Solo travel at Iguazu Falls
Argentina, Musings, South America

A Lonely Trip to Iguazu Falls

There’s a lot to be said for solo travel–I will even go so far as to say that I truly feel it’s something everyone should strive to experience at least once in their lives.  Understandably it’s not for everyone, but if you can manage to hurdle the initial fear of heading off to an unknown land on your own, I guarantee you’ll come out on the other side a changed (for the better, barring the miniscule possibility of some traumatic experience) human being.

Some of the benefits of traveling solo include, but are certainly not limited to: complete and utter freedom–no one’s making the decisions except for you; loads of interaction with locals and other travelers, which for me is the real bread and butter of traveling; plenty of peaceful time to think and reflect– you really do get to know and understand yourself on a deeper level with so much time for uninterrupted daydreaming.  Hitting the road on your own, if done thoughtfully and with purpose, can indeed prove to be a transformative experience.

On the other hand, there WILL be times when flying solo will really, really suck.Solo travel at Iguazu Falls

When I began my travels in Latin America, I technically planned to travel ‘solo.’  I got lucky, however, and was able to meet up with a good friend right from the start.  I met Allison, another Berkeley grad, on my first stop in Colombia.  I got even luckier to meet a few other awesome Americans in Cartagena as well, and even luckier still when the 5 of us decided to join forces for a while and make our way up the Caribbean coast together.

That’s the funny thing about solo travel–unless you’re seriously socially inept, you will likely never truly be alone, and in fact this turned out to be the case for me for the first 5 months or so, until I left Peru in mid-January to head to Bolivia.  And it’s no surprise really, considering travelers often stick to what’s known in South America as ‘the gringo trail,’ hitting all of the most popular backpacker destinations and often finding themselves on the exact same trajectory as others they meet along the way.  And if your schedule is even remotely flexible, it’s a no-brainer to hop on a bus with someone else rather than go it alone; the long overnight buses can be painfully boring, and it’s always safer to have strength in numbers when you don’t know your way around in a new foreign city.

So through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, I was lucky.  I was the non-solo ‘solo’ traveler.  I met amazing people who became my very good friends and shared some unforgettable experiences with them.  Every goodbye was heartbreaking of course, but I consoled myself with the fact that I was sure to meet more incredible people in my next destination and make even more memories.Solo travel at Iguazu Falls. La Garganta del Diablo.

Bolivia and Argentina proved to be somewhat different.  I continued to meet great people to wander new cities and play tourist with, or to grab a few beers with at a local bar, but I was never again presented with the opportunity to spend an extended period of time with another traveler–my new friendships were all cut short after just a few days.

Roughly 6 months into my trip and somewhat travel-worn at this point, this new development began to prove quite frustrating.  I missed the comfort of being around people I already knew on a deeper level and with whom I felt comfortable enough to be my eccentric self.

Fast-forward to Buenos Aires, my last stop in Argentina.  I knew I wanted to get to know this city well, so I arrived with 11 days to do so.  This included a quick trip to Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian-Brasilian border, which I decided to do in as little time as humanly possible to maximize my time in the city.  I never even considered trying to find a companion for this trip; my mind was made up that it HAD to be done in exactly two days and I couldn’t be bothered to change my schedule to accommodate someone else’s plans.  Besides, I was used to long bus rides alone and figured since they were overnight I would just sleep the whole time anyway.Solo travel at Iguazu Falls

What I failed to consider was how much more I would have gotten out of my time at the falls if I’d had someone to share the experience with.  I’m sure most of you are at least vaguely familiar with Iguazu Falls, or Las Cataratas del Iguazú, a semi-circular series of waterfalls stretching nearly 3 kilometers through subtropical rainforest on the border between Argentina and Brasil.  It is a spectacular natural wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The national park on the Argentinian side is vast–the guides at the information booths estimated I would need at least 5 hours to walk the whole complex.  I was given a map and instructions on how to arrive at the upper and lower circuits which each give a unique view of the falls.  It was a gorgeous sunny day so I rolled up my sleeves, slathered on some sunscreen and headed on my way.

The falls WERE absolutely breathtaking.  I particularly enjoyed the view from the lower circuit and the short boat ride I took which takes you right underneath the falls, drenching every single passenger from head to toe in the process.Solo travel at Iguazu Falls.

What I didn’t enjoy so much was getting lost in my pathetic attempt to read the confusing park map and arriving at the boat ride late, frustrated, and drenched in sweat, marvelling at the sights and wanting to express my awe only to have no one around to talk to, and cautiously offering my camera over to the most trustworthy-looking strangers I could find just so they could take a series of photos of me, alone in front of some waterfalls.  Instead of ending the day feeling inspired, I was overcome with a feeling of loneliness.

It was at this point I realized that for me, the really incredible part of traveling is having shared experiences.  Making a human connection, if even just for a day or a few hours, and seeing the world through more than one set of eyes.  I couldn’t help but think of all the little details I undoubtedly missed as I wandered the national park, having only my own eyes and my own ears to take it all in.  Sometimes, we need the help of others to make an experience whole.

