Waterfalls are some of the most sought after tourist destinations, and it’s easy to understand why: there’s something about the beauty of being surrounded by the power of a natural artwork such as a chain of waterfalls, feeling the thrum, and hearing the roar of water, trekking in between rushing water and rock that speaks to a human need to feel awe and peace all at once.

Once, just a couple hundred meters across from the famous Iguazú Falls used to be the biggest, - and for some, the most beautiful- waterfall chain in the world. It was called the Saltos del Guairá, Salto das Sete Quedas, or Guairá Falls. It cannot be seen or visited today; by 1982, after a 14-day-long inundation in the border between Guairá in Paraguay and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, the Guairá Falls, and all its spectacular power and beauty, disappeared, never to be visited again, destroyed in the name of progress.

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Most Beautiful Waterfalls In The World

Salto das Sete Quedas or Salto del Guairá was formed by 19 massive waterfalls, with a flow rate of 40.000 m3 per second, nearly three times the size of the biggest waterfalls in the world by volume today, the Niagara Falls.

Guairá had almost 4 km of expansion and up to 170 m of height. The roar of the waterfalls was so strong, it could be heard from 30 km away. Guairá was a rush of water unlike any other, its waterfalls dividing themselves into gorges and 7 different clusters. Bridges and walkaways connected one waterfall to the other, in between rushing water, flora, and rock.

The Guairá Falls was beloved by visitors, tourists, and locals alike. People came from all over the country and the world to see the falls, and Guaíra was once the most visited city in all of Brazil, with over 60 thousand residents, 3 times more than Foz do Iguaçu.

To this day, those who had the opportunity to see Guairá in all its glory say it was a magical place, incomparable even with the spectacular Iguazú Falls.

The destruction of Guairá Falls

Brazil and Paraguay have had a very contentious relationship throughout history. The region of Guairá / Sete Quedas was said to be so beautiful, conflict over ownership of the land existed since the 1700s. During the Paraguay-Brazil war in the 1800s, the region entered dispute again, a rift that would persist well into the 20th century.

In the 60s, a period where both Paraguay and Brazil were under harsh dictatorial regimes, studies about the hydroelectric potential of the Paraná River, which cuts through most of South America and feeds both the Guairá and Iguazú Falls, were coming up in relevancy.

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Because of the continued tension over the land division in the Guairá region, further research was commissioned; In 1966, the Ata de Iguaçu was signed, where it was announced the hydroelectric potential of the Paraná River, including the Salto del Guairá, would be studied in a manner that could be utilized by both countries.

In 1973, both dictators Stroessner and Médici signed the Itaipu Treaty, which formed the Itaipu entity that would oversee the construction of the plant and structure the binational, bilateral enterprise that Itaipu is today. That same year, the herculean feat of deviating the course of Paraná River, destroying and flooding the Guairá Falls, and building the dam in its place began.

The construction took almost a decade, years, over 50 thousand hours of work and workers, around 30 billion dollars, and enough concrete and iron to build 210 football stadiums and 380 Eiffel Towers.

In 1978, the Paraná River was rerouted, and by 1982 construction had advanced enough to begin the formation of the Itaipu Lake reservoir; effectively, the destruction of Guairá Falls.

Thousands of visitors came from all over the world to see the Falls for the last time. In January, after months of structural neglect and overcrowding, one of the bridges collapsed, killing 26 people; 6 were saved by Guairá fishermen.

By October, Guairá Park was closed. Mymba Kuera, in Tupi “catch animal” was launched: an operation that sought to rescue as many wild animals from the area as possible, before it’d be flooded. Over 36 thousand animals were rescued. On the 13th, Guairá Falls began to be inundated.

On October 13th, the inundation began. Residents of Guaíra protest the destruction of their homes, and people come every day to see the falls disappearing under the lake. Tourists, nature lovers, local communities, and artists mourn the Sete Quedas, about to be seen for the last time. People participated in guarup, an indigenous event to honor and say goodbye as the Guairá Falls disappeared.

By October 27th, the Falls were completely submerged, and a lower side of them was exploded to allow safer passage. One of the biggest and most beautiful natural treasures in the world was gone, Itaipu Dam sitting in its place; when the spillways are opened, some of the Guairá Falls power can be witnessed.

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Itaipu Binational

Itaipu Dam was finished in 1984 and began to operate that same year. Today, it’s the second-biggest electrical plant and the biggest producer of renewable energy in the world. It supplies 100% of Paraguay’s energy and nearly 20% of Brazil’s.

The company is steeped in a complicated and controversial history; a pharaonic project of a dictatorial period, rumors still fly that buried in its thick concrete walls are bodies of countless employees and even political prisoners; it was the reason for the destruction of a priceless natural treasure, displaced thousands of residents and indigenous communities and inundated their homes, drowned many species of plants and animals that couldn’t be saved.

In the subsequent years, Itaipu sought to dedicate divisions to environmental protection, such as the Bela Vista Biological Refuge, as well as scientific and educational projects. The Ñandeva project seeks to promote the artisanry of indigenous communities of the region. however, these areas are often contested by more conservative opinions, and the social and environmental impact of its construction is deep. The land and rights disputes didn’t end with the end of construction work; only in 2019 did the people of Guaíra receive proportional royalties for their losses, and Justice condemned Itaipu for their damages to the Avá-Guarani people; many legal fights for indemnification and rights persist till this day.

And the Guairá Falls, a jewel of the Triple Frontier and natural landmark of the world, is gone forever.

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