I love being awed and inspired by nature. The bigger, more spectacular and powerful it is, the better. Whether it’s scuba diving the great reefs of the world, visiting the vast expanses of Antarctica or seeing the highest mountains, my travel bucket list probably has it.

I thought I’d ticked off the best waterfall when I went to the very photogenic Niagara several years back. But after seeing footage of Iguazu Falls in South America, I knew I just had to go.

Sitting across a 2.7-kilometre section of the Argentinian and Brazilian border, this awe-inspiring system of around 300 waterfalls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and stretches as far as the eye can see. In fact, Iguazu is the largest waterfall system in the world. Visiting these magnificent falls seemed like the perfect excuse for my first trip to South America.

So when I found premium cabin availability using Qantas Points to get from Sydney to Santiago, I jumped at the opportunity to experience this incredible spectacle for myself. A trip like this – including luxury flights and accommodation – would normally set you back between $15,000-$20,000. But for just 209,700 Qantas Points plus $3,420 per person twin share, I make one of my bucket list destinations a reality. And to top it off, I bring my dad along for the trip of a lifetime.

Keen to replicate this itinerary for yourself? Then check out my trip highlights below, including details of flights and accommodation, so you can get booking!

Flying to South America from Sydney

Our Business Class journey from Sydney to Santiago, the gateway to South America for Australians, begins in the sophisticated Qantas International First Lounge in Sydney. This is courtesy of my Platinum status with Qantas. The dining experience – which I’ve diligently been saving my stomach for – easily rivals that of a high-end establishment. But unlike a restaurant, everything on this Neil Perry-designed menu is free. My dad’s visiting the Qantas First Lounge for the first time. The look on his face is priceless.

Qantas flies its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, my favourite long-haul aircraft, on the Sydney to Santiago route. The Business Class cabin is excellent, with the 1-2-1 configuration landing everyone direct aisle access. I book both my dad and me a window seat. There’s no way we’re missing the descent into Santiago and our first glimpses of the enormous Andes Mountains. As we settle into the flight, I can’t help but send my mum a photo of my dad’s ear-to-ear grin. After all, it’s his first ever Business Class flight, and that’s certainly something worth smiling about!

Majestic Santiago

Santiago has long been on my bucket list for a single reason: the views of the majestic Andes Mountains. The Andes are the second-highest range of mountains in the world, and Santiago is built right up against some of the largest. The views as we fly in are spectacular. In fact, they’re matched only by the endless panorama from the San Cristóbal Hill in the centre of town. Happily, the hill’s a short walk from my hotel in the Lastarria neighbourhood. The outlook from the hotel’s rooftop bar is quite literally jaw-dropping.

I spend my only full day in Santiago on a trip to the nearby port city of Valparaiso and the stunning local wine region. The colourful city of Valparaiso has an electric energy. I’m captivated by the street art and steep narrow roads of its UNESCO-listed neighbourhoods. We stop by the spectacular Vinamar de Casablanca winery on our way home. This boozy visit opens my eyes to the quality and value of Chilean wines. What a great way to end the day.

Before long, we’re off on the next leg of our journey – a four-hour flight from Santiago to São Paulo. From there, it’s a short hop to the spectacular Iguazu Falls.

Incredible Iguazu Falls

As we descend into Foz d0 Iguacu, the city nearest to Iguazu Falls, the sunset illuminates the surrounding rainforest. The beauty of southern Brazil mesmerises me. It’s getting too dark to see the waterfalls, but this only builds my anticipation. The experience will be even more incredible when I finally lay my eyes on this wonder. I’m booked on a first-light tour in the morning.

Our base is the Hotel das Cataratas. Dubbing this the best hotel experience I’ve ever had is a huge claim. But the classic Portuguese colonial-style exterior set among a Brazilian rainforest makes this hotel well-deserving of the title. Luxury echoes throughout the hotel – I imagine this is what royalty feels like.

And the service is phenomenal. We have the same guide for every activity during our stay. This includes hotel pick-up, two tours of the falls and airport drop-off. He gets to know our likes, dislikes and interests, and tailors our experience accordingly. It’s almost like having our own personal host in Iguazu Falls.

The hotel is the only one located within Iguazu National Park, granting us access to the park outside of public opening hours. Uninterrupted sunrises, breathtaking sunsets, intimate encounters with South American wildlife – our stay is sublime and absolutely perfect.

Now, Iguazu Falls isn’t one of those places you simply visit once. The magic of these falls is that you can’t see their entire 2.7-kilometre body from one viewpoint – or one country, for that matter. The waterfalls transform throughout the day as various lighting conditions cast playful shadows.

Our First Light Experience walk captures the essence of Iguazu Falls long before the gates open to the public. Weaving our way through the paths with the sun rising in the distance, our friendly guide points out the local wildlife. There are toucans and vultures aplenty, though (un)fortunately no jaguars on today’s walk!

