- American to Miami in First, then Business Class to Sao Paulo
- Gol Smiles VIP Lounge and Domestic Service to Foz de Iguassu
- Sheraton Iguazú Falls Resort
- The Wonder of the Falls
- Gol Domestic Back to Sao Paulo and the Admiral’s Club Sao Paolo
- American’s Business Class to Miami and on to DC
With just a weekend in South America, and a goal of visiting one of the places I’ve wanted to see for years, I decided on convenience and time savings — I picked the Sheraton because it’s actually in the National Park, on the Argentina side.
The Sheraton is on the pricey side, rooms were over $250++ and suites around $575++ during my stay. It’s a Starwood category 5 — so delivers a bit over 2 cents a point without any high season points supplement. The rooms are small and so I decided I wanted to have a suite guaranteed. That’s double the points, and a little bit better than 2 cents a point in redemption value. Not the highest value award on a cents per point basis but I knew that I would enjoy the stay most if I had a little bit more space and a view of the Falls (which the suite would provide), but I didn’t want to pay $1200+ for the privilege over two nights.
In order to get there we walked straight through the airport, past baggage claim and the small arrivals hall, taxis queue up right outside. It’s no problem to get a cab at the airport in Brazil ad head to Argentina.
We told the driver we were headed to the Sheraton and he mentioned that we had to pay an entrance fee to get into the National Park before reaching the Sheraton, which I already knew. He mentioned the fee had to be paid in Argentine Pesos (130 ARS per person, about $29), something I also knew — he commented that on the Brazil side the park will take all forms of currency, but not to enter via Argentina, and he offered to stop for us to change money along the way. I already knew this requirement, and it’s on the hotel’s website, so I already had the cash.
A very helpful fellow, our cab driver also noted for us that we might need a Visa to return to Brazil, since we were Americans, and were we planning to come back to fly out of the Brazil airport in Iguassu? He wanted to let us know before we left the country, in case we’d have trouble getting back in. (Of course, if we hadn’t had such a visa we wouldn’t have been able to enter in the first place, but the concern was noted and appreciated). The driver also offered to stop for sightseeing of the Brazilian side of the falls on the way to the hotel, since we were already on that side and would save an immigration check later to come back, but after a day’s flying we were looking forward to making it to the hotel.
The driver incidentally was happy to take either Brazilian Real or Argentine pesos for the ride, which cost about US$58 on the way to the Sheraton and US$50 on the way back. (Fixed quoted price, not meters, and I did not attempt to negotiate.)
When we reached the checkpoint to exit Brazil, our driver took our passports inside to an office, surrendered our arrival slips which we had received on the way into Brazil (noted that if we were staying on the Argentina side less than a day we wouldn’t have to do that), and brought us back fresh slips to complete prior to arrival at Brazilian immigration on the way back. We drove on, and shortly reached the checkpoint to enter Argentina where we pulled up to a booth, handed over our passports, and were quickly admitted.
A short drive onward and we reached the entrance to the National Park, because of the lateness of the day the cab driver thought we had to buy passage directly at the gate, but when we got to the gate we were directed to turn around and go back to the ticket booth, apparently a new change. So he got out, we gave the driver our 130 Argentine pesos apiece, and he brought back the tickets which he presented at the park entrance gate. Then it was a mere minute or two farther to reach the Sheraton’s entrance.
All-in, the trip took about 45 minutes, but I imagine that backups at immigration could make it take a bit longer.
We got out of the cab, paid our driver, and a Sheraton employee immediately appeared to assist with bags. We each had just a 20″ rollaboard, so no need, but he insisted. He clearly wasn’t insisting in the way hotel employees often do for the purpose of extracting a tip — he genuinely appeared to believe it was his duty, and said “I will leave it right by the desk where you’ll check in, but please allow me, this is the Sheraton after all!” and he said it with pride. (Across the board, and without exception, every hotel employee we interacted with was extremely friendly and service-oriented. They were far from perfect but everyone was certainly trying.)
Walking into the hotel I was struck by the huge glass walls highlighting views of the Falls. I had been under the impression that “you can’t really see the Falls” from the hotel, and that you only get the obscured top of the Falls. And while it’s true you see just the top, it’s still magnificent.
Check-in was quick, they had our pre-reserved suite ready. It was room 346. There are six floors of the hotel — a bottom floor with gym and spa that opens onto the pool, a floor with the breakfast restaurant and a lounge area of sorts by the glass looking out over the property, that I never saw used, and then the reception level with a bar area, followed by floors 1-3 which are guest room floors. Since you can see the top of the Falls from the lobby level, any Falls view room should have that. Though of course the higher the better and we were on the top floor.
They issued us two keys, one needs to be inserted in a slot near the door in order to activate power in the room. Immediately upon entry you were in the living room, which featured a desk and a couch.
