Few geographical features exemplify the beauty and power of nature as dramatically as majestic waterfalls. The sight of tons of water spilling over the edge of a cliff or cascading over rocks never fails to impress. While the grandest falls deserve a prominent place on any bucket list, a waterfall doesn’t have to be the tallest, widest or most voluminous to make it a worthwhile travel destination.
From powerful cataracts plunging over steep precipices to multi-step cascades tumbling gently into a series of pools, here are some of the world’s most amazing waterfalls.
One of the tallest waterfalls in Peru, the towering Gocta Cataracts near the city of Chachapoyas remained unknown to all but the locals who live beneath it until 2005 when a German engineer named Stefan Ziemendorff stumbled upon it while hunting for pre-Incan ruins. Today, the two-tiered cataract has become a popular tourist attraction, thanks to development in the area by the Peruvian government. Trails now make the waterfall easily accessible by foot or on horseback, and every room in the small hotel built near the base offers scenic views of the magnificent cataract.
Located near the beautiful fjord of Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most popular travel destinations, the lake-fed Sutherland Falls descends in three cascades into the glacial lakes of Fiordland National Park. While sightseeing tours by air offer glimpses of the remote falls, visitors who take the time to hike the famed Milford Track are rewarded with the best views. A 90-minute walk from the Quintin Public Shelter on the 53-kilometer (33-mile) route leads hikers to the base of spectacular falls.
The Drakensberg Mountains in the Royal Natal National Park in South Africa is home to a series of five connected falls that collectively make up Tugela Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. The water descends in leaping falls over the stunning Amphitheatre, an imposing wall of rock that is a popular tourist attraction in its own right. A six-hour trek up the Tugela Gorge crosses back and forth across the river, leading hikers to the top. A less challenging trail takes visitors to the foot of Tugela Falls for full views of the five-tiered waterfall.
Situated near the town of Cherrapunji, one of the wettest places on the planet, Nohkalikai Falls is categorized as a plunge waterfall, which means that the water loses contact with the rock as it pours over a cliff on the edge of the Himalayas. The tallest of its kind in India, Nohkalikai is fed by rainwater collected in the forested plateau above, so its volume changes dramatically according to the time of year. In the dry season, the water spills tranquilly into a turquoise-green pool. During the monsoon, the water crashes into a tumult of white spray.
Ranked as Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss is best known for the volume of water that shoots out over its edge in every season. Located in the Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, Dettifoss can be viewed on either side of the River Jökulsá á Fjöllum that feeds the falls and plunges into the canyon below. The east bank of the river boasts the best views and is equipped with facilities, including a car park, but the slippery paths can get crowded during the tourist season.
The tallest waterfall in the United States, Yosemite Falls pours down a cliff side in three cascades and provides picturesque views from multiple locations within Yosemite National Park in California. A challenging all-day hike takes visitors to the summit for panoramic vistas of the majestic park and the towering Sierra Mountains beyond. The falls vary in water flow, however, and sometimes disappear entirely during drought conditions. The best time to enjoy the splashing water and thunderous roar of the falls is in the spring after the winter thaw.
The series of waterfalls that link the 16 lakes of the Plitvice Lakes National Park are what makes this scenic piece of landscape the most popular natural attraction in Croatia. Situated among forested hills near the Bosnian border, the small streams, lakes and waterfalls form an appealing water garden that invites exploration. A series of plank walks, bridges and platforms make it easy to wander the park by foot. Free boat rides take passengers from the upper to the lower lakes where visitors can view Veliki Slap, the country’s tallest waterfall.
Jog Falls, created by the River Sharavathi, falling from a height of 253 meters (829 feet), is the highest waterfalls in India. Before the rainy season Jog Falls is nearly unrecognizable with only a pair of thin streams of water trickling down the cliff. But during the monsoon season the waterfall comes to life and exceeds even Kaieteur Falls in Guyana in terms of height and volume.
Measuring 77.8 meters (255 feet) high and 101 meters (330 feet) wide, Huangguoshu is one of the largest waterfalls in Asia and part of a group of 18 waterfalls in the surrounding area. A 134 meter (440 foot) long naturally formed cave in the back of the Huangguoshu allows visitors to view the waterfall from a very close range and one can even touch the water.
