The 10 best waterfalls in the world
Picture: A deep forest waterfall in Kanchanaburi, Thailand (Fotolia/AP)
In some senses, a waterfall is the planet at its most rudimentary. Even the grandest of cascades is, after all, a simple case of physics – the raw effect of gravity on one of the most intrinsic elements of life in our world, no more remarkable than a summer raindrop, the first splatters of drizzle on a car windscreen, or a persistently leaky roof.
And yet to reduce these roaring “landmarks” to examples of cause and effect is to ignore their majesty. The waterfall has always captured the imagination – the sparkling vision of a river dashing over a high precipice leading early civilisations to engage in talk of gods and heroes, and later travellers to reach out for cameras and effusive superlatives.
Witness the words of David Livingstone – not a man given to hyperbole – on seeing what he would call Victoria Falls, on November 16 1855: “Creeping with awe to the verge, I peered down into a large rent which had been made from bank to bank of the broad Zambezi… No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
In short, a major waterfall is likely to be the centrepoint of any holiday journey. The joy is that while you can travel to Zimbabwe or Zambia to see Victoria Falls for yourself, you can also find epic alternatives on every continent – a happy consequence of the waterfall’s ordinariness.
The following selection of watery wonders includes some of the global classics, but also less eulogised natural marvels a little closer to home...
1. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
If you could custom-build the perfect waterfall, it might resemble Kaieteur Falls. Tucked away at the heart of Guyana, on the north-east shoulder of South America, this is the waterfall as supermodel – a single curtain of liquid where the River Potaro slips 741ft (226m) into a forested chasm. Remoteness only adds to its splendour – it is most easily reached via a nearby airstrip (the alternative is a three-day overland journey). Yet it is not so jungle-clad as to be beyond approach.
Wilderness Explorers (00592 227 7698; wilderness-explorers.com) features Kaieteur in several itineraries, including the Guyana Nature Experience – a 15-day group odyssey which costs from $4,990 (£3,249) per person (excluding international flights).
2. Angel Falls, Venezuela
Just 215 miles separate Kaieteur and Angel Falls, though the latter has the bigger profile. Rearing proud in Canaima National Park, in the easterly Gran Sabana area of Venezuela, it is considered the world’s tallest waterfall – a spectacle where the River Kerep plunges 3,212ft (979m) (2,648ft/807m of this as an uninterrupted drop). This is thanks to the drama of a landscape where vast tepuis (tabletop mountains, in this case the noble Auyantepui) throw out a series of sheer faces. The whole scene is best viewed between June and December, when both waterfall and river are at their fullest.
Last Frontiers (01296 653000; lastfrontiers.com) offers a 16-day Classic Venezuela tour which includes a chance to fly over the falls, as well as days on Caribbean beaches. From £3,760 per person, with flights.
3. Iguassu Falls, Brazil and Argentina
South America also works its magic farther south, where the renowned Iguassu Falls are among the planet’s most spectacular border spots – foaming furiously to help the River Iguassu split Brazil from Argentina. Here, the prescient factor is not height (269ft/82m) but width, this spray-soaked showpiece stretching out for 1.7 miles. The focal point is the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) – a 2,297ft (700m) U-shaped half-bowl where the relentless power of the river is almost unnerving.
Journey Latin America (020 3553 7886; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) has an 11-day Natural Brazil tour which spends two days at the falls – while also visiting Rio and the Pantanal wildlife wetlands. From £2,338 per person (without international flights).
4. Tugela Falls, South Africa
This column of water crashes 3,110ft (948m) in Royal Natal National Park, a highlight of KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. Officially, this makes it 102ft (31m) shorter than the Angel Falls in Venezuela, though doubts have been raised by some about the exact measurements of the latter. What is not debated, however, is the sheer glory of this African vista as the River Tugela pours over The Amphitheatre – a cliff face in the Drakensberg range that can be hiked by those of decent fitness (see royalnatal.info).
Audley Travel (01993 838500; audleytravel.com) offers a Classic KwaZulu-Natal self-drive tour which includes the national park as well as the battle sites of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. From £2,025 per person, with flights and car hire.
5. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
As in Livingstone’s day, Victoria Falls is Africa’s A-list waterfall. It is also the world’s biggest, if you take into account a combination of height (354ft/108m) and width (5,604ft/1,708m). Its aura is encapsulated by its indigenous name (in the Tonga language), Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke That Thunders. Brave souls can go further than Livingstone by swimming in the Devil’s Pool – a pocket of water on the edge of the abyss where a rock ledge and a lull in the currents keep you safe. Others may prefer to watch from a discreet distance – especially from February to May, when the Zambezi is at its most swollen.
Read more: Zambia essential guide.
6. Niagara Falls, US and Canada
North America’s most recognisable waterfall may also be the world’s most famous – even if its size cannot match its reputation. In relation to other water icons, Niagara Falls is a stripling of 167ft (51m) in height – so small that, on visiting Iguassu Falls, the then-US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reputedly exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!” However, issues of stature do not damage the visual experience: the River Niagara zipping over the falls’ three distinct cascades in a place that is as crucial to the US soul as the Statue of Liberty. That said, the view from Canada is prettier.
America As You Like It (020 8742 8299; americaasyoulikeit.co.uk) has a 13-night Canada: Eastern Spirit Fly-Drive which calls at the Falls plusToronto and Montreal, from £1,185 per person, with flights and car hire.
7. Browne Falls, New Zealand
In most cases, a waterfall dominates its location. But Browne Falls is the garnish on an already tasty dish, spooling down the flank of Doubtful Sound – that king of the fjords on New Zealand’s South Island. This is not to say, however, that the waterfall is a footnote. Though narrow, it dips 2,743ft (836m) from its source (a tarn on the fjord’s lip) – as the tallest waterfall in Australasia.
Go Orange (0064 3 249 7700; www.goorangekayaks.co.nz) is offering a five-day Doubtful Sound kayaking and camping adventure for £342 per person, with departures on January 4, February 1 and March 1.
8. Vinnufossen, Norway
Picture: Carl S Bj / Wikimedia
Europe also proffers some of the planet’s most striking waterfalls. The continent’s tallest is Vinnufossen, an elegant giant, fed by the Vinnufonna glacier, which drops 2,820ft (860m) in central Norway, 330 miles north-east of Bergen. More a tapering stream than a raging torrent, it is easily combined with its boisterous ally Mardalsfossen, which lies a 50-mile drive away, near Eikesdalen. The latter requires a visit between June and August – for the rest of the year, its 2,313ft (705m) motion is channelled for hydroelectricity.
Norwegian firm Authentic Scandinavia (0047 22 941370; authentic-scandinavia.com) is offering a 10-day Majestic Fjords road trip which explores the area around Vinnufossen and Mardalsfossen, and can be crafted to visit both falls – from a flat €789 (£568) per person, including hotels and breakfast (but no flights or car hire).
9. Dettifoss, Iceland
With its craggy contours, Iceland might be the spiritual home of the waterfall. So it seems in the form of Dettifoss, an unstoppable force in the north-east of the country whose height of a mere 148ft (45m) does not hinder its reputation for being Europe’s most powerful waterfall – the River Jökulsá á Fjöllum rushing down at a rate of 212 tonnes of water per second.
It has friends too – the lovely 105ft (32m) Gullfoss, in the south-west of the country, where rainbows dance on the River Hvítá; Skógafoss, in the south, where the River Skógá barrels 200ft (60m) over ancient coastal cliffs left marooned by the receding Atlantic.
Discover the World (01737 214250; discover-the-world.co.uk) can arrange a 10-night National Parks and Natural Wonders trip which visits the full trio. From £1,167 per person with car hire (but no flights).
10. Eas a’ Chual Aluinn, UK
Picture: colin price / Wikimedia
A star also shines in Scotland, where Eas a’ Chual Aluinn – near Kylesku, in Sutherland, in the Highlands – dives down more than 658ft (200m). That this statistic makes the waterfall more than three times taller than Niagara is often unheralded, but intrigued parties can discover more. A six-mile trail winds to the head of the falls over rough (but accessible) terrain (details at walkhighlands.co.uk).
The Kylesku Hotel (01971 502231; kyleskuhotel.co.uk), offers boat trips to the falls. Double rooms cost from £100, with breakfast.
Written by Chris Leadbeater. This article originally appeared on telegraph.co.uk.