Which Is The Tallest Waterfall In The World?

By Loraine Balita-Centeno on August 1 2020 in Geography

Salto Angel waterfall after a rainy night. Image credit: Claudio Soldi/Shutterstock.com
Salto Angel waterfall after a rainy night. Image credit: Claudio Soldi/Shutterstock.com
  • There are many towering waterfalls around the globe, but the one that holds the title of Tallest Waterfall In The World is still Venezuela’s Angel Falls or Salto Ánge.
  • The famous site holds two world titles: the greatest total height and the greatest uninterrupted drop. Flowing 979 m (3,212 ft), above its base, it has a dizzying single drop that measures 807 m (2,648 ft).
  • The towering natural gem is located within the beautiful Canaima National Park in the Guiana Highlands, which is part of the Bolivar State in Southeastern Venezuela.

There are many towering waterfalls around the globe, but the one that holds the title of Tallest Waterfall In The World is still Venezuela’s Angel Falls or Salto Ánge. The famous site holds two world titles: the greatest total height and the greatest uninterrupted drop. Flowing 979 m (3,212 ft), above its base, it has a dizzying single drop that measures 807 m (2,648 ft).

Where Is It Located?

The world's tallest waterfall, the Angel Falls, is located in the Canaima National Park. Image credit: Lukas Uher/Shutterstock.com

The towering natural gem is located within the beautiful Canaima National Park in the Guiana Highlands, which is part of the Bolivar State in Southeastern Venezuela. It is one of the country’s most treasured tourist spots and has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Its water comes from rain that flows down through the jungle at the top of the Auyán-Tepuí or “Devils Mountain.” It then seeps deep into the ground and joins a network of tributaries that feed the river called Rio Kerepacupai Meru, from which the falls flow. The river flows through the top of the Devils mountain and juts out of the side of the cliff forming the waterfall that cascades down through the sandstone cliff’s fractures and caverns.

The cascading feature falls into a base that then flows out into the Carrao river. The latter is part of the Orinoco River system, the fourth largest river in the world, and forms part of a water system that flows out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Riverbed And Plunge Pool

The plunge pool at the bottom of the Angel Falls. Image credit: Luisdfoto/Shutterstock.com 

The view from the top isn’t for the faint of heart, but the sight, when viewed from afar, is mesmerizing. Soaring imposingly above the thick canopy in the middle of the jungle, it juts out of the side of the mountain. Heavy clouds often shroud the tallest waterfall in the world and the bottom is almost always covered in a mystifying drizzle that turns into a mist. This is because the high drop creates so much pressure that when the water hits the base of the waterfall most of it turns into mist creating a foggy scene at the bottom pool.  

The continuous pounding on the riverbed creates a deep plunge pool at the base of the waterfall where visitors come to swim. The best time to visit is in the summer when people can enjoy the warm water amidst the sound of roaring flow from the top.

Getting To The World's Tallest Waterfall

Tourists are crossing a river to see Angel Falls (Salto Angel), the highest waterfall in the world.

While it is 20 times taller than Canada’s famous Niagara Falls (which stands 50 m or 165 ft from its base), Angel Falls receives fewer visitors owing to the fact that it is so much more difficult to reach. No bus or car ride can take people directly to Angel Falls since it is located deep within the rainforests of the Gran Sabana region. The only way to get there is to take a plane to the village of Canaima, then either take another small plane to the lagoon or traverse the river with a boat. The guided boat ride will take you to a lagoon where you can trek through the rainforest to get to the sight-seeing spot that affords a beautiful view of the falls.

History

Long before its discovery by the outside world, the majestic water feature has been known among the indigenous people who called it Kerepakupai-merú which to the Pemón natives means “waterfall of the deepest place”. According to native Pemón myths, the area surrounding Angel Falls is inhabited by demonic spirits. The Pemon Indians of Venezuela's Gran Sabana region also believed that the tepui (tabletop mountains) that the falls flow from is inhabited by gods and spirits.

The tepuis are believed to be the remnants of pre-Cambrian sandstone plateaus that eroded some 180 million years ago. Many myths and legends include stories about the ancient tepuis and its famous Angel Falls.

Who is Jimmie Angel?

A portrait of Jimmy Angel, the aviator after whom the Angel Falls has been named. Image credit: Wikimedia.org

The world's tallest waterfall was named after American aviator and explorer Jimmie Angel who first told the outside world about the towering fall’s existence. Born James Crawford Angel in Cedar Valley, Missouri, Jimmie grew up with a penchant for flying. In the 20s he spent a few years flying passengers for a small air transfer service. By the 30s he was already flying over Venezuelan jungles where he said he was searching for a mythical “golden river”. He first spotted the falls on November 16, 1933, during a solo flight. In his logbook, he wrote: “Found myself a waterfall.” He would then continue to tell people about his discovery calling the majestic water feature “my waterfall”.

Four years later, he and his second wife Marie along with two other adventurers went back to the area. They had planned on landing on the top of the mountain from which the waterfall flows. But he accidentally landed his borrowed Flamingo monoplane onto 6 feet of mud. In his logbook, he wrote: “Stuck in six feet mud had to leave plane. No help to move.” Jimmie and the group spent 11 days hacking through the jungle and trekking down the mountain until they reached a small settlement.

Jimmie Angel's aircraft, El Rio Caroní, exhibited in front of Ciudad Bolívar airport. Image credit: 

The U.S. press picked up on the story about the world’s highest waterfall accidentally discovered by an explorer who landed his plane on Devil’s Mountain. After several more trips and expeditions around South America, Jimmie and his family returned to the US and lived in Santa Barbara, California.  He died in 1956 after suffering a stroke. In 1960, his sons and widow flew over Angel Falls and scattered his ashes there.

The Venezuelan government recovered his plane, restored it, and placed it on display at the Ciudad Bolivar Airport, where it can still be seen today.

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