25 Awe-Inspiring Waterfalls to See Before You Die
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
Angel Falls, Venezuela
Approximately 15 times higher than Niagara Falls and standing at 3,212 feet, Angel Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. Named after James Crawford Angel, who discovered the landmark in 1933, Angel Falls plunges off the Auyán-Tepuí plateau known as “Mountain of the God of Evil” into Canaima National Park. Getting there is half the fun; the site is roughly 400 miles southeast of Caracas, and you must cross through the small village of Canaima before embarking on an upstream river tour and an hour-long hike to the site.
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Located along the river Brittle on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, these beautiful crystal-clear and cobalt blue pools bounded by stone walls and rushing falls are so, dare I say magical, visitors may feel as if they're walking through a real-life fairytale. Popular among hikers and nature lovers, these falls are the perfect place to spend an afternoon. If the sun’s out, a quick dip is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. Just make sure to have a warm change of clothes nearby.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Iguazu Falls can be summed up in two words: raw power. Spanning the distance between the borders of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná, Iguazu, which translates to "big water,” boasts 275 individual terraced falls. Stretching across two miles of rain-forested cliffs and plummets, this UNESCO World Heritage site’s most impressive drop is the U-shaped gorge known as the Devil’s Throat.
Kuang Si Falls, Laos
A 45-minute tuk-tuk ride or a short boat trip up the Mekong River from Luang Prabang in Northern Laos, Kuang Si Falls is actually multiple cascades, each more beautiful than the last. A series of turquoise-hued water spilling over limestone rocks, this is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, and while getting to falls is easy enough, the climb to the peak of the highest fall can be tough, so make sure to bring the right footwear. The views, and bragging rights are worth it.
Kootenai Falls, Montana
Located in the northwest corner of Montana, this breathtaking expanse of tumbling falls is equal parts terrifying and thrilling to behold. While the name may not be familiar, cinema buffs will likely recognize these cascades from the Oscar-nominated film The Revenant, and the area was once considered by the Kootenai tribe as the center of the universe, a place where tribal members could commune with spiritual forces. The best, albeit most daring, spot to watch these impressive falls in action is from the famed 210-foot-long suspension bridge across the river.
Baatara Gorge Falls, Lebanon
Located along the Lebanon Mountain Trail in the northern part of the country, the "Cave of the Three Bridges” is not only a visually spectacular site, but it’s also a geological phenomenon that is said to date back more than 160 million years. As beautiful as it is remote, this natural wonder is best visited in the springtime between March and May, when the snow from Mount Lebanon begins to melt.
Tinago Falls, Philippines
Boasting 23 waterfalls within its city limits, Iligan more than earns its “city of majestic waterfalls” moniker. But the Tinago cascades are what really put the destination on the map. Translated as “hidden falls,” Tinago redefines the meaning of "off the beaten path," as one must climb a windy 500-step staircase in order to reach the top of the 240-foot falls.
Ban Gioc-Detian Falls, Vietnam & China
Straddling the borders of China and Vietnam, Ban Gioc Detian is actually the collective name for not one but two converging waterfalls. Known as Banyue Falls in Vietnam and Detian Falls on the Chinese side, together they comprise one of the largest waterfalls in Asia.
Sekumpul Falls, Bali
Touted as the most beautiful waterfall in all of Indonesia, Sekumpul Falls is about a two-hour drive though the lush jungle terrain and rice terraces from the city of Ubud. True to its name, which translates to “a group of,” Sekumpul is actually a series of seven waterfalls, well worth the effort to visit while spending time on the island of the gods.
Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Located along the Potaro River within Kaieteur National Park, Kaieteur Falls is not only five times higher than Niagara Falls, but it’s also one of the tallest and most powerful single-drop waterfalls in the world. Because of its remoteness deep within the Amazonian jungle, it also requires the use of a prop plane to and from the falls to get there.
Roughly 75 miles from Reykjavík along the Hvítá River, Gullfoss, or “Golden Falls,” is considered Iceland’s most preeminent waterfall, and one of its most popular attractions. It's fed by Iceland’s second largest glacier, the Langjökull, and on sunny days, a shimmering rainbow can be seen over the edge.
While the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, Mardalsfossen boasts one of Europe’s tallest waterfalls, not to mention the tallest single drop in Norway. The dramatically tiered falls plummet down 2,154 feet of sheer granite, with the first plunge measuring 1,174 feet.
Jog Falls, India
At a height of 829 feet, Jog Falls can be found in the waterfall-rich region of Karnataka, India, and is one of the tallest straight drops in the country. In 2007, heavy rain forced authorities to release more water from the upstream Linganmakki Dam, creating the most spectacular waterfall display at Jog Falls to date. Looking to visit? The best time to see the falls in action is when water levels are at their peak, from August to December.
