After a visit to roaring, bustling Iguazú Falls, a stay at a former tea plantation-turned-luxury hotel calms the jungle.
My Spanish is so crummy, I mixed up my esperando and espero, then horas and años, during a conversation with my Paraguayan hotel clerk.
Turns out, I told him that I was hoping (not waiting) for my friend to come in five years (not 5 p.m.).
We all shared a hearty laugh and I soon found myself on a short, early evening flight from Asunción to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s City of the East — a commercial armpit near a huge dam, the triple border with Argentina and Brazil but, more important, our jumping-off point to perhaps the most jaw-dropping venue on the planet: Iguazú Falls.
The roaring curtains of water — named in 2011 as one of the world’s Seven Wonders of Nature — hypnotize visitors with their sheer drops and deafening power.
Niagara Falls, by comparison, is a leaky faucet. Really. With 275 distinctive cascades — including the Gargantua del Diablo, or the Devil’s Throat — Iguazú Falls drop 260 feet at some points. They are a third taller and four times wider than Niagara. That’s why Eleanor Roosevelt, upon her first gaze at the cataracts, reportedly uttered with a sigh, “Poor Niagara.”
Staged on a fishhook-shaped series of cliffs and islands, Iguazú Falls cannot merely be accessed via a series of hiking trails and steel catwalks putting visitors literally in the mist. For another $60, you can splurge for the Gran Aventura, or Great Adventure, which bushwhacks you through the butterflies, exotic birds and spider webs of the jungle on a massive all-terrain, open-air tank, before handing out waterproof bags for a drenching voyage on open-deck boats that take you right under the icy, crashing falls.
But like any wonder of the world, the falls attract tourists by the boat, ferry, plane and trainload. On the day we visited, local Argentines got in free, joining gaggles from Denmark, Japan and everywhere in between who poured into the national park — cameras cocked. Visitors can actually rent ladders, so elbowing for optimal views isn’t always enough. You should pack a periscope.
Thankfully, we found a respite from the chaos at an old tea plantation transformed into a 14-room luxury hotel in the jungle about an hour away from the falls. And in the process, I learned the true meaning of my new favorite Spanish word: tranquilo.
With a soothing pool, nearly 1,000 acres of jungle river hiking trails, hallucinogenic flowers, a gourmet restaurant and wine cave, Posada Puerto Bemberg proved to be the perfect yin to the falls’ yang.
“You feel like ants marching through the park,” said Francesco Bemberg, the inn’s fifth-generation owner. “Then, you come here and say, ‘Ah, my God,’ because we take your breath away in a different way.”
Naturalist, boat pilot on staff
The hotel’s shady verandas, high-ceilinged rooms, octagonal watch tower, organic gardens and riverside overlook proved to be as memorable as the wonder-of-the-world waterfalls we’d come to see in the first place.
On one hike, my wife, Adele, caught a glimpse of a large-tailed jungle cat cutting through the brush. On another, she slipped in a pool near a small waterfall, losing a ring — only to find it an hour later in an underwater crack in the rock.
“Un milagro,” according to an Argentine family who took off their shoes and helped search for the lost ring: a miracle.
Bemberg’s staff includes naturalists and a boat pilot who takes you out on the hotel’s private launch, offers chilled local beer and encourages you to jump in the Paraná River and swim up to a smaller but equally breathtaking waterfall adjacent to the property.
There are more convenient places to stay, no doubt, such as the Sheraton resort in the Iguazú park, a white wedge of an eyesore amid the jungle’s green landscape — but built close enough to the falls that you can feel the spray at the swim-up bar.
Posada Bemberg, though, was one of those places upon which you stumble and spend your stay patting yourselves on the back for finding such a perfect oasis from the scorch of tourism.
Car ferry to Argentina