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It's simply not true that a trip to the largest waterfall system in the world has to cost an arm and a leg. Even more, I booked everything two days before travel — total costs associated with my two-night trip came out to less than $300, and that's including flights!
If Iguazu's on your bucket list (probably should be), then you can go there without breaking the bank, too. Read on to see how I did it.
The great thing about Iguazu Falls is that you can visit them any time of the year comfortably. That said, to save money, avoid peak summer travel season (December through February), since rates are higher and the parks are known to get overcrowded.
I visited in early April, and I fully recommend it. There were a fair share of visitors on both the Argentinian side, and the Brazilian side, but it never got very crowded.
I stayed in Foz do iguaçu (Brazil), and I'd recommend it to just about anybody. There are tons of hotels competing with each other on the Brazilian side, and rates are pretty low — I paid about $50 a night (for two of us with breakfast) at an Ibis, but you could pay less or more depending on what you want.
There's no huge reason not to stay on the Argentinean side, but there's a lot less on offer, and you'll want to make sure to bring lots of USD to change for the unofficial blue market rate (roughly doubles the value of your money). If you're not already traveling in Argentina, this might prove to be more of a hassle than it's worth.
There's also Ciudad del Este, the city in Paraguay that's right next to the falls, too. But if you don't have any other reason to go to Paraguay, the rates didn't seem to be much different than in Brazil, and crossing the border an extra few times might prove to more of a hassle than anything else.
Plan at least two full days, and try to visit both the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides. Though the same massive waterfall system on either side, the views and experiences on offer vary greatly. Simply put: it'd really be a shame to get all the way to Iguazu and only experience one side.
If you want to go on a boat under the falls, the Argentinian park has much better prices and, from what I've heard, a cooler experience. It's also got much more in terms of walking on pathways above the river and the falls. On the other hand, the Brazilian side has helicopter tours, and has a very different walkway out onto a large part of the falls, and even has an elevator that will take you up next to the falls. Depending on how you exchange your money in Argentina and current exchange rates in Brazil, the entry costs can be similar at somewhere around $20.
If you're going to be visiting Iguazu Falls, you should probably plan to see some of Brazil or Argentina on the same trip. It takes a long-haul flight just to get to major cities. You'd most likely fly first to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, or Rio de Janiero, and there's lots of opportunities to save time and money by flying into one city, and out of another.
Cash fares to these cities often start in the $300s, but there's also lots of great miles deals to be had. For this trip I snagged a great deal using Delta SkyMiles: 24,000 SkyMiles for the return leg + $36 in taxes and fees. To get to Brazil, I was coming from Berlin, Germany, so I splurged a little and booked Air France business class to Sao Paulo for 42,000 Virgin Atlantic points and a little less than $300 in taxes and fees.
I started and ended my time in Brazil in Sao Paulo because it happened to have the best deals — in between I made stops in Rio, Salvador, and Iguazu. Truth be told, I hadn't even planned to include Iguazu (or Salvador) in my trip, but due to major flooding near Rio, I decided to change my plans just a few days before travel.
For domestic flights in Brazil, I booked Rio to Salvador on Azul for 9,600 United miles + $7.70 in taxes and fees, Salvador to Iguazu on Azul via Sao Paulo for 15,000 miles + $7.60 in taxes and fees, and then Iguazu to Sao Paulo on Azul for 9,600 + $8.30 in taxes and fees. Keep in mind that all of these rates were booked within a week of travel. For example, Salvador to Iguazu was going for over $500 a ticket on the same day I used miles to fly — that would break down to awesome value for United miles, at over 3 cents per mile.
That said, if you can plan ahead, that's definitely going to get you the best deals in combination with choosing your season of travel wisely.
So, yes, you too can travel to Iguazu falls for a whole let less than you probably thought you could.
My total costs for my two-night trip were $290.38. Since I was traveling with my partner, all the costs below besides park tickets and the flights are actually for two people, so you could go solo and spend even less on things like food and a place to stay. Here's how it broke down:
Flights to and from Iguazu: $7.60 + $8.30 = $15.90
Two-night hotel stay: $98.37
Food (not including free breakfast or free airport lounge goodies): $5.37 + $34.50 + $30.71 + $6.61 = $77.19
Park Tickets: $22.82 (Brazil) + $25.04 (Argentina) = $47.86
Local Transport: $41.06