The World's 10 Most Spectacular Waterfalls

There are no two waterfalls alike on Earth, each with a unique legend, properties of the waters, river systems, history of the region, and constitution of the rocky base. Below is the list of some of the world’s most heart-stopping beautiful waterfalls that even the most experienced travellers would admire. 

Angel Falls

Angel Falls
Angel Falls.

The world's largest continuous waterfall in the world can be come across near the summit of the tabletop mountain, Auyán-tepu in Venezuela's second largest national park. James Crawford, also known as Jimmie Angel, was an American pilot searching the region for ore, in his Flamingo monoplane in 1933, when he spotted the waterfall. Upon returning with his second wife four years later, the plane's wheel got stuck in the mud upon landing atop of the mountain, and would remain there until 1970. The group had to trek the scenic landscapes until finally reaching the Kamarata settlement. The name Angel Falls caught on, when those who knew of this adventure referred to the waterfall by his name.

Angel Falls
Angel Falls in the Canaima National Park.

Part of the Orinoco River system the falls at 3212 feet (979 meters) tall, sit in an air-access only site, in the Canaima National Park, a World Heritage Site since 1962. A tributary of the Carrao River, Angel Falls tumbles down its waters to what is ironically known as the Devil's Canyon. Tourists can reach the park by a long and winding canoe ride through the jungle-like surroundings, full of tropical wildlife and exotic plants. The onward trekking to the destination will be rewarded upon reaching the falls and cooling down in the pools collected from the falling water. The Canaima lagoon is also accessible for tourists through an airborne journey, commencing from the Canaima airstrip. 

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Horseshoe Falls of Niagara.

Sitting on the border between Ontario in Canada and New York in the States, the Niagara Falls are separated by the Goat Island into a larger and a smaller section, on the Canadian and American sides, respectively. The Canadian Horseshoe Falls on the left bank, are 188 feet (57 meters) tall and 2,200 feet (670 meters) across, while the American Falls span for 1,060 feet (320 meters) and are 190 feet (58 meters) in height. The best views of the Niagara can be obtained from the Queen Victoria Park on the Canadian side, the Prospect Point located at the edge of the American Falls on the US side, as well as from the Rainbow Bridge. Visitors, who wish to see "behind-the-curtain" of the falls, should follow the footbridge to the Goat Island, and enter the Cave of the Winds. 

Niagara Falls
Aerial view of American Falls/Bridal Veil Falls of Niagara Falls at dusk.

These ancient falls continue their existence through a unique physical phenomenon, whereas the gorge's Silurian Period rock strata, lies almost parallel to the ground, dipping vertically only 20 feet for every mile, or 4 meters per km. The softer layers of shale underneath the hard surface layer of dolomite dissolve when the water infiltrates the joints. This enables the dolomite to stay put, resisting the hydrostatic pressure and blocking the falls away. The disposition of the strata during a long period of recession or upstream movement lets the water continuously tumble over the ledge in a perpendicular-to-the ground manner. Blocks of dolomite fall off, undercut by the waning under-layer, which also helps retain the vertical fall that makes for a less common feature in waterfalls. 

Jog Falls

Jog waterfall
Jog Falls, India.

At the height of 829 feet, Jog Falls is India's tallest waterfall, located in the southwest of the country, 100 km away from the city of Shimoga on the border with North Kamara. Void of rocks to cascade over, the free-falling, un-tiered waters of this cataract are also known as the Gerusoppaa falls.  The Sharavti River gives the waters a powerful plunge downwards in four cascades, Raja or Horseshoe, Ranee ("Queen) or La Dame Blanche, Roarer, and Rocket, as it flows through the dense forests of the Western Ghats.

Jog Falls
Jog Falls in the monsoon.

Sitting 18 miles (29 km) upstream from Honavar at the river’s mouth on the Arabian Sea, as well as 16 km from the village of Talguppa's nearest railway station in the district of Karnataka, the falls may be reached by water or foot, respectively. However, the most convenient way is a bus ride or a train journey from Shimoga.To get the best experience of the spectacle, it is recommended to visit the falls between August and December. While the wintertime offers a mist-free perspective that would otherwise obscure one's view, the season of monsoons presents the waters at their fullest, with the region also known for its lush vegetation.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu falls
Iguazu Falls.

