Published: January 2nd 2010August 10th 2009
seen from the Brazilian side
While staying in Puerto Iguazu, we decided to take advantage of its location on the Triple Frontier by visiting the neighbouring countries of Brazil and Paraguay. The three countries are so close that it's possible to drive between them in less than an hour. So, we hired a driver for a day to explore the sights, starting with a "shopping trip" to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
Although it may sound like a glamorous and perhaps appealing prospect to some, this was going to be no ordinary shopping trip! Ciudad del Este is reputed to be one of South America's most corrupt cities. As Paraguay's second largest city, it's had a repuation as a smuggler's paradise for decades. But in more recent times, it's also been identified as a centre for drug trafficking, gun-running, car theft, money laundering & pirated goods and the the area around the triple border is also suspected to be a terrorist haven (in fact, Hezbollah’s military commander is believed to work frequently out of Ciudad del Este). Despite all this however, the city is a major draw for neighbouring Brazilians and Argentineans who come here to buy cheap electronics.
Rainbow over the canyon
Iguaçu National Park, Brazil
entered the city via the Friendship Bridge that links Paraguay with Brazil. The border was a scene of pandemonium! Traffic was bumper to bumper with no traffic lights or lanes and masses of mototaxis ferried pillion passengers from one country to the other. There is no immigration control at the border, so rather than having to stop and get entry stamps, all cars are waved through by police directing the chaos. On the other side of the road, cars stuffed with goods were being searched and soldiers patrolled with not one, but two guns strapped to them. As we approached the centre of the city, we noticed several cars with no licence plates (apparently, the Paraguayan police estimate that up to 70 percent of the cars on the country's roads are stolen!).
On the main street, the scene was just as crazy; huge billboards advertised electronics shops and shopping malls and all kinds of stalls lined the pavements. Everything can be gotten for cheap here; cameras, phones, computers, clothes, perfumes, underwear, ipods, blankets and bootleg DVDs. We spent a while browsing the myriad of goods for sale. But, being not particularly interested in electronics or perfumes, Lorna decided to
invest in a new pair of jeans (for the equivalent of about €20) and that concluded our shopping trip! In truth, it was more like shopping hell than heaven for us and the constant hassle from the street vendors didn't make the experience any more pleasurable. So, we decided to cut our losses and escape back into Brazil.
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
Back in Foz do Iguaçu, we made our way to a local restaurant for lunch. Having spent the past 7 weeks travelling through Argentina and Chile, it was immediately strange to us to see the prices displayed in Reais rather than Pesos and hear Portuguese being spoken by the staff! It definitely did feel like a different country with its own distinct culture. Outside, we noticed some local Guarani women on the steps weaving colourful handbags with their feet!
At the time of our visit, Iguazu Falls had just been short-listed as a candidate for one of the New7Wonders of Nature
and the walls of the restaurant were adorned with huge banners campaigning for votes. So after lunch, we set off to explore the Falls again - this time from the Brazilian side. The national park
The Triple Frontier
as seen from Argentinean soil
on the Brazilian side, while also a UNESCO world heritage site, isn't as well developed as its Argentinean counterpart. But it does have a long walkway stretching the length of the canyon and along the way, there are various lookout points with panoramic views across the river to the Falls on the opposite side. It was incredible; just when we thought we'd reached the most spectacular lookout point yet, we'd round a bend to see an even more stunning view!
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to reach the very end of the trail where the walkway extends out to the base of the Devil's Throat. But the perspective we got from visiting the Brazilian side was incredible and definitely gave us a better sense of how big the Falls really are. It's hard to appreciate this from the Argentinean side when you're up so close.
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
Our final stop for the day was the Triple Frontier landmark back in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. At this point on the Iguazu river, you can see all three countries at once - Brazil about 50 meters across the river on the right and Paraguay about 300 meters to the left.
In each country, an obelisk is painted in the national colours of the flag marking the territory.
Being islanders, it's not every day we get to stand on the border of 3 countries at once and to have reached this point in our travels was a great achievement! We headed back to the hostel to enjoy a few beers in the last of the tropical sunshine before the long bus journey south back to Buenos Aires.
There are more photos below