Waterfalls are beautiful feats of nature, whether we’re talking thundering torrents crashing over wide open cliff faces or gentle cascades tinkling on the rocks. They hold the power to cast a mesmerising spell on us, instantly captivating with their reflections, refractions and ripples. Ultimately, these liquid assets lure many travellers to stand, awe-struck, in rainbow crowned mist clouds and wonder at the whimsy of water.
Here is our top five compilation of the best freefalling H20 on the planet…
Angel Falls in Venezuela
Falls facts: Angel Falls emerges from swathes of brooding, cloud-cloaked rainforest and crashes down from a height of 979 metres. Discovered by the western world when Jimmy Angel crash-landed here in 1937, Venezuela’s most spectacular natural wonder free falls 807 metres before disappearing into the impenetrable jungle of Devil’s Canyon in a swirl of mist, making it the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the world. The equatorial forest that appears to smother these waters is home to a cacophony of exotic creatures, from elusive pouncing pumas to teeny tiny tree frogs. Avoid the dry season as you will only be disappointed by the mere trickle that falls lethargically over the cliff face.
Where: Located on Auyantepui mountain in Canaima National Park, you’ll need to take to the sky and hop on a boat upriver to reach this celestial cascade. Soar over the spectacular tepui scenery of the Lost World and navigate the rocky rapids of the Rio Churun before an hour’s hike up to a rocky outcrop.
Taking you there on an Angel Falls holiday:
Gullfoss in Iceland
Falls facts: Iceland’s Gold Falls are a microcosm of Iceland itself; ferocious, raw energy of nature, the sheer scale of the beast, the power of the elements. This incredible force showcases the best this almost-Arctic island has to offer. Over one million litres of water plunges over the precipice every second, pummelling spray into the air in a misty halo. A wide, multi-stepped affair, Gullfoss rushes over a rocky staircase before tumbling over two dramatic tiers at 90 degree angles to each other. Equally enchanting in summer when the sun and mist spark into a burst of rainbow colour as it is in winter when cocooned by a shimmering snowscape.
Where: Situated in a canyon on the Hvítá River in southwest Iceland, Gullfoss forms part of the Golden Circle and is in striking distance from Reykjavik.
Taking you there: Iceland holidays
Iguassu Falls in Brazil & Argentina
Falls facts: Made up of around 275 individual cascades, Iguassu (or Iguazú) can be seen from three different countries. Tumbling over an 80-metre drop, it is considered the most voluminous waterfall in the world * with a width spanning over 2km. The Devil’s Throat is the most spectacular of the falls; take a boat trip through the gorge to feel the spray on your skin and fully appreciate the majesty of these mighty falls whose Guarani name literally translates as ‘Big Water’.
Where: Which side you visit is totally up to you; for heart-stopping close encounters head for the Argentinian side – probably the preferred choice for trekkers, but if it is that iconic, slow shutter speed shot of these wide-angle falls you’re after, opt for the Brazilian perspective. You’ll stay dryer on this side too – perfect if travelling with expensive camera equipment.
*(on average throughout the year)
Taking you there: Iguassu Falls
Victoria Falls in Zambia & Zimbabwe
Falls Facts: Upon first laying eyes on Victoria Falls (the first European to do so), Dr. Livingstone proclaimed: “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight” and he named it in honour of Queen Victoria. Although not considered the highest or widest waterfall in the world, spanning 1.7km and a height of 108 metres, Victoria Falls is claimed to be the largest. Its aquatic curtain stems from the mighty Zambezi and, although the volume of Victoria’s flow peaks and troughs over the year, at its maximum output it matches Iguassu with a thundering 1.3 million litres crashing over its precipice each second creating a mist cloud so large it can be seen up to 25 miles away – maybe why the Zambians call the falls the ‘smoke that thunders’. Now on the UNESCO World Heritage list, this spectacular natural wonder celebrates Livingstone’s Bicentenary Anniversary this year.
Where: Again, like Iguassu, there is a choice of countries from which to visit this iconic African waterfall; Zambia to get close enough to feel the spray in your face, Zimbabwe for the all-encompassing, wide-angle rainbow-framed views.
Taking you there: Victoria Falls
Kaieteur Falls in Guyana
Falls facts: The only way to reach these isolated falls is by small plane or a multi-day trek through steamy jungle, and very few bother to do either. Despite its grand accolade as the world’s ‘largest single drop waterfall’, Kaieteur remains idyllically undisturbed – the kind of solitude the likes of Niagara can only dream of! Plunging 226 metres from the ancient Guyana Shield, said to be the oldest layer of rock on Earth, and engulfed by the forest below, the falls are named after a tribal chief, Kai, who sacrificed himself by canoeing over the falls to appease the spirit called Makonaima. Make sure you have the binoculars to hand to catch sight of the resident swifts that live precariously on the cliff faces behind the falls.
Where: About a sixty minute flight from Georgetown, Guyana’s capital. Flying over seemingly endless jungle, passengers gasp as their little plane banks and they set their sights on this rapier-like torrent slicing its way through the thick green-carpet for the first time.