The most beautiful waterfalls in the world

The majesty of a simple waterfall can never quite be distilled into words; it takes the spray on your cheek or the crashing sound in your ears to truly appreciate a cascade to its fullest. Without words, however, we wouldn’t be able to introduce you to some of the world’s most stunning displays of nature’s force, of rapids flowing from glacial melt, some gushing into canyons and triggering rainbows all the while. Come chasing waterfalls with us as we make our way through the top 10 most beautiful waterfalls in the world below.

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Skógafoss, Iceland | Photo: Ferdinand Stohr

1. Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Starting as we mean to go on, we journey to the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to catch sight of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. This is where Victoria Falls – 1,708 metres in width, 108 metres in height – takes over the scene. Between March and May the falls are at their most intense, flowing with full force into the Zambezi River, while in the drier months of October and November, brave souls may attempt a dip in Devil’s Pool, which is perched right at the top of the falls. It’s possible to arrive at the falls from either side, with Zimbabwe previously known as the more tourist-friendly choice thanks to its developed infrastructure the nearest town’s proximity. Today, however, with political turmoil in Zimbabwe and ongoing development in Zambia, Zambia is now also a worthy option with a number of new hotels and tour operators serving the site.

Named as ‘The Smoke that Thunders’ by the Kololo tribe in the 1800s, or more commonly today as the world’s ‘greatest falling curtain of water’, Victoria Falls and its columns of spray can be seen from miles away, plummeting into a gorge 100 meters below and cutting through an otherwise tranquil rainforest landscape. Though not the tallest or the widest of falls, when taking into account all dimensions – including flow rate – Victoria Falls is often feted as the biggest waterfall in the world.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe | Photo: Jason Zhao

Victoria Falls, Zambia | Photo: Paul Milley

2. Angel Falls, Venezuela

Proving height does matter is Venezuela’s Angel Falls, beating Victoria Falls as one of the world’s highest waterfalls with an uninterrupted cascade measuring 807 metres (979 in total, some 15 times more than Niagara Falls). The falls are so tall in fact that the top – on Auyán-tepui mountain – is often enshrouded in cloud cover, making for an impressive dreamlike view for visitors to the Canaima National Park.

A pristinely kept UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angel Falls is not the easiest to access, requiring either a challenging trek through equatorial rainforest from Canaima or a one-day boat trip through Devil’s Canyon. On arrival, however, following in the footsteps of Sir Walter Raleigh on his hunt for El Dorado, the journey will at once be worth it, allowing for up-close views of the Churun River rapids and Angel’s series of cascades. Travelling between June and December is recommended when water levels offer the safest river passage.

3. Iguazú Falls, Argentina and Brazil

Breaking things up with its tier-style design is South America’s Iguazú Falls (or Iguaçu Falls). Located on the lush border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazú is one of the most famous waterfalls in the world thanks to its series of over 250 cascades, many of which – such as the 81-metre Devil’s Throat – deserve to be individually named. To Argentinean disdain, many of the best views are said to be had on the Brazilian side, though boat rides on both sides provide the chance to get up close either way. One of the reasons Iguazú is so famous is for its girth – measuring some 2,699 metres across – which is double the width of Niagara Falls! See Iquazú and other Brazil waterfalls any time of year, with the months between December and February wettest and more intense because of it, while March to April and August to September come drier and more popular.

Iguazu Falls | Photo: Kent DuFault

Mr. Hudson highlight image

Tumbling from the lush green mountains of the Western Ghats in four tiers, with a bottom pool flanked by railway, Dudhsagar Falls is indeed something special

4. Dudhsagar Falls, India

Contending as one of the best waterfalls in India is Dudhsagar Falls, set within the verdant state of Goa, with milky waters that transcend all we’ve seen before. Tumbling from the lush green mountains of the Western Ghats in four tiers, with a bottom pool flanked by railway, Dudhsagar Falls is indeed something special. The falls in total measure 310 metres in length and 30 metres across, not the biggest but certainly memorable, particularly in the rainy season when the falls are at their most powerful. Though you can go waterfall hunting in monsoon season, we recommend balancing water levels with lower heat by visiting in spring to early summer (April to July). Doing a ‘waterfalls near me’ search while in India? Try Jog Falls (otherwise known as Gersoppa Falls or Jogada Gundi) on the western coast, the country’s second-tallest plunge waterfall after Nohkalikai Falls at 253 metres.

Dudhsagar Falls, South Goa, India | Photo: Shiv Patel

Photo: Woody Kelly

5. Iceland

It’s hard to overstate the beauty of Iceland and waterfalls hunters will certainly attest to the country’s cascade credentials. With an environment carved out of volcanic lava or glacial ice and run through with ancient fjords, Iceland is precisely where you want to be to hunt falls, so much so that we couldn’t choose just one. Instead, we’ll offer up a few stars, each with its own unique character, shape and folklore. Skógafoss comes first as the country’s largest waterfall, at 25 metres wide and 60 metres tall, crashing majestically from the green cliffs of a receded coastline and easily accessible. Next is Seljalandsfoss with waters that emerge from under a glacier, plunging down 12 metres in one narrow (well, 30 metres across!) stream. While its measurements might not seem so impressive, Seljalandsfoss is unique in the fact that visitors can walk behind it. In winter the falls actually freeze over, making them a must-see stop on the northern Diamond Circle route.