A hop across the border to the Argentinian side of the falls is a must. There are three main walking trails taking you along various parts of the falls. The Devil’s Throat lookout is one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my travelling life. Make sure this one’s on your itinerary.

But the only way to truly see the breadth and scope of this natural wonder is from above. A 10-minute helicopter ride takes us on a thrilling aerial journey, soaring over the cascades of the falls with unobstructed views.

Sadly, all great things must come to an end. We depart the Hotel das Cataratas and Iguazu Falls full of memories and a longing to return.

Classy Buenos Aires

The last stop in our South American adventure is Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. While it’s often referred to as the ‘Paris of South America’, I can’t help but feel I’m in Madrid or Barcelona. The city has a distinctly Spanish flavour with its colonial roots heavily influencing its culture, architecture and lifestyle. The boon for Australians is that it’s so much closer than Europe. I wonder what has kept this city off the radar of Australian tourists for so long.

Tree-lined boulevards, beautiful buildings, street markets… And that’s just for starters. Add in cafes galore and a magnificent steak and red wine scene and suddenly Buenos Aires has the ingredients to rank among my favourite cities. A visit to one of the famous tango shows only adds to my enthral.

In our first two days we wander the streets of the Recoleta and Palermo neighbourhoods, sampling the local culture, attractions and food. We also visit the El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore, set in an old theatre and widely regarded as the most beautiful bookshop in the world. Other highlights include La Recoleta Cemetery, with its grand marble mausoleums, and a tango show at El Viejo Almacen. Oh yes, and a steak and Malbec lunch at Don Julio’s, the best restaurant in South America.

With one day left, we decide to catch a ferry across the vast River Plate to the historic town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. At first, this is an excuse to add another stamp to my passport and another pin on my world map at home. (Check out these maps at Enjoy The Wood and support a small family business in Ukraine).

Colonia is so much more than I’m expecting though. We spend a few hours lazing in an outdoor street café, sipping sangria and eating home-style local meals for under $15. It’s the perfect wrap-up to our unforgettable holiday in South America.

As we start heading home, my dad and I reflect on a truly wonderful holiday. The grandeur of Santiago ringed by the Andes, the jaw-dropping Iguazu Falls and the sophisticated Buenos Aires are mostly void of Western tourists. Yet these places are uniquely beautiful. The truth is, I’ll remember this trip for years to come. And travelling there with my dad only makes it all the more special.

Our points & cash budget – per person

  • Qantas Points: 209,700 Qantas Points
  • Cash: $3,420 per person for flight fees and taxes plus twin-share accommodation for 9 nights

With a budget of around 200,000 Qantas Points per person, I want to maximise both luxury and value. The bulk of our points go towards Classic Reward seat redemptions in premium cabins on the long flights between Sydney and Santiago. This ensures our points (and our legs) stretch further. In fact, we’ve got 20,000 Qantas Points left to fly from Santiago to Iguazu Falls via São Paulo in Economy with Qantas’ partner LATAM. We pay for other internal short-haul Economy flights with cash.

Of course, Business Class flights are one of the best ways to redeem frequent flyer points. And the perks of flying Business extend far beyond a roomy seat on the plane. Your ticket also entitles you to exquisite onboard menus, premium free-flowing wine in the lounge before take-off, and a delightfully comfortable flatbed in the sky. Because who has time to catch up on sleep once you land in one of the most breathtaking destinations on the planet?

Flying to South America from Australia in the lap of luxury and covering four countries while you’re there usually isn’t cheap. At the time of booking, our flights and accommodation are valued at $17,330 per person.

But by harnessing the power of frequent flyer points, our flights and accommodation set us back a total of 209,700 Qantas Points and $3,420 in cash per person. That’s a saving of around 80%! To sweeten the deal further, we book two of our hotels through Qantas Hotels and pay using our points-earning credit cards. As a result, we earn more than 15,000 Qantas Points during the trip, offsetting some of the points used for our flights.

Amazing value – absolutely. Impossible? Not at all.

And earning Qantas Points isn’t just for frequent flyers. There are plenty of ways to earn Qantas Points on the ground from your everyday activities, including purchasing wine, buying groceries and shopping online.

And one credit card sign-up bonus can give your points balance a generous boost and have you embarking on your own South America adventure sooner.

Experience Iguazu Falls for yourself

Photos can’t convey the sheer size and magnificence of Iguazu Falls. It needs to be seen to be believed.

I saved around $13,000 off the price of flights and accommodation. I flew to this unique part of the world and back in luxury, visited four countries, and marvelled at a wonder of the world.

All it takes is just 209,700 Qantas Points and $3,420 in cash. And by leveraging credit card sign-up bonuses, you can easily do this for yourself.

That’s another destination ticked off my bucket list. What will be yours?

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All photography by Michael Siwes, who travelled at Point Hacks’ expense.

Experience awe-inspiring Iguazu Falls using Qantas Points was last modified: July 24th, 2023 by Michael Siwes