This elongated-horseshoe cataract is split by the rocky and wooded islands at the ledge into 275 separate waterfalls. It spans the width of three Niagaras, for 1.7 miles (2.7 km), and through two countries. Brazil’s side offers the impressive Benjamin Constant, Deodoro, and Floriano falls. The best view from the Argentine side can be obtained from the Isla Grande San Martín, but fine views can also be obtained while trekking the forested paths and trails of the Dos Hermanas (“Two Sisters”), Bozzetti, San Martín, Escondido (“Hidden”), and Rivadavia falls. The region's rich and contrasting vegetation is apparent, with orchids, pines, bamboos, palm trees, mosses, lianas, and colourful begonias, all growing together. 

The waters of the Iguaçu River take plunge over the Paraná Plate down into a narrow semicircular Garganta do Diabo chasm in a canyon, where the river continues to flow. Derived from the Guaraní word for “great water", the waterfalls vary from 200 and 269 feet (60 and 82 metres) in height, and have been referred to as “an ocean plunging into an abyss.” The protruding ledges midways deflect the water to rise in a 500 feet (150 metres) curtain of mist, full of rainbows. The mean flow rate of the falls is 62,000 cubic feet (1,756 cubic metres) per second, while it is most powerful during the rainy season from November to March.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls.

These falls were named after the England's Queen Victoria by David Livingstone, the first British explorer to see them on November 16, 1855. Located midway on the course of the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls spans across the river's breadth for over 5,500 feet (1,700 metres), from Zambia on the north bank to Zimbabwe on the south. Twice as wide as the Niagara, it is also twice as deep, dispensing nearly 33,000 cubic feet (935 cubic metres) of water per second into a 355 feet (108 metres) abyss. The ledge, marked with multiple islands, depressions, and promontories, prevents the water from gathering speed to the downfall, but creates a thundering roar with from a veil of mist. Kalolo-Lozi people call the falls Mosi-oa-Tunyaby or "The Smoke That Thunders". 

Victoria Falls
Flying above the Victorial Falls. Editorial credit: cordelia bua / Shutterstock.com

The rocky side of the waterfall creates an 80 to 240 feet (25 to 75 metres) wide chasm at the bottom, with a narrow outlet that for the angry waters into 210 feet (65 metres) by 390 feet (120 metres) gorge. The turning and foaming flood waters within the gorge's deep pool, known as the Boiling Point, can be observed from the Victoria Falls (Zambezi) Bridge that carries rail, automobile, and pedestrian traffic between Zambia and Zimbabwe

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls.

The highest waterfall in North America and fifth highest in the world, at 2,425 feet (740 metres) started as multiple creeks overflowing the tributary valleys of the Merced River, into the Yosemite Valley. It is located near the Yosemite Village in the east-central California's Yosemite National Park. Two horizontal cracks in the otherwise vertical joints of the underlying rock create the three-drop effect in the falls, with the upper known as the Upper Yosemite Fall at 1,430 feet (436 metres), followed by a series of cascades, and the Lower fall of 320 feet (98 metres). The middle falls consist of five 675 feet tall cascades, but cannot be seen from the majority of vantage points. When the Ahwahneechee tribe lived by the falls, they believed that the pool at the base was inhabited by evil witches, the Poloti.

 Yosemite Falls
Rafting in the Merced River with a view of the Yosemite Falls in the distance. 

The volume of the falls depends on precipitation, usually most abundant in May and June. Taking into account the exposed rocks heated by the sun, one can hike 7.2 miles while gaining 2700 feet in elevation to the Upper Falls and back. Due to the proximity of the Lower falls to the Yosemite village, it is clearly visible right from the road encircling the valley. One can also walk a short distance from the Yosemite Lodge to the base of the falls, bringing along a picnic for a refreshing experience in the midday heat. Conquering the midsection may take a whole day, but the giant cascade that opens up dispelling waters from the above, is worth the time.

Ban Gioc/Detian Falls

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls
Detian Falls

Ban Gioc Falls or Detian Falls is the largest waterfall in Asia, sitting on the Quay Son River. Comprising of two separate cascades, some 169 miles (272 km) north of Hanoi, it follows the countries' borders almost precisely, splitting between the Daxin County in the province of Guangxi, on the Chinese side, and on the karst hills in the district of Trung Khanh of the Cao Bang Province on the Vietnamese side. Crossing the boundary between the two countries, it joins with the Banyue Waterfall in Vietnam

Ban Gioc Falls
Aerial view of the Ban Gioc Falls.

Ban Gioc-Detian is also separated over its vertical access into four separate cascades over three picturesque karst cliffs of rocks and trees. The surroundings change greatly according to seasons, with calm and clear winter waters, blooming red blossoms in spring, the scenery turning golden-yellow in the fall, and the waters becoming violent during summer. The falls are intensely studied intensely geologists for their impressive breadth, while many Vietnamese people consider the two separate cascades to be a joined waterfall made of a main and a secondary parts, thác chính and thác phụ, or singularly, Bản Gioc.