On the southern Golden Circle meanwhile, don your waterproofs for the Golden Waterfall (or Gullfoss) as it splashes 32 metres down Hvítá river canyon, performing its magnificent act in two parts, changing direction between its two tiers. To view its finale, you’ll have to climb atop the falls to see the water’s disappearing act. Last but not least is Dettifoss, the second-most powerful waterfall in Europe (sending a whopping 7,000 cubic feet of water over its edge per second) right in the heart of Vatnajokull National Park.

Skógafoss, Iceland | Photo: S Migaj

6. Sutherland Falls, New Zealand

Not one for the faint of heart, New Zealand’s Sutherland Falls is one of the more remote attractions on this list, rewarding motivated trekkers with the country’s highest drop of 579 metres. As simple as it is isolated, Sutherland Falls features three powerful cascades that feed from a cliffside pool belonging to Lake Quill, accessible only by wilderness multi-day hike in the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana mountains or a private flight, not far from Milford Sound on South Island. Go from late October to early April to make the most of the summer weather, or layer up in spring, fall or winter for what locals call ‘the Finest Walk in the World’.

Also in New Zealand, you’ll find Bridal Veil Falls (not to be confused with the 39 other Bridal Veil Falls in the USA!), located in the Waikato region and a much easier one to reach via a 1-kilometre trail and staircase surrounded by forest and wildlife.

Sutherland Falls, New Zealand | Photo: Samuel Ferrara

Photo: Derek Owens

7. Ban Gioc-Detian Falls, Vietnam & China

Straddling the Vietnam-China border lies the fourth-largest waterfall in the world, known in Vietnam as Ban Gioc and in China as Detian Falls. Whatever name you prefer, Ban Gioc-Detian Falls are an impressive sight and sound, at a moderate size of 60 meters tall and 300 metres across, plummeting down three tiers before landing with an explosive crash on the rocks below. Fed by the Quay Son River, Ban Gioc is best seen in monsoon season when the river water is at its highest, though the lush scenery of karst valley and mountain backdrops makes for a treat any time of year. Entry to the falls comes busier and more chaotic on the Chinese side and so it’s recommended to enter from Vietnam for the best photos, taking a bamboo raft out to the base of the falls to feel its force for yourself.

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls | Photo: MarieXMartin

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls | Photo: Tuan Hoang

8. Plitviče Waterfalls, Croatia

Plitviče Lakes National Park in Croatia is a treasure trove for waterfall hunters, showcasing as many as 16 lakes all terraced and connected by 90 waterfalls amongst the park’s tree-lined hills. Of the Croatia waterfalls to note in Plitviče is the 78-metre Veliki Slap, an exemplary choice for its turquoise-blue bottom pool and winding stream that hugs the rock all the way down. Though you might not think of Eastern Europe for waterfall visits, Plitviče Waterfalls serves upwards of one million visitors each year for good reason! Though the busiest and most expensive season, we still recommend going in summertime (or close to it) to enjoy warm temperatures and full days of sunshine. Otherwise, fall and its autumnal colour-scape is equally worthy!

Plitvice National Park, Croatia | Photo: Fred Clery

9. Costa Rica

Those in search of the best Costa Rica waterfalls will have a hard time whittling down the competition, many of them being set on epic cliffs within dense rainforest to magical effect. Osa Peninsula’s Corcovada National Park is not a bad place to start your hunt, entering into one of the nation’s most biodiverse settings for run-ins with tapir, jaguar, sloth and macaw amidst old-growth wet forest, mangrove swamp and lowland rainforest. Book one of the few lodgings in the park or arrange a stay at the Sirena Ranger Station, venturing out the next morning from the cliffs of the inert Chato Volcano down a hillside staircase to La Fortuna Waterfall, a site fed by the Tenorio River. At just over 70 metres tall, La Fortuna Falls make a miracle out of the Arenal Mountain Range, boasting bathe-able pools and hot springs at its base. Combine your trip with a hanging bridges canopy tour for extra wow factor.

Another Costa Rican beauty worth consideration is the Bajos del Toro Waterfall, taller at 90 metres and hidden in a valley within the Bajos del Toro Cloud Forest between Poás and Rincon de la Vieja Volcanoes. Around 90 minutes from San Jose, Bajos del Toro allows for a fun day trip, featuring a winding trail that starts with awesome views before leading down to the base of the falls in an area packed with indigenous wildlife, including morpho butterflies, hummingbirds and even armadillos. While in the region, La Paz Waterfall Gardens is also one to check out, combining beautiful falls with a butterfly observatory, serpentarium, frog exhibit (ex-ribbit, if you will) and hummingbird garden!

