Iguazu Falls is the fifth-widest waterfall in the world. It’s reported that when Eleanor Roosevelt saw Iguazu for the first time, she said, “Poor Niagara!” (Niagara is less than half the width of and one-third shorter than Iguazu.)
The falls are split between Argentina and Brasil, with about 80% of it being on the Argentine side. This means that in order to see most of it at once, the Brasilian side has the advantage, especially since right now in the Argentine park, the boardwalk across the Iguazu River to the edge of the largest portion of the falls, the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) is currently closed for renovations. Craig had been on the boardwalk seven years ago and was immensely disappointed by the closure–he told me the falls weren’t nearly as good without that particular vantage point–on the edge of the huge cataract, surrounded in mist, overlooking the rest of the Argentine side.
But we couldn’t just go spontaneously to the Brasilian side, as all those lucky E.U. passport holders could, since Americans need a $160 visa to visit Brasil and we had, out of consideration for cost and time, already decided not to visit Brasil during this trip. We complained about this to all and sundry until one of our hostel’s guests told us that they heard it was possible to visit Brasil for the day without a visa.
“Huh,” we thought. We looked for information on the internet, but it was surprisingly silent about this particular adventure. We weren’t sure what legal lines this crossed, but we were told “lots and lots of people do it!” (Canadians and Australians also need visas.)
We asked the other hostel guests. We asked the bus companies. Nobody could tell us anything helpful. Somebody had a story about an American on their bus crossing the border, who was found out and made to pay for the visa. What if we tried it and got arrested? What if we were able to cross into Brasil but couldn’t get out? If we were successful and then blogged about it, could we get in trouble? We became increasingly reluctant.
Finally we asked somebody who shall remain unnamed. He pulled out a piece of paper detailing every move and told us, “It’s easy! Don’t worry. I’ve told many people this and they’ve done it successfully.” His confidence was reassuring. And it did indeed sound easy.
So this is how you could maybe, possibly cross the border to Brasil without a visa for one day to see Iguazu Falls. And did we end up doing it? Oh, I don’t know… probably best to be… vague… about it…
There are many buses from the main terminal in Puerto Iguazu (the Argentine side) that cross the border. These buses supposedly fall into two camps and might be labeled accordingly: 1) Those that go straight to the National Park on the Brasilian side, and 2) Those that go to Foz do Iguaçu, the tourist town that serves the Falls on the Brasilian side.
The buses in the first camp are full of tourists. Our German hostel friends went across in these and could tell us with good authority that these buses stop at the border at both the Argentine and Brasil control offices so you can get stamped in and out. They’re apparently very strict about it, hence the American who was caught out and had to pay.
However, it’s quite possible that the buses in the second camp are almost completely filled with residents who are commuting across the border regularly. They rarely, in theory, have tourists on them. These buses stop at the Argentine control offices going out and coming in (like good little buses), but it could very well be that they blow by the Brasilian side completely. It’s likely they won’t even pause unless you ring the stop bell, at which point they’re supposed to pull over to let you out, after crossing the border. If you even want to get out, which of course, you wouldn’t if you didn’t have a visa, I mean.
Once the bus is across, it should turn left on a main thoroughfare, going in the opposite direction of the park, towards Foz do Iguaçu. At this point, an opportune thing to do might be to get off after a couple of stops, cross the street, and wait for the local public transport bus that will say “Parque Nac’l” or something like that (not like I know from personal experience). And that bus, so we’ve been told, is a regularly running bus from Foz do Iguaçu to the waterfalls and back.
These two buses, it’s been said, cost about $80 Argentine peso in total, and it’s quite possible that the second bus will even take peso, despite being a Brasilian public transport bus. So you don’t even need to have reales on you, because the National Park on the Brasilian side takes credit cards (that’s easily verifiable on the Internet, no need to have gone in person to be able to tell you that).
Then the rest should be easy because to get back is just to do everything in reverse. Perhaps the Argentine migration officers will look at you funny when they see your passport doesn’t have a Brasilian visa, but it’s not their job to stop you, after all. They just want to make sure you’ve paid their reciprocity fee, not some other country’s. I mean, hypothetically speaking. How should I know?
And so that’s the totally theoretical, not done in practice by anybody we know, way to get to see the Brasilian side of Iguazu Falls for one day without a visa. It sounds quite easy. Maybe it IS really easy! But we couldn’t tell you if it actually was. No, because we wouldn’t do something that reckless and possibly illegal… or would we?!