Traditionally the main attraction for visitors in the south of Brazil, and one of the world’s great natural wonders, are the falls at Foz do Iguaçu that border Brazil and Argentina. Five times larger than Niagara, the 275 individual falls stretch nearly 2 miles (3 km) across the Iguaçu River. The main fall, the Devil’s Throat, is the largest fall in the world in terms of volume of water per second.
Foz do Iguaçu can easily be reached by plane from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. It is also possible to take a bus, but it is a drive of over 600 miles (1,050 km) from São Paulo and 900 miles (1,500 km) from Rio. A visit to Foz is often combined with tours that include Rio de Janeiro and the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, which is located a further 670 miles (1,000 km) to the south.
The falls can be visited at any time of the year and viewed from both Brazil and Argentina. The main Brazilian viewing area is situated in a national park that covers an area of more than 656 square miles (1700 km2) of sub-tropical rainforest that houses an immense diversity of flora and fauna. The falls and park, an attraction in its own right, were designated a World Heritage Site in 1986.
The only hotel located in the park, and directly at the falls, is the Hotel das Cataratas, part of the Belmond (Orient-Express) group, the same group that operates the Copacabana Palace in Rio.
Foz do Iguaçu also offers visitors the chance to see one of man’s greatest engineering feats, the Itaipu Dam. To make room for the dam, and what is one of the most powerful hydroelectric plants in the world, enough earth and rock was removed from the Paraná River between 1970 and 1984 to fill 25 silos the size of the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The dam, which runs five miles across the river from Paraguay to Brazil, can be visited as part of a guided tour. There is also a special light show played out on the surface of the dam every Friday and Saturday night.
On Monday, 9 June 2014, Foz do Iguaçu recorded its highest ever volume of water passing over the falls, a staggering 46 million liters of water per second, 30 times higher than the normal 1.5 million liters per second. This was the result of heavy rainfall in the southern states. The previous record of 35 million liters had been set back in 1983.
The Southern States
While Foz is the main attraction in the south, the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná are full of contrasts and surprises. It is the region responsible for Brazil’s fine wines and most of the country’s outstanding beef. It is also the region where European influences mix with those of the ‘gaúchos’ and where, in the 17th century, the Jesuits built their missions alongside the settlements of the Guarani indians.
Besides Foz attractions in the south include the Itaimbezinho Canyon, the largest in Latin America at over 2,000 feet deep, four miles in length and over a mile wide in places. There is also the picturesque railway journey that since 1885 has been taken between Curitiba and Paranaguá on the coast, while between July and November there is the option to whale watch off the coast of Santa Catarina.
The south is home to Blumenau, with its distinct Bavarian architecture and Germanic influences, including its own Oktoberfest; Curitiba, a town considered by urban planners to be near perfect in its concept; Florianópolis and its outstanding beaches; and Porto Alegre, the largest and best developed city of the southern states and the gateway to the mountain resorts of Gramado and Canela.
There are also the mystical rock formations at Vila Velha that have been carved over 350 million years by the rain and wind, and the opportunity for whale watching off the beaches of Santa Catarina, most notably close to Imbituba and Garopaba.
Unlike Rio de Janeiro, the south of Brazil has four distinct seasons including a real winter when, between July and August, the temperatures dip noticeably.
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Christopher Pickard – Brazil the Guide – Critical Divide
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