Torc Waterfall, Ireland
Located within Killarney National Park at the base of Torc Mountain in County Kerry, these scenic woodlands and gushing falls are the stuff of legend. Climb the steps immediately to the left of the waterfall to get some of the best views, but whatever you do, be sure to get your Torc on early. Less than a five-mile drive from town, the waterfall is one of Killarney’s most popular tourist attractions and can quickly become bombarded with other snap-happy travelers.
Victoria Falls, Southern Africa
Named after Queen Victoria by the British explorer David Livingston, Victoria Falls (also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya) connects Zambia and Zimbabwe along the Zambezi River. While it’s not the highest or widest, Victoria Falls is considered to be one of the world’s largest waterfalls, with a 350-foot drop that measures 5,700 feet across. True to its indigenous name—roughly translated: “Smoke that Thunders”—the noise of the falls can be heard for miles.
Izvorul Bigăr, Romania
When one thinks of Romania, waterfalls aren’t exactly the first thing that springs to mind. Well, the water gently streaming down moss-covered rocks at Izvorul Bigăr may make you think twice. Located within a nature reserve in the southwestern Anina Mountains, this is not your typical cascading, big drop waterfall, but it’s still stunning in its own right.
Sutherland Falls, New Zealand
Sitting on the southwestern tip of New Zealand near Milford Sound, the Sutherland Falls are best seen via helicopter tour or small plane. A high-volume waterfall, it features three steps in very quick succession along the Arthur River, which spills from a pair of sizable lakes carved into glacial basins high on a mountainside in New Zealand's Fiordland National Park.
Veliki Slap, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Divided into sections of 12 upper lakes, four lower lakes, and a series of breathtaking waterfalls and limestone-and-dolomite cliffs, caves, and rock formations in between, Plitvice Lakes in Croatia is surely one hike you’ll never forget. Don’t veer too far off the beaten path, as the park is also home to bears, wolves and variety of bird species. The biggest waterfall in town, Veliki Slap or the “Big Waterfall,” stands at 255 feet tall and is the largest waterfall in the country.
Niagara Falls, New York
Made up of the American Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls along the U.S-Canada border, Niagara Falls is easily one of the most recognizable waterfalls on earth. Admired via walkway, boat tour, or simply from your hotel window, the Canadian side boasts a plethora of casinos, cable cars, towers, viewing tunnels behind the falls, and overall superior views. Averaging more than 600,000 gallons per second, its no wonder Niagara is considered one of the world’s most monumental natural wonders.
Rhine Falls, Switzerland
Let it be know, Rhine Falls in northern Switzerland is the largest waterfall in Europe. Now that we’ve cleared the air, it’s also worthwhile to mention these falls are also some of the most idyllic as far as scenery goes. Get up close and personal with the falls via boat ride on a “trip to the rock,” or, if you prefer to stay dry, look on from one of the landing platforms at neighboring Schloss Laufen castle. Because the only thing better than a waterfall is a castle and a waterfall.
Murchison Falls, Uganda
Two-hundred miles northwest of Kampala along the Albertine Rift Valley, Murchinson Falls is one of the country’s most impressive sites. Located inside a national park, which is one of the oldest and largest protected areas in Uganda, the falls are known locally as Karuma, a name derived from the notion that a wise spirit of the same name, positioned the stones that break the waters of the river.
Tavoro Waterfalls, Fiji
Nestled within the Bouma National Heritage Park on the island of Taveuni there are three waterfalls that comprise the Tavoro Falls, each lovelier than the next. The first fall, called lower Bouma is the largest of the group and most popular with those looking to cool off in its tranquil waters.
Akaka Falls, Hawaii
Despite Akaka Falls being more than twice the height of Niagara Falls, it’s a relatively easy trek to the site. In fact, it’s one of the world’s most accessible waterfalls. Even better, as you make your way through the park’s lush foliage, banana plants, wild orchids, and banyan trees, you’ll also come across Kahuna Falls, a lesser-known but equally beautiful site.
Yosemite Falls, California
With a drop of 2,425 feet from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall, Yosemite Falls consists of three sections: upper falls, middle cascade, and lower falls. According the Yosemite Park Service, the best time to visit is during the spring, when most of the snowmelt occurs with a “peak flow in May.” Die-hards can trek all day on the steep Upper Yosemite Falls trail or you can opt to walk the one-mile loop that leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall.
Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica
Perhaps one of Jamaica’s most recognizable landmarks, Dunn’s River Falls is a must-see when you’re in or around Ochos Rios. The 600-foot climb to the top is often accomplished by a hand-holding human chain led by a guide to make it easier. The viewing area fills up quick, so try and get here early in order to beat the rush.