There are few things in life as awe-inspiring as a waterfall—especially when the journey to view it requires chartering a twin-propeller plane over lush rain forest in the Amazon or trekking through a remote ravine in the Philippines. But why are travelers willing to risk so much to marvel at the forces of nature in action?
One of the world’s leading waterfall experts, Bryan Swan has been searching for the answer to that question for years as the curator of the World Waterfall Database. Managing what is considered the most comprehensive record of waterfalls in the world, Bryan, along with the cofounder of the site, Dean Goss, has accumulated an ever-evolving multimedia archive of photographs, data, maps, and materials as a means to “fairly quantify and compare any given waterfall with another.”
“When we see and hear moving water like this, we can feel a very real, often profound connection to the raw primal power of nature,” Bryan said of his subject. “In addition to that, man has always had a bit of an obsession with quantification. We always want to measure and compare and catalog things. So naturally, the bigger waterfalls out there like Niagara or Yosemite, which most certainly are among the largest or tallest, have that added reverence that inspires further.”
North Carolina-based nature and nighttime photographer Kevin Adams, who’s photographed thousands of waterfalls in his tenure in addition to organizing photography tours like “waterfalls under the moonlight,” described waterfalls as a visceral experience.
“I imagine people love them so much because it affects all of our senses in a very real way,” Kevin said. “We can see it and touch it, but it also touches us. When the spray from a fall touches you, well there’s nothing else like it.”
On his website, Adams’s guide to waterfall photography provides an easy step-by-step for getting the most beautiful waterfall shots possible, and he says that capturing a waterfall in action is not as difficult as one might think. “A lot of it has to do with shooting conditions,” Adams told T+L. “Every waterfall is different. You might think one looks better than another and then you come back the next time and it’s totally changed.”
Read on for T+L’s guide to 25 of the world’s most awe-inspiring waterfalls around the globe.
Michelle Gross is a freelance producer at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @mtothegnyc