Brazil’s most visited protected area

Iguaçu National Park, World Heritage site, Brazil


The Iguaçu National Park in Brazil boasts one of the world's largest and most impressive waterfalls Photo: Jim Thorsell


Iguaçu National Park in south eastern Brazil is the last testimony of the semi-deciduous forest that used to cover large landscapes of Brazil. It has a place in history as Brazil’s first proposed national park in 1876.

Several large rivers run through the dense and high forest, including the Floriano River watershed, which is the only watershed in southern Brazil flanked by entirely conserved forests.

All rivers of the park flow into the Iguaçu River and create an incredible spectacle: Iguaçu Falls, the park’s biggest attraction. The falls plummet from a height of 72 meters. In the Guarani and Tupi language, the word “Iguaçu” actually means “big water”.

Iguaçu National Park is the most visited protected area in Brazil, with about one million visitors per year. It is also one of the few national parks in the country where tourism activities are managed through a system of concessions given to companies, who handle the transport in the park as well as offers such as boat tours near the Iguaçu falls, jungle walks and tree-top tours.

Moreover, Iguaçu National Park is one of the oldest protected areas in Brazil, and was formally created in 1939. It is managed by the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity, the Brazilian agency responsible for protected areas, created in 2007. It has been recognized as a national park according to Category II of the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories, and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986.

The Iguaçu River marks the border with Argentina and with another protected area, the Argentinian Iguazú National Park. This park, which covers an area of approximately 60,000 hectares, is a natural World Heritage Site as well.

View images of the park


Size and location

Iguaçu National Park covers an area of 185,262 hectares and is located in the Paraná State, southeast Brazil, approximately 640 km from the state capital Curitiba. A mere 15 kilometers from the park is the city of Foz do Iguaçu, which marks the border with Paraguay and Argentina.

Flora and Fauna

The intact environment of the national park is a refuge for an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna, including many rare and endangered species, such as the birds Solitary Tinamou (Tinamus solitaries) and Black-fronted Piping Guan (Pipile jacutinga), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the Margay (Leopardus wiedii), a small cat, as well as the brown howling monkey (Alouatta guariba). Overall, 50 species of mammals and around 240 species of birds are found in the area. Studies have also estimated hundreds of species of butterflies to be living in the park, with over 200 species already identified. Furthermore, the park also hosts 70 species of fish and more than 30 species of amphibians and reptiles, including 3 species of turtles.

The park protects representative samples of different ecosystems, of which the semi-deciduous forest is the most extensive. Other habitats include wetlands and islands with grasslands, as well as significant samples of Araucaria Forest, a particular kind of forest with high density of the conifer Araucaria angustifolia, one of the few pine species of Brazil, which is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Araucaria forests used to cover large parts of southern Brazil, but they have now almost disappeared and only a few parcels remain in protected areas. Many other species of plants found in the park are also listed as threatened, such as Aspidosperma polyneuron and Balfourodendron riedelianum, known as the Ivory-tree.  

Threats and how they are being addressed

The main difficulties that the park staff are facing are linked to conflicts between nature and humans, and the illegal practices developed by communities living in the buffer zone or even further away from the park. This includes activities conducted for commercial interests, such as hunting, fishing and the cutting of the palm tree Euterpe edulis, which is appreciated for its taste. Hunting affects some species that are already threatened, such as the White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), a preferred prey of the big cats that live in the park.

Other threats are related to agriculture near the park's borders, including soya plantations or cattle grazing, which changes the composition of the forest bordering these areas.

Occasionally, large cats such as the jaguar hunt down cattle in the buffer zone of the park, due also to the reduction of prey in the park caused by hunting.

The park is partially surrounded by roads and the intensive traffic causes the death of many animals. Roadkills even occur within the boundaries of the park, on the road that leads to Iguaçu Falls.

Compared to the majority of the Brazilian parks, Iguaçu National Park is in a privileged situation regarding management capacity. More than 40 persons compose the park staff. There is additional support from the State Police, which has a base in the park and helps with park protection operations.

The park staff has developed extensive programs for environmental education. They also develop projects in the buffer zone, focusing on forest restoration, stimulation of the creation of private protected areas and better practices in economic development.

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