“If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water,” said famed American anthropologist, Loren Eiseley. No matter where in the world you are, you don’t have to venture very far to experience the magic of our planet’s most spectacular waterfalls. Many of these stunning falls are sprinkled throughout the world’s most striking destinations, adding even greater magic, mystery and magnificence to these natural wonders. From the plunging rapids in Hawaii and Iceland, to the horsetail drops in Chile, these impressive watercourses are fittingly considered to be among the more exotic waterfalls of distant lands. Whether you’re planning a week-long vacation, an afternoon of hiking, or you’re simply passing by, be sure to set aside some time to explore these hidden gems and 10 of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the world.
10 Leura Cascades in Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales, Australia
Venture just two hours outside of busy Sydney and you’ll be rewarded with the splendor of Leura Cascades, in the peaceful and picturesque Blue Mountains National Park. If you have even a mere hour to spare, the short walk to these cascades near the rapids of Leura Falls Creek is well worth it. Even if it is to simply bask in the beauty of this magnificent view. Pack a picnic basket and be sure to bring along your camera; Leura Cascades offer several prime photography points that are perfect for capturing the park’s stunning watercourses. If you’re thirsty for more, continue your hike to the nearby Bridal Veil Falls for even more spectacular waterfall views.
9 Cumberland Falls in Corbin, Kentucky, United States
Tucked away in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, deep within Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest is a southern paradise composed of 17 miles of hiking trails, lush woodlands and the impressive Cumberland River. Perhaps the park’s most notable feature, however, is Cumberland Falls. Nicknamed the “Niagara of the South” by locals, this stunning 68-foot high waterfall is not only the largest waterfall south of the Niagara; it’s also regarded by many as one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the world. This natural beauty has the capacity to produce a “moonbow,” an unusual lunar rainbow, at its base, a marvel that does not occur with any other waterfall in the Western Hemisphere. At 125 feet wide, Cumberland Falls’ moonbow is a spectacular sight that draws countless visitors a year, all hoping to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary occurrence.
8 Akaka Falls in Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
Hawaii’s Big Island is abounding with waterfalls, although, not all of them are easy to reach due to their isolated locations among the eastern side of the island’s dense rain forests. At Akaka Falls State Park, however, the accessibility to one of the island’s top-rated water features, Akaka Falls, makes it a favorite for those visiting the Hamakua Coast. This free-falling waterfall plunges 442 feet—more than twice the height of Niagara Falls—into a large plunge pool, within Kolekole Stream created from steam erosion. Akaka Falls’ rugged force is best viewed from the Akaka Falls Loop Trail, a manageable hiking trail that rambles through the park’s lush foliage, banana plants, sky-high bamboo, native orchids, twisting vines and stunning banyan trees.
7 Ventisquero Colgante Falls in Chile
At an approximate 1,800 feet in height, the single drop Cascada de Ventisquero Colgante, or Hanging Glacier Falls, ranks deservingly among the top 10 waterfalls in the world and the best in Chile. This staggeringly elevated waterfall gets its name from its exceptional water supply: a slow-melting glacier that overhangs the brink of the falls, a rare source that will likely increase Cascada de Ventisquero Colgante’s height and intensity as it continues to melt in coming generations. This, coupled with its veiling plunge shape, are among the falls’ most eye-catching features. Also unique is the Cascada de Ventisquero Colgante’s environmental conditions, which ranges from its 50,000-year-old glacier at its top, to the lush tropical rainforest of Queulat National Park that awaits at its base.
6 Gullfoss (Golden Falls) in Iceland
Those who bask in the brilliance of Iceland’s Gullfoss waterfall report being able to feel the energy of what is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Its thundering presence roars from inside the Hvítá river canyon where, if the weather cooperates, you may be fortunate enough to see numerous rainbows rising above the river’s three steps. If you stop by at sunset, you can see firsthand why Gullfoss earned the nickname “Golden Falls.” Its brown-tinged water gets a golden tint from the sunlight, to create a breathtaking golden effect. Because Gullfoss is connected with Iceland’s Golden Circle, which encompasses a nearby hot spring, mountainous terrain and beautiful glaciers, you can expect to see hundreds of tourists at any given moment. Tours, as well as private escorts, are available for those hoping to get a closer look at Iceland’s most famous natural wonder.
5 Kaieteur Falls in Kaieteur National Park, Guyana
With its soaring height, broad width, astounding amounts of falling water and magnificent natural surroundings, Guyana’s Kaieteur Falls is easily one of the top waterfalls in the world. Additionally, it is among the country’s most iconic landmarks. At roughly 663 meters per second and a height five times greater than Niagara Falls, its power and majesty is unrivaled by many of the world’s other watercourses. The base of Kaieteur Falls also boasts a unique weather sensation: hurricane-like conditions that create waves throughout its pond and misty gray surroundings filled with gyrating foam. The land surrounding this 741-foot high beauty has remained unchanged and undeveloped. Kaieteur Falls, however, sees far fewer visitors who are capable of reaching this exclusive destination via airplane or by a three-day walk from the neighboring community of Mahdia.
4 Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe
Perhaps the only thing better than experiencing the excitement of Victoria Falls from Zambia, is also experiencing it in Zimbabwe. Thrill-seeking tourists frequent this African waterfall, of course, for its spectacular views but also for the many exhilarating activities offered right at the water’s edge. Both Zimbabwe and Zambia present unique opportunities to encounter Victoria Falls, the world’s largest sheet waterfall, from some of the most breathtaking perspectives. For instance, from its Zambia side, you can splash on the brink of the falls at the Devil’s Pools. On its Zimbabwean territory, you’ll have the opportunity to explore spectacular and tranquil rainforests that counteract the thundering sound of the falls. No matter which side you choose to take in the gorgeous Victoria Falls, you must add the awe-inspiring Flight of Angels to your itinerary. The all-encompassing view of the falls is at its best from a helicopter or microlight aircraft.
3 Niagara Falls, Border of Ontario, Canada and New York, United States
The Niagara River gives life to the third most breathtaking collection of waterfalls in the world: Niagara Falls, three magnificent cataract waterfalls that separate the border of Canada and the United States between New York and Ontario. The most forceful waterfall in all of North America, the Horseshoe Falls, