Iguacu National Park
Iguacu National Park is one of the most spectacular places in the world. The waterfalls were first discovered by Europeans in 1542 on the expedition of Dom Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (1). Iguacu Falls and its surrounding area, which is now the National Park, remained an unprotected wonder until 1916. In 1916 the first steps were made in order to preserve the region. Iguacu National Park was officially recognized on January 10, 1939 by federal decree No. 1.035. This original decree was altered on June 14, 1944 and again on December 1. 1981 (2). The National Park was finally acknowledged as a Human Heritage Site on November 17, 1986 (3) .
Iguacu National Park is located in the extreme southwest portion of the Parana State in Brazil (4). It is a unique location being that three different countries are in some way affiliated with the park. The Argentinean border is located to the south of the park. You can see Argentina from the Brazilian side of the falls very easily as well as the other way around. The hotel that we stayed in was in Brazil but when you looked to our right as we were looking at the falls there was a hotel that was not very far away from us and it was in Argentina . To the west of the park lies the Paraguayan border. Paraguay is mainly linked to the park through the Itaipu hydroelectric dam which is located twenty kilometers upstream from Iguacu Falls . When we visited the Itaipu hydroelectric power plant we crossed back and forth between Brazil and Paraguay numerous times because half of the plant is located in Brazil while the other half is in Paraguay . Brazil greatly benefits from the power plant by getting almost one third of their electricity from it. However, Paraguay is the greatest beneficiary of the plant seeing that they get over 90% of the total electricity directly from the Itaipu hydroelectric power plant.
The obvious main attraction inside the National Park is the Iguacu Waterfalls. The word " Iguassu " (has many different spellings) comes from the language of the Tupy Guarani Indians meaning "Great Water." (5) The waterfalls were formed over 150 million years ago and consist of over 275 separate waterfalls. Of the 275 waterfalls there are 19 that are considered to be larger waterfalls than the others. Out of the 19 larger waterfalls only 3 fall in Brazilian territory compared to 16 on the Argentinean side (6). The Argentinean side definitely has the advantage if you want to get close up to the falls, but the best view of the falls as a whole is clearly from the Brazilian side. The height of the waterfalls is a unique issue. Iguacu National Park is a semi-tropical rainforest. In rainforests there are rainy seasons, and seasons where the rainfall is not nearly as much as others, but there is never a dry season. Given this fact there is a drastic change in the water levels which causes there to be an extreme change in the height of the waterfalls as well. Also the number of waterfalls can drop to as low as 150 during the rainy season because the rest become entirely under water. The nineteen large falls range in height between 40 meters and 90 meters depending on the season. The width of the waterfalls as a whole is around 2700 meters, 800 meters of which fall on the Brazilian side (7). The speed that the water flows is also influenced by the water levels. Depending on the season the water flow fluctuates between 300 cubic meters per second and 650 cubic meters per second (8).
There has been some controversy inside Iguacu National Park over the past decade. Many people in Brazil want to build a new road through the middle of the park in order to shorten the distance between cities in the surrounding area. There was once a road through the park but it was closed in 1986 in order to protect the park (9). That old road is completely grown over by vegetation now and basically does not exist any more. The strongest of the pushes to reopen the road came in 1997 when over 800 people went into the park and cut down vegetation along the old road. Fortunately they were unsuccessful and the protection laws have held up. In 2000 US$60,000 was given to the cause of keeping the road closed and continuing to protect the park. Iguacu National Park is one of the most special places on the Earth and should be protected at all costs.