It was’t really even two separate rooms, so it was more of a junior suite, and in fact the two rooms share a television set that will swivel around so you can watch it in either room (similar to the junior suites at the Parker Meridien in New York that are a standard SPG Platinum upgrade).
The ‘next room’ was a bedroom which had two closets, a bed, and two nightstands. The bed was hard — certainly not the standard Sweet Sleeper mattress or bedding — but it was still comfortable and conducive of sleep.
The bathroom was reasonably large with separate tub, shower room, and toilet room (though none of those were themselves especially large). Only one sink, though.
There was a balcony spanning the entire room, and you could walk out onto the balcony from either the bedroom or living room. It was furnished with two chairs, and overlooked the pool and the Falls.
When I arrived in the room there were 3 bottles of water – two in the entryway and one in the bathroom. Additional bottles of water were brought with evening turndown service.
The room was only 538 square feet in total, but since a standard room is only half that size (!) I felt like I made the right choice for myself.
The hotel website’s announcements currently warn,
FIRST FLOOR REFURBISHMENT: MAY 2012 – SEPTEMBER 2012
From May 1 to September 3, 2012, we will be refurbishing the first floor of the hotel and there might be some noise from 8am-6pm. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
But ‘might’ and ‘some’ were hardly my experience. Throughout most of the workday (with no siesta) there was loud jackhammering going on.
It wasn’t a sleep disturbance, I was up long before it started. And some would say “who cares, you’ll be out at te Falls all day.” Though I do prefer to relax a little bit, at least part of the time, with a cocktail in the bar outside overlooking he rainforest and the Falls. Strangely, I quickly got used to the noise and it didn’t especially irritate me.
One thing I noted when I arrived in the room was the South Pacific-style electric outlets, I don’t know why but I expected European outlets. There was one outlet which accepted any plug in the room, though, reducing the challenge (it was by the door).
Internet access costs 70 pesos (~ US$15.70) per day, they will take it off the bill at the end of stay for elites.
Breakfast here is free for all guests, regardless of status. Some folks area big fans of the breakfast, there’s decent variety with 7 separate stations. I wasn’t a fan, I didn’t think most of the items were especially high quality (such as runny scrambled eggs from a carton) though I did love the peach juice and the fried potato balls.
Overall food options at the hotel were limited, and not especially good, but the property is geared for tourists making short stays so a wide variety on the menu may not be necessary. The property is relatively remote, which is to say it isn’t located in one of the major metropolitan areas of South America. And they’re catering to a wide variety of tastes. So it’s about what you’d expect from a hotel whose main purpose is to serve as a base for exploring the Falls rather than as a culinary retreat. No one comes here for the food, better food is unlikely to draw additional business, and it’s inconvenient to go off property during a short stay. So with fairly captive guests, with guests who are coming from reasons independent of the food, without a ton of culinary competition, and where it’s unclear they’d earn an even bigger price premium with better food offerings, it’s fairly well-expected that the food would rise no higher than you can eat it, you won’t go hungry, but it isn’t great.
Most of the time at the hotel was spent looking out at the Falls. Much of the time there was spent walking around the park and checking out the Falls. But I also spent about an hour in the early afternoon by the pool, when things were at their hottest and I wanted a respite from walking around. We were the only ones making use of the pool during that time.
The park itself is open from 8am to 5pm, though staying at the Sheraton you’re already in the park so there’s little question of access. I didn’t see anyone kicking visitors out before opening or after close, though I’ve heard of folks running into officials asking why guests were in the park, with varying levels of concern (from “please leave” to “oh, ok”).
In the late afternoon I sat out on the deck of the hotel’s bar, located on the lobby level.
I made a 6pm spa appointment on my second day. There was a bit of a language barrier with the spa, so I didn’t get great descriptions of the treatments, and the spa menu listed names but not descriptions. Rather than going with the Swedish massage, I opted for what sounded like the most local choice, a native massage that lasted an hour and turned out to involve having mud plastered on me which I showered off at the end, cost was about US$85 all-in.
The treatment was good. There are separate men’s and women’s locker rooms, they give you a key for a locker to disrobe and leave your personal items, there’s a wrapped comb in the locker, a bath robe, and slippers. Everything was clean, I wouldn’t rate the spa with the best of Asia but I was happier with the experience than what I might have gotten locally home in the States.
It really is all about the Falls, and while some will prefer to take the location and not the view, since they’ll see the Falls closer up and are only about a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest waterfall, I really did value the view from the room. Here’s what I woke up to:
If I were going to return to Iguazu Falls, I would stay here again — for the location, if it’s a quick trip, it’s wonderful not to have to add the time and hassle of travel (though it’s only convenient to the Argentina side, of course! And if you fancy a helicopter ride you can only do that across in Brazil) — but recognize that’s what you’re paying for. The hotel is recently renovated, the physical plant is fine. The service is excellent. But I wouldn’t want to eat here for more than a couple of days.