rainforest. The most impressive species include jaguars, tapirs, anteaters and the elusive ocelot which is considered to be a type of dwarf leopard. Many of these animals are on endangered species lists and the Iguazu National Park provides an integral role in protecting them from the threats of poaching and deforestation.

Despite the massive tourist appeal of Iguazu Park, authorities are keen to reduce the impact humans have upon the natural surroundings when they visit. Access to Iguazu Falls is restricted and a special “Rainforest Ecological Train” is used to carry passengers from the park entrance, through the jungle and to the falls. Alternatively the falls can be reached via a series of forest trails of varying grades of difficulty. The park charges an entrance fee of around USD $25 to ensure that both Iguazu National Park and Iguazu Falls, as well as the surrounding land and wildlife, are preserved for future generations.