And if I learned anything about myself in that day of [not-so] quiet contemplation at Iguazu Falls, it’s that I never want to travel ‘solo’ ever again.

Would you or have you ever visited a place like Iguazu Falls solo?

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14 Comments

  • Reply Mario Avalos March 15, 2014 at 1:33 am

    Peru rocks!!!!

  • Reply Mario Avalos March 15, 2014 at 1:33 am

    Peru rocks!!!!

  • Reply The Accidental Introvert | The Mochilera Diaries June 10, 2014 at 6:43 am

    […] and often preferable to me.  I came to some interesting conclusions about traveling alone after a trip I took to Iguazú Falls back in February, even going so far as to declare that I never wanted to travel solo again (it was […]

  • Reply The Accidental Introvert | The Mochilera Diaries June 10, 2014 at 6:43 am

    […] and often preferable to me.  I came to some interesting conclusions about traveling alone after a trip I took to Iguazú Falls back in February, even going so far as to declare that I never wanted to travel solo again (it was […]

  • Reply Jason June 22, 2014 at 5:33 am

    I can appreciate beauty in nature alone, but I agree that marvels like this are best when the experience is shared. I get more giddy and excited when I can share oohs, aahs, smiles, and “are we really looking at this!? does this really exist!?” with others. But at least you made it to the Falls! I let the cost and length of bus travel and my unwillingness to face the reality that I would have to leave Punta del Diablo eventually if I wanted to see anything north of Uruguay and south of Mexico convince me that I could just….save the falls for next time?

    • Reply LaMochilera June 22, 2014 at 7:04 am

      That was my exact inner conflict! Do I “save the falls for another time” or go it alone? And I realized that it was ridiculous to assume I would ever even get “another time” of carefree traveling in Argentina, so I went for it. I really hope you get your second chance someday, but, with how much you travel, my guess is you will!

  • Reply Jason June 22, 2014 at 5:33 am

    I can appreciate beauty in nature alone, but I agree that marvels like this are best when the experience is shared. I get more giddy and excited when I can share oohs, aahs, smiles, and “are we really looking at this!? does this really exist!?” with others. But at least you made it to the Falls! I let the cost and length of bus travel and my unwillingness to face the reality that I would have to leave Punta del Diablo eventually if I wanted to see anything north of Uruguay and south of Mexico convince me that I could just….save the falls for next time?

    • Reply LaMochilera June 22, 2014 at 7:04 am

      That was my exact inner conflict! Do I “save the falls for another time” or go it alone? And I realized that it was ridiculous to assume I would ever even get “another time” of carefree traveling in Argentina, so I went for it. I really hope you get your second chance someday, but, with how much you travel, my guess is you will!

  • Reply 30 Before 30: The Challenge | The Mochilera Diaries July 15, 2014 at 9:17 am

    […] job completing things other people deem important before the age of thirty–I’ve traveled alone, gone skydiving and scuba diving, and attended plenty of music festivals, to name a […]

  • Reply 30 Before 30: The Challenge | The Mochilera Diaries July 15, 2014 at 9:17 am

    […] job completing things other people deem important before the age of thirty–I’ve traveled alone, gone skydiving and scuba diving, and attended plenty of music festivals, to name a […]

  • Reply Liz December 10, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Hey Leah!

    First off, I really enjoy your site and writing style 🙂 secondly, I’m headed to Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil and have been thinking of visiting the falls! I may just have to do it alone too!

    • Reply Leah Davis December 10, 2015 at 11:52 pm

      Hi Liz! Thanks so much! I hope you have an amazing time on your trip, the falls are pretty spectacular if you can make it there! 🙂

  • Reply Anita Kenny August 2, 2017 at 5:43 am

    Hey Leah, great article. Just what I needed to read too. I’m flying into Sao Paolo in September to fly to Cuiaba to do some teaching. I had planned to do Iguaza Falls when I made it to Buenas Aires but I see that a flight from Sao Paolo is only an hour and a half instead of a 24 hour bus ride so I’m thinking of doing it before I go up to Cuiaba to teach. Flight prices aren’t too bad either. It does mean doing it alone VS the possibility of doing it with someone I meet along the way. Though that might not happen and if I wait, I could end up doing the whole trip from BA by myself so I’m thinking of just doing it now. I know what you mean that it would be nice to see them as a shared experience but heck, if I wait for another person it might never happen. I have seen a lot of marvels alone. This way at least I’ll be alone for the 2 days to do Iguaza but then I’m heading up to Cuiaba to teach so I will be around people a lot then. I was going to walk them myself like you did to save money but was wondering about a tour, what do you think?? Tours tend to do all sides of the falls in one day whereas I was going to allow two days, one for Brazilian and one for Argentinian side and walk them myself, and battle with the map too probably!

    • Reply Leah Davis August 8, 2017 at 8:47 am

      I hope you enjoy your experience Anita! Alone is definitely better than not at all 🙂 A tour might be worth considering, the place is really expansive and there is a lot to see, and you might learn more with someone to guide you. If I had to do it again and I was going by myself, I would definitely consider a tour. Have fun!!

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