Iguazú Falls is the least known of the world’s three greatest waterfalls, but this has done nothing to steal its mighty thunder. Iguazú is higher than Victoria, her South African sister, and twice as wide as Niagara. Over 1,700 cubic meters (60,000 cubic feet) of water per second flow through this series of 275 falls on the Iguazú River, the natural border with Brazil, in Argentina’s northeasternmost province of Misiones.
The falls were officially discovered by the Portuguese explorer Alvaro Núñez Cabeza de Vaca during his arduous journey from the Brazilian province of Santa Catalina to Asunción, Paraguay in 1541. He christened them Saltos de Santa María in honor of the patron virgin of his trip, but it is their original Indian name that endures today – Iguazú, which means “Mighty Waters” in Guaraní.
Tourism began to grow up around the falls at the turn of the century. In 1898, the first group of tourists visited the falls, traveling by mule from Puerto Iguazú. Two years later, a group made the trip in a wagon pulled by six horses, two in front and four behind. Machete-bearing guides, whose job it was to blaze a trail through the dense jungle, led the way. Development of the region was initiated by Victoria Aguirre who, upon being unable to reach them in an early expedition, donated 3,000 pesos for the construction of a road to the falls. Its construction was completed through the generosity of the Núñez y Gibaja family who donated 15,000 pesos and all the equipment necessary to finish it.
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