The Damn Itaipu Dam

A Guest Post by one Christine Ribeiro 

On the Paraguayan side of the tri-border area (Argentina and Brazil) where you visit the Iguazu Falls, the main attraction is the Itaipu Dam. This dam was the largest in the world, until the Chinese built Three Gorges just recently. It provides over 80% of all of Paraguay’s electricity and about 15% of Brazil’s. In reading the brochures at the hotel, I discovered that the dam offered not only tours, but also a nighttime illumination show on Fridays and Saturdays. We happened to arrive on a Thursday afternoon, so I thought, we can do both, right? The only site to see, might as well. The hostel receptionist convinced us it would be best to do the tour that day and the lights the next night. We set out on a local bus and arrived about 45 minutes later. They information center sent us to an auditorium where we watched two 10 minute videos on the dam in Spanish, most of it above our heads. Then we got on a bus with the other visitors and went to see the dam. It spans the river between Paraguay and Brazil and thus, after crossing the Brazilian border earlier that morning, we crossed again, with no controls (again), to see the dam from both sides, before heading back to town in the local bus.

Dam in action!

Dam in action!


Sunset at the dam

We learned that the next day, the bus could take us to the ‘light show’ but that it did not run late enough, so we would have to organize a taxi back. After two locals told us we absolutely had to do the show, with the lights set to music, we decided to arrange the taxi through the hotel. They told us the show was about 2 hours and so the taxi would pick us up at 9:30pm. At this point, I am very excited about the light show. I am imagining the Eiffel tower on Bastille Day, with lights and fountains choreographed to music. It was something not mentioned in the guide books, but what all the locals did. It was going to be great! We got on the local bus around 6:15, as check in was at 7pm. This bus was even slower than the day before and, as 7 approaches, my anxiety rises. I don’t want to miss the show. We get close the entrance, which we are familiar with from the day before, and I tell the bus driver but he refuses to stop. He tells me that is not where we go for the light show, and continues on a little while. I try to argue, but really, what do I know? He lets us off at the commercial entrance to the dam at 7:07. We are already late. We find a guard and he tells us that it used to be there, but that we would have to go back down the highway to the reception area. Anxiety levels rising. What are we to do but run down the highway in pitch black (sunset is around 5pm here) in our jeans through the humid weather. We make it to the reception at 7:15 with no issues, minus being out of breath and our jeans sticking to our legs from all of the sweat. We check in and they tell us the bus does not leave for the lighting until 7:45. So glad we ran. At least we didn’t miss it, right? We head to the water fountain we knew from the day before, behind the main auditorium, and chug three cups of cold water to try to cool down. There is live music playing and artisans selling. I relax now, knowing that we made, we were going to see the show.

Concert in motion, time to relax

Concert in motion, time to relax

our favorite water fountain

our favorite water fountain

We get on the bus and drive out to the look out spot on the Brazilian side (yet another uncontrolled border crossing for us!) and move up to the front row. The MCs come out for an introduction and say they are going to show a short documentary. Guess what, it is one of the two movies we sat through the day before. We sit through it yet again and then, the screens go dark and the music starts to play. This is it! The show is beginning. Over the next 5 minutes, dramatic classical music plays as the dam slowly lights up. And then, the show is over. I thought I was seeing a two-hour show, what is this bull?? Everyone else is oohing and aahing, snapping pictures, because, well, they had not been there the day before. What crazy person would come see this dam twice in a row?



We head back to the bus, deflated. All of that effort, four total hours, for that? What is worse, we are back at reception at 9pm but our taxi is not scheduled to come for another 30 minutes, and there is nothing around us. Even the security guards for the dam come to check on us, given how weird it is to be lingering around for so long after the show and everyone else has left. In fact, the driver doesn’t even get there until 9:40pm. I guess there is a reason this is not written up in any book. At the same time, I can finally say I have fulfilled a life-long goal to see a 300 second light show at a South American dam while straddling two countries!

illumination selfie

illumination selfie


One comment on “The Damn Itaipu Dam

  1. Maureen Goldfarb says:

    Ok so it was not as good as the light show we saw in Paris but you guys look so great !!!!!! One more adventure I am glad I am reading about it and not there with you !!!! Miss you guys Love Maureen

    Sent from my iPad


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