As it lies hidden in a colossal crevice that cuts through the otherwise barren Icelandic landscape, the sheer size and scale of Gullfoss only becomes apparent the nearer you approach. Once you reach the cliff edge, however, you’ll find that the coursing cascades and enormous falls actually have the highest volume in the whole of Europe.
Lying almost at right angles to one another, its two sets of falls make for an epic sight, and its gushing roar provides the perfect soundtrack to the dramatic scenery on show. Meaning ‘Golden Falls’, Gullfoss is so named due to the colour of its waters that shimmer seductively in the sun.
Straddling the border between China and Vietnam, Detian Falls is the name given to two sets of wonderful waterfalls that lie along the Quay Son River. While the multiple layers and drops of the falls look absolutely astounding, the picture-perfect scene is completed by the lush vegetation, majestic mountains, and karst formations that lie around them.
Long shut off to the world due to various border disputes, the Detian Falls are now an increasingly popular tourist destination; hordes of visitors take boat trips below the cascades, coating themselves in a fine mist of spray.
Known as Tis Issat (“smoking water”) in Amharic, the Blue Nile Falls are located on the Blue Nile river in northern Ethiopia. Although much of the water is now diverted to a power dam, it is still a beautiful sight and one of Ethiopia’s best known tourist attractions.
Snaking its way through the Amazon rainforest, the Potaro River passes some of the most pristine and untouched nature on Earth until it abruptly reaches Kaieteur Falls. Here, the water suddenly plunges 226 metres through the air to the pool below, coating the surrounding area in a fine spray.
Remarkably, the huge volume of water that courses over the fall every second makes it the largest single drop waterfall in the world. Coming in at over four times higher than Niagara Falls, it is no wonder at all that Kaieteur Falls is one of Guyana’s most popular tourist attractions.
The tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls in Venezuela certainly makes for one of the most spectacular sights imaginable. Shooting off the summit of Auyan Tepui mountain, the fall plunges 807 metres uninterrupted to the jungle below, with much of the water turning to mist before it reaches the ground.
Adding in its other cascades and rapids and Angel Falls’ total height is a whopping 979 metres. Due to its remote location in Canaima National Park, Angel Falls is quite hard to visit, though its stunning setting and awe-inspiring scenery certainly makes it well worth the effort.
Lying on the border between Canada and the USA, Niagara Falls is one of the most famous and recognizable waterfalls on Earth. Consisting of American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls, its endless wall of gushing water seemingly stretches on forever.
While the various observation decks around the falls offer up fantastic views and panoramas, you really need to take a boat trip below them to fully grasp just how large and powerful they are. Niagara Falls never fails to astound, and every year, millions of people come to see its staggering size and beauty.
If you thought that Niagara Falls was large, well, Victoria Falls dwarfs it with its colossal curtain of water that stretches for 1,708 metres, reaching 108 metres in height. It is these epic proportions that make Victoria Falls the largest waterfall in the world. Breathtaking to behold, the endless flow of water that tumbles over the cliff almost defies belief.
Fittingly, the cacophonous roar that rises from the gorge below and the fine spray that hangs in the air saw the falls named ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ in the local Lozi language. Nestled on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls truly needs to be seen to be believed.
Made up of some 275 different cascades, falls, and drops, Iguazu Falls on the Argentine-Brazilian border is the world’s largest waterfall system. As such, it is the only waterfall that can rival or possibly even surpass Victoria Falls. For almost three kilometres in total, gorgeous falls and cascades course over the Parana Plateau, with the undoubted highlight being Devil’s Throat Canyon.
This is best witnessed from the Brazilian side’s viewing platform, where you are greeted with teeming sheets of water, a deafening roar, and a fine spray. With lush rainforest lying around it, the falls are a treat to visit. Visitors can take boat trips along the Iguazu River or explore the nearby paths and trails. Located in a stupendous setting like no other, Iguazu Falls’ sheer size, scale and spectacular scenery definitely make it one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.