How to Visit Brazil’s Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam
Itaipu Dam in Foz do Iguaçu
The Itaipu Dam should be on your list of places to visit if you’re planning a trip Brazil. Located in Foz do Iguaçu it is a rarely planned-for destination in Brazil, especially for first time visitors. We decided to include it in our 7-day itinerary as the first stop because it was the hardest location to get to. We weren’t sure if the trek would be worth it and wanted to end strong with some of Brazil’s most famous cities. There was nothing to fear, it did not disappoint and our time here actually became a highlight of our trip.
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After a full first day of getting up close to massive amounts of falling water at the Iguazú Falls (including the waterfall boating experience) we decided to change it up a bit. It rained on our second day so we decided the perfect way to stay dry was to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
Both the Falls and the Itaipu Dam (which we decided to visit only while we were there) were an amazing part of our time in Brazil. Here’s a bit about why we recommend not missing the opportunity to visit the Itaipu Dam the next time you’re in Foz do Iguaçu.
About Itaipu Dam
The Itaipu Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Paraná River located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Itaipu was named after an isle that existed near the construction site. In the Guarani language, Itaipu means “the sounding stone”. With 20 generating units and 14,000 MegaWatts of installed power, Itaipu provides around 11.3% of the energy consumed in Brazil and 88.1% of the energy consumed in Paraguay. The project ranges from Foz do Iguaçu, in Brazil, and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, in the south to Guaíra and Salto del Guairá in the north.
The construction of the dam was first contested by Argentina, but the negotiations and resolution of the dispute ended up setting the basis for Argentine–Brazilian integration later on. Completed in 1984, it is a binational undertaking run by Brazil and Paraguay at the border between the two countries, 15 km (9.3 mi) north of the Friendship Bridge. In 2016, the plant employed 3,038 workers.
The Itaipu Dam’s hydroelectric power plant produced the most energy of any in the world as of 2016, setting a new world record of 103,098,366 megawatt-hours (MWh), and surpassed the Three Gorges Dam plant in energy production in 2015 and 2016.
The installed generation capacity of the plant is 14 GW, with 20 generating units providing 700 MegaWatts each. A single generator provides enough power to supply a city of 1.5 million people. Seven units are capable of supplying the entire electricity demand of the State of Rio de Janeiro.
Of the twenty generator units currently installed, half generate power for Paraguay and the other half generate for Brazil.
Since the output capacity of the Paraguayan generators far exceeds the load in Paraguay, most of their production is exported directly to the Brazilian side, from where two 600 kV HVDC lines, each approximately 800 kilometres (500 mi) long, carry the majority of the energy to the São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro region where the terminal equipment converts the power to 60 Hz.
10 Astounding Itaipu Dam Facts
- Itaipu Dam produces six times as much power as the Hoover Dam and is 10 times as heavy and 18 times the size.
- Guaira Falls, once considered the most spectacular water feature in the world, was submerged under the water when the reservoir was filled.
- Guaira Falls was twice the height of Niagara Falls and twice as much water flow.
- To begin construction it was necessary to divert the flow of the Paraná River. The Paraná River is one of the largest rivers in the world. More than 50 million tons of earth and rock was moved to create the channel to divert the water. This channel was 1.3 miles long, 300 feet deep and 490 feet wide.
- It took 40,000 workers seven years to build the dam. The majority of these workers were from Brazil. 149 died during construction.
- The dam construction required 12.3 million cubic meters of concrete.
- There is enough steel and iron in Itaipu to build 380 Eiffel Towers.
- Itaipu Dam is about the same height as a 65 story building.
- Itaipu Dam generated 94,684 megawatts in 2008, the highest peak power produced by any single dam.
- This dam produces the same amount of energy as 434,000 barrels of oil every day
Itaipu Dam Highlights
A mix of concrete, rockfill and earthfill forms the dam structure. The upper part of the main dam contains the water intakes which guide the waterflow through each of twenty penstocks (large white tubes). Each penstock feeds the waterflow into a spiral casing where the immense kinetic energy of the water turns the turbine.
There are twenty of these penstocks which are basically the immense tubes that feed into each generator. The things are just absolutely massive at about 10.5 meters wide. They run 142.2 meters from the top of the dam before hitting the generator.
Up close and personal with one of twenty turbines. Each turbine weighs 3,360 tons. Don’t stick your hand in one of these!
The heart of the plant is the Supervision and Central Control Room (CCR). Control of Itaipu’s equipment and systems is provided from this centralized location.. The CCR operates on a 24-hour shift schedule, 365 days a year.
The binational staff consists of 5 operators – one Supervisor of Real-time Operation, two Senior Operators, and two Assistant Operators. Together they monitor more than 25.000 unique pieces of real-time information about the electric and hydraulic conditions of the facilities and equipment.
Examples of some of the required daily control activities managed from within the control room include spillway gate opening conditions, substation breakers, energy intake and withdrawal from the twenty generating units
Planning a Visit to Itaipu
Itaipu Dam Tour
The “Panoramic Tour (Visita Panorâmica)” is the traditional tour of the plant, and begins at the Visitor Center. Tours are available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese and all have very friendly and knowledgeable guides.
The tour begins with a movie shown in a theater that tells the story of the construction of the dam, and a bit about Itaipu’s role in transnational power generation. A bus then ferries visitors to two observation viewpoints, allowing different points of view of the dam.
A guide then takes you inside the dam complex where an elevator takes visitors down to the power generation level. Here, access to a spinning generator provides a sense of the immense forces behind the dam power generation capabilities.
The tour closes by passing over the dam’s upper ridge where there is a great view of Itaipu Lake.
Getting to Itaipu Dam
There are a few options to get to Itaipu from Foz do Iguaçu. There is a special bus to Itaipu leaving from the downtown “Urbano” terminal. You would need to go from the hotel to the terminal and then catch the bus. Private shuttles may also be arranged (with the hotel) and the final option is a taxi. We decided to grab a taxi. It was about a 12-minute ride to the Itaipu dam from our hotel. The main taxi companies in the area are Coopertaxi and Sindtaxi. After your visit, you can find taxis near the visitor center exit. Alternatively you could make arrangements with your driver for a scheduled pick-up time.
Prices and Hours
We recommend calling or purchasing tour tickets ahead of time. Casual visits are not permitted. You must either join a group tour, or be present at a set time when a guided tour is scheduled, or make special arrangements in advance to be guided through by station personnel.
There are several activities at the Itaipu Dam, the most traditional is the “Panoramic tour”. Besides this tour, there is the Special Circuit, the Lighting of the Dam, the Biological Refuge, Ecomuseum, the Astronomical Polo, and Test Drive Electric Vehicle. Each tour has its own rates and schedules, which can be accessed at the official Itaipu website.
The “Special” tour which includes several lookouts as well as a visit to one of the live generators, runs about $25 US Dollars and 2.5 hours. This tour also allows you to observe the complex work in the central command room where Brazilians and Paraguayans work separated only by a symbolic border. The noises and ceaseless vibration make the tour unequaled and express the reality of the uninterrupted power generation.
The visitor’s center of the Itaipu Tourist Complex is open every day from 8:30 am to 5 pm.
Have you visited the Itaipu Dam recently? Have questions for us? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!