Costa Rica | Photo: Asap Story

10. Bali, Indonesia

Indonesia is wet with some of the world’s greatest waterfalls but it’s Bali waterfalls that really get us going. That’s not to say they’re easy to find however and many of the falls worth your time may not have much information on them. So, take it from us when we say that many of the best falls are found in the northern region of Buleleng, though there are also plenty to find in the more accessible areas of Ubud and Denpasar – such as the island’s newest, Kanto Lampo, a waterfall formed by a dam in 2015.

Those falls just outside of Ubud to note include Tukad Cepung Waterfall, accessible via a short jungle trail with light illusions and pools for swimming on arrival, while Tegenungan Waterfall is another Ubud top spot to cool off on hot days. Those planning a longer trip out from Ubud can look at Tegallalang Rice Terrace, a UNESCO World Heritage and tranquil countryside site, home to the 900-metre Nungnung Falls. To get here will require a 35-kilometre trek through the Balinese mountains, worth it when you realise you’re among the only tourists there!

Photo: Oliver Sjostrom

Photo: Jakob Owens

11. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

A South American nation oft-overlooked for its more developed neighbours, Guyana should merit your attention with its Amazonian landscapes and cache of natural wonders, waterfalls included. Of them, Kaieteur Falls is on our list, said to be the largest single drop waterfall (by volume) in South America. To see the glory of the 226-metre Kaieteur Falls will require quite a bit of effort, trekking deep into Kaieteur National Park’s Amazon rainforest from the base city of Georgetown. Alternatively, with cash on hand, you can take a scenic flight to Kaieteur Airport, just 15 minutes from the top of the falls. Visit during the dry season between March and June for the best views, aiming for a warm day with a low chance of precipitation.

Guyana | Photo: Jolanda de Koning

Mr. Hudson highlight image

A South American nation oft-overlooked for its more developed neighbours, Guyana should merit your attention with its Amazonian landscapes and cache of natural wonders, waterfalls included

12. Hawaii

This outlying US state has it all; year-round sunshine, dazzling beaches, the best poké bowls and now we throw superb waterfalls into the mix. Volcanic mountain landscapes combined with heavy tropical rainfall make Hawaii the perfect location for a waterfalls date. If looking for the best waterfalls on Maui, try Waimoku Waterfalls a site based above the 7 Sacred Pools of O’Heo (O’Heo’o Gulch) within Haleakala National Park. From the pools, you’ll take the road to Hana along which you’ll find a trailhead leading to the 121-metre drop of Waimoku, a sight much more impressive after rainfall when it crashes down the lava rock and into the boulder-filled pool below.

Meanwhile, on Oahu, our two favourite falls are Manoa Falls and Sacred Falls, based on trails of 1.5 kilometres and 7 kilometres respectively. Though the route to Manoa is easier, it’s still very much remote territory, once used as the filming location for both Jurassic Park and TV show Lost. The Sacred Falls trail is currently closed to the public on safety grounds but various companies do offer flights over the area to catch a glimpse of its 335-metre drop. Then, in Kauai, it’s Wailua Falls that comes most popular for its two parallel cascades dropping 25-metres into a huge pool below, once serving as a test of bravery for Polynesian adolescents in ancient times. Lastly however is the one on Molokai Island known as Olo’upena Falls, arguably the most magnificent of waterfalls in Hawaii, dropping 900 metres from the north-eastern Haloku cliffs, seen only via plane or boat on aerial excursions and guided cruises.

Photo: Jakob Owens

13. Niagara Falls, United States and Canada

Held up as a model against which many of the waterfalls above must match, Niagara Falls is firmly one of the world’s favourite natural spectacles, despite falling short of Angel and Victoria Falls. In the US at least, Niagara is the granddaddy of all waterfalls, and certainly, one of the best waterfalls in North America, shared by both west New York and south-east Ontario in Canada. You can see the falls on either side, driving 27 kilometres from Buffalo if in the US or 121 kilometres from Toronto if starting in Canada. A combined effort of Niagara’s three waterfalls (the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls) Niagara sees a total of 3,100 tonnes of water flow over its cliffs each second, generating hydroelectricity for nearby cities. Seeing the falls by boat is the only way to go, expecting to get doused in spray for the majority of the ride!

Niagara Falls | Photo: Cameron Venti

What’s next after waterfalls?

Leave your trip planning to us at Mr Hudson and we’ll go above and beyond to provide you with a personalised daily itinerary with all the best things to do in your destination. Combine that with lesser-known attractions, places to stay and happening nightlife recommendations and you’re set for the trip of a lifetime, every time. Get in touch with the Trip Design team today.

Niagara Falls | Photo: Sergey Pesterev

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