By Kate Romero
We pulled the kids out of school (sorry, teachers!) this week and went to Foz do Iguaçu. To be honest, I wasn’t that excited about the trip itself, but I was looking forward to getting out of my house for a few days, so I happily packed up with no expectations whatsoever. I was pleasantly surprised when our entire family ended up loving the trip. We stayed five days, but you could easily go for a day or two less. We’re just a really lazy family that prefers to do a lot of relaxing along with our adventures. We stayed at San Martin Hotel and Resort. The San Martin is not a luxury hotel, but it definitely had it’s good points. The pool and grounds were beautiful and we spent every evening watching the kids swim while we relaxed poolside with our books and beverages. We were able to get a family suite, which is two rooms and one bathroom (for six people, but still, better than camping!). The rooms were clean and functional, but there certainly was no window in the shower like the last place we stayed. Also, they were set up kind of weird. As in, we had a kid in our room. We picked the quiet kid and let the Lord of the Flies reign in the other room. The food was average, but you could get a banana split and a caipirinha brought to your lounge chair by the pool, so who’s complaining?
As we were leaving the airport (the San Martin had sent a van for us-another bonus of the hotel, plus, the driver holding our name on a sign made us feel very fancy), our boys noticed a huge arena being constructed of ramps and half pipes. Our driver said the city was getting ready for the X-Games, which are to take place next week. You could say our kids were not impressed by the timing of our vacation. We got to the hotel and had time for a quick rest before settling in to relax for the night. We’re pretty wild vacationers.
The best thing about the San Martin was it’s location. Not only could you walk to the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu, but the Parque das Aves was right next door. The next morning we met a guy outside the park on the Brazil side who insisted we would probably die without the raincoats and bug repellent who was selling, and who were we to argue? R$60 later, we discovered that the raincoats were full of holes and also not waterproof. I do not recommend buying any sort of water protection, as you will get wet no matter what, so just go with it.
As soon as we arrived at the park, we were surrounded by Coatis. They’re like a cross between a raccoon and an opossum. They’re aggressive little scavengers and are everywhere. They smelled like wild animal pee. I was impressed when one of them climbed up on a table in a cafe and opened a mustard packet and licked the thing clean.
At our first stop in the park, we saw two men rappelling down the side of the cliff. Three of our kids were desperate to try it. We let the oldest two do it, because I’m practicing not being an overprotective mom. Fortunately, the boys didn’t poop their pants, but I had a pretty good anxiety attack going on. A nice Croatian guy patted me on the back while I hyperventilated on my children’s behalf. They survived and loved it (this photo is from the rappelling website-my boys aren’t interested in being on the internet).
The waterfalls were breathtaking. There were rainbows everywhere, a hit with my nine year-old daughters. Not to mention the billions of butterflies.
We ate at the restaurant in the park overlooking the falls (and it was yum!) and returned to our hotel, exhausted. One of my kids and I were sporting some extremely gnarly insect bites on our feet. We had completely slathered ourselves in insect repellent (being an excellent traveller, I happen to be allergic to most things that bite or sting me), but it didn’t work on whatever it was that bit us, and by the time we got back to our rooms our feet were really swollen. The next day, my kid’s foot was much better. Both my feet were so fat and puffy, they resembled a couple of Honey Baked Hams. We took a picture, but I think I would get fired if I showed you, due to it’s graphic nature. They were disgusting. We had arranged to do a jungle tour and boat ride in Argentina that day, so I eased my Havaianas onto my feet and hobbled along after everyone.
The guide that the hotel set us up with was really good. He got us into Argentina (tip: bring every piece of identification you’ve ever had in your life, and don’t forget your visa, which you should get before you leave Brazil) and set up our jungle/boat tour. We walked (hobbled) a bit and hopped on an open air train to get to the trail that leads to Devil’s Throat. No one would sit by me because of my hideous feet. Some family! I plopped my Honey Baked Hams into my long-suffering husband’s lap, handed him a tube of hydrocortizone cream and said, “Can you baste my hams?” He was not amused, in fact, he looked about to throw up, but I thought it was hilarious. Usually, I’m the only one who thinks I’m hilarious. Whatever. Anyway, I made it to Devil’s Throat, and it was worth every painful step. If you go to Iguacu, don’t miss the Argentina side.
We saw a caiman, more butterflies (including a giant one perched atop a grumpy-looking guy’s bald head), coatis, lizards, toucans, and huge spiders on the walk to the falls. My little ladies and I went to get some refreshment while the boys went on another hike, then we all took a jeep through the jungle for a tour, ending up at boat dock for our ride under the falls. We were promised that we would get completely soaked and were given waterproof bags for our stuff. Now, by this point, I’m sure you are all aware that I am the world’s most annoying traveler, what with the Honey Baked Hams, fear of crowds, etc. And I’m pretty sure my husband was regretting bringing me along already, but even he had to laugh when I panicked and told him I was wearing thin, off-white hiking pants and bright blue and pink underwear, and I needed to find a place to change IMMEDIATELY for fear of mortal embarrassment when my pants got wet. Fortunately, there was a bathroom by the dock. I changed into some dark shorts and got settled on the boat. They took us under the falls several times and my daughter said I hurt her ears and embarrassed her because I was shrieking so loud, but embarrassing your kids is a parent’s number one job, so I told her she should just get used to it.
After the boat ride, we hiked, sopping wet and exhausted but exhilarated, up to the parking lot where our guide was waiting. He asked how we liked it, and I blurted out the only portuguese phrase that came to mind, “Eu preciso de uma taca de vinho!”, and the World’s Best Tour Guide took us to an Argentinian wine shop immediately. He got a huge tip.
That night, I saw my first tarantula in the wild, if the hotel lobby can be considered ‘the wild’. It caused a tiny commotion among the hotel guests, scurrying across the floor, and some members of the staff gently scooped it up in a dustpan and deposited it outside. I hobbled up to the room with my Argentinian wine while the kids played pool in the game room, confident that the law of averages on tarantulas in my room would be in my favor. The next morning, my feet were slightly better and we went to Parque das Aves. We loved it. The kids got photos of themselves with a giant Macaw perched on their arms. The birds were gorgeous and the café had live music and decent food. And R$4 caipirinhas!
On our last day, we went to Itaipu Dam, the largest generator of hydro-electric power in the world, straddling Brazil and Paraguay. We took a bus tour of the dam and it was actually pretty interesting, although the youngest two members of our family thought it was dam boring. I liked it because I didn’t have to do any walking on my Dam Hams.
I totally recommend making the trip to Foz do Iguaçu, and I even have a few tips in case you go:
- When staying in a hotel in the jungle, NEVER go to the bathroom during the night without turning on the light first. I’m sure the hotel guests loved their blood-curdling 4am wake up call. It was only a giant roach, but the scurry across my Honey Baked Ham in the dark did me in.
- Insect Repellant. Use generously. They sell it everywhere. It won’t work, but at least you’ll feel like you’re doing something.
- If you have 220v adaptors for your laptops, cell phones, etc., bring them. We were lucky that the gift shop in the San Martin sold them.
- Wear dark-colored pants or shorts if you think you’re going to get wet and you’re wearing your ‘fun’ underwear.
- Tip your guide!
- Even if you hate nature (and I’m not saying I do, it’s more like nature hates me), go anyway. But wear a hat if you go on the jungle tour. The spiders are ginormous and dangle just above your head.
- Give yourself a LOT of time to get through the tiny airport on your way home.
- It’s considered bad parenting to shield yourself from a waterfall with your child.
Romero family vacations are usually not all rainbows and butterflies, but this one literally was. And biting insects. And ham feet.