Seljalandfoss

Seljalandfoss
Seljalandfoss Falls.

Iceland is known for its abundance of waterfalls, with at least 1600 waterfalls of over 2 meters in height. Some 121 km from Reykjavik, on the Seljalandsá River, Seljalandfoss is a 62-metres high waterfall in Iceland, appearing as a white strike through the dark grey rock from the vantage point of the Markarfljót river plains. Considered a place of energy, its mystery intensifies, considering the river's upstream journey through Tröllagil (Troll Gorge) and Tröllagilsmýri (Troll Gorge Marsh), a flourishing, vegetation hollow, before cascading downwards, and overturning its waters over a cliff. The upper layer of the cliff-top is Hamragarðahraun lava field followed by a layer of tillite in the middle and hyaloclastite at the bottom. While most of the rock in area is glassy volcanic aggregate known as hyaloclastite, the hardened glacial till, "tillite", can also be found behind the falls. 

Seljalandsfoss Falls in Iceland.

The journey to the falls lets one experience the surrounding dark green slopes, cliffs, forests, and mountain clusters, from which many waterfalls originate. Upon reaching Seljalandsfoss, one can also venture behind the falls as a climax to the magic experience of the area.  Due to the proximity of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier to the Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, many believe that its feeding river, Seljalandsá, is a glacial river that originates from said glacier, when in reality, it is a spring-fed river that originates from under the lava up on the moors above another waterfall, called Hamragarðaheiði, about seven kilometers off. That is the reason why the waters of the Seljalandfoss waterfall are so clean and beautiful. Nevertheless, during spring, Hamragarðaheiði does fill the river with a runoff stream of murky water that gets carried to the Seljalandfoss waterfall.

Hogenakkal Falls

Hogenakkal Falls
Hogenakkal Falls

Known by some as the Niagara of India, the Hogenakkal Falls sits in the Western part of the Tamil Nadu state, some 46 km from Dharmapuri in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. It originates from the Kaveti (Cauvery) River, flowing some 500km within the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Upon cutting through the rocky terrain at the border, it overturns its waters in a powerful spectacle of "smoke" as it tumbles down in several waterfalls from 15 to 65 feet tall. The waterfall has been known as the "Smoky rocks", or the rocks that smoke, with the Kannada word for smoke being “hoge” and “kal” meaning rock. 

Hogenakkal Falls
Coracle boat rides to the Hogenakkal Falls.

The waters of the Hogehakkal falls are considered to have healing properties and be prophylactic for one's health due to the high concentration of herbal plants grown in the surrounding areas. Since the river flows through all seasons, visitors can reach the Hogenakkal Falls by boat and bathe in the pools all days of the year. Since the healing waters of the Hogenakal Fall spread for miles around, cruising in "Parisals", or bathing in the designated pools constitutes for a refreshing and relaxing experience. There is also ground transportation to the site from Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri. 

McWay Falls

Mc.Way Falls
McWay Falls.

Running at 1,270 feet above the sea level, the North and Middle Fork streams join in the McWay Creek, flowing to the Waterfall Cove at 80 feet, and through the McWay Falls, into the Pacific Ocean. This 80-foot waterfall has been dispelling waters directly into the Pacific Ocean upon coursing through the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the Big Sur coast in Central California, until 1983, when the land slid onto the beach, preventing the falls from pouring directly into the ocean. When the tide is out, the water drops directly into the beach cove.

McWay Falls
The spectacular landscape around the McWay Falls.

While the falls would be easy to conquer by foot, at 24.4 metres (80 feet) by 1km (0.6 miles), reaching the cove would present a challenge due to hazardous rocks on the steep slope. Nevertheless, both activities are actually prohibited, although the fall is active throughout the year, and is especially picturesque during sunset. Sitting right on the roaring waters of the Pacific Ocean, with mountain ranges and tropical forests make the coastline of the Big Sur, a spectacle in itself, especially popular among hikers from California. The fauna of the area includes gulls, seals, sea lions, whales and sea otters.

All waterfalls form from either glacial rivers, direct runoff streams, or spring-fed rivers. Spring-fed rivers feature clear waters distributed to the falls, while glacial rivers bring along ash, rocks, mud, and dirt to the falls they feed. Coming in all shapes and forms, waterfalls are an impressive spectacle of the nature, which makes visiting each waterfall for an experience of a lifetime, especially the grandiose, clean and free-falling. 

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