Iguassu Falls, 275 waterfalls that stretch for nearly two miles along the border of Brazil and Argentina amid a lush 700,000-acre tropical rainforest, is one of the greatest natural wonders on the planet. And the falls are on the rise — the area ranked No. 3 in a recent American Express Travel list of top trending destinations based on its U.S. Card Members’ proprietary booking data. Bookings were up 79 percent year-over-year with more than one million visitors in 2018, a number likely to increase because, as of this past June, Americans no longer need a visa to enter Brazil.
As all but three of the 275 falls are on the Argentinian side, the very best views are from Brazil, and the only property within Brazil’s Iguassu National Park is the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. Guests here have the exclusive privilege of enjoying the park after hours (before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m.) when it is closed to other visitors. On top of the unparalleled access and location, Belmond has recently renovated the hotel’s 177 guestrooms and 16 suites. The property also has two restaurants and bars, a swimming pool, kids’ pool, tennis court, gym and spa, all ensconced within the incredible flora and fauna of the subtropical rainforest — butterflies flutter along with more than 400 species of birds, while endangered animals, from exotic frogs to large cats, can be seen scurrying about. We even spotted a puma one evening!
The charming pastel-pink, colonial-style building sits atop a slight slope just steps from the falls, built in this most enviable spot by the Brazilian government in the late 1950s. Belmond acquired it in 2007, completely restoring the property and adding luxury amenities and eco-friendly furnishings (think dark wood floors, sunny yellow walls and a mix of Portuguese colonial wood and wicker pieces). The vibe is exotic and elegant, a throwback to a bygone era without the stuffiness or formality.
The guestrooms are in two wings on either side of the main building. The Garden Wing and the Forest Wing offer views of either the waterfalls, gardens, pool or forest. Top Digs: Book the Cataratas Suite; it’s just under 550 square feet, but feels larger as it has four balconies overlooking the falls, a spacious living room with a dining table for eight, and a large bathroom with the hotel’s signature traditional azulejos, hand-painted tiles. This suite can also connect to a Deluxe Room to make a two-bedroom retreat, well-suited for families.
The Master Suite has similar proportions, design and balconies, but not the falls views. For more space, the Tower Suite offers nearly 650 square feet, with views of the pool and gardens; a large sitting area can accommodate a roll-away bed or connect to a Deluxe Room. We also loved the two new 375-square-foot Pool Suites (Room Nos. 1026 and 1028), which have their own plunge pools and sun terraces, and living areas with pullout sofas.
Among the rooms, top picks are the 19 Deluxe Falls View Rooms, which are nearly 300 square feet, with Queen or Twin Beds and stunning fall views. We stayed in Room No. 2109 in the Garden Wing, a 375-square-foot Junior Suite, which had an enormous tiled bathroom with tub, separate shower and large windows overlooking the grounds; even the secondary views are beautiful here.
Many rooms are connectors, lots of options for families with different configurations depending on budget. We love the bathroom amenities by Granado, the oldest apothecary in Brazil, which became the official pharmacy of the Brazilian Royal Family soon after it opened in 1870.
Brazilians take their food seriously and when it’s time to dine, Belmond Hotel das Cataratas doesn’t mess around. There are two restaurants. Ipe Grill combines a casual spot with a large terrace next to the pool, serving three meals a day, starting with a well-tended breakfast buffet with an extensive array of fruits, a mixture of familiar and lesser-known options from lychees and mangoes to acerola, jabuticaba, mangostin and orange kinkan (all full of the most extraordinary flavors), before moving on to salads and grilled meats for lunch and dinner. The other restaurant, Itaipu, in the main building, serves sizzling Brazilian grill on a verandah with waterfall views. Just off the lobby, snacks, light meals and cocktails are served in Bar Taroba. Top “Tipple:” Listen to the sounds of the Bossa Nova while sipping a caipirinha on the bar’s terrace at sundown with arguably the best view in Brazil.
The hotel has two pools: A large infinity pool and a small paddling pool for kids. Both are heated and open year-round for swimming or simply lazing under palm trees surrounded by rare orchids and bromeliads, which grow in the hotel’s tropical gardens. There’s also a tennis court and gym with cardio equipment and free weights.
With a relaxation area that overlooks the lush gardens, the Cataratas spa is made up of six treatment rooms, including one with a bath for couples, and two steam rooms, one for men and one for women. Treatment that begins with a smoothing scrub followed by a cleansing shower, which prepares your body for a restorative massage using local tropical oils.
The heated Infinity Pool is surrounded by rare orchids and bromeliads, which grow in the hotel’s tropical gardens. // Photo courtesy of Belmond Hotels
While there is much to do within the hotel, it’s what takes place on its doorstep that attracts people from around the world. The 700,000-acre Iguassu National Park was formally created in 1934 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986; its rich biodiversity includes some 2,000 plant species, more than 400 bird species (think yellow-bellied toucans with turquoise wings and striped cukoos), and up to 80 kinds of mammals, including rare ocelots and jaguars. To help guests select the best possible itinerary, the hotel has created its own in-house travel agency, Iguassu Experiences. This dedicated concierge team works with travel advisors and guests on various options, and the best contact is Prado.
As we visited with young teens, Prado arranged three amazing experiences for us, including a First Light Walk along the falls, part of a new partnership with Leica Sport Optics. After a sumptuous breakfast spread on the hotel’s verandah overlooking the falls at 6 a.m., a private guide, Roberto, equipped us with powerful Leica Trinovid 8×42 HD binoculars to view the rare flora and fauna of the rainforest at dawn. The following morning, the hotel arranged a Backstage Tour of the nearby Parques das Aves, a privately owned bird sanctuary, whose mission is the conservation of more than 120 species of birds of the Atlantic Forest, many of which are in danger of extinction. We were allowed into the park before opening hours and had a 90-minute private tour, learning about the hundreds of birds native to the area, including the chance to hand-feed aqua-hued toucans and bright pink flamingos. This incredible tour remains a highlight of all our travels anywhere in the world. Another memorable experience was the Macuco Safari, a jeep ride through the forest and speedboat tour of the lower falls, where the rainbow-filled views of The Three Musketeers and Devil’s Throat are up close and quite wet.
At Parques das Aves, guests get a chance to hand-feed some of the native birds. //Photo By Emily Goldfischer
Peak-season is from December to the end of February, which is the school holidays in Brazil and Argentina. The best time to go is in the mid-seasons, July to October and February to April, when the weather is great and the park is not too crowded with tourists. Travelers must fly either through Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires, and Belmond can arrange airport transfers from Foz do Iguaçu Airport on the Brazilian side or Iguazu Airport on the Argentinian side.
Itineraries combining stays at Belmond Hotel das Cataratas with a few nights at Belmond Copacabana Palace in Rio are a good fit for visitors from the U.S., and Andrea Natal, general manager of Belmond Copacabana Palace, is already seeing an increase in bookings. “The new visa requirements have positively impacted Brazil’s inbound tourism,” he says. “It is a great thing that travelers from the United States no longer need a visa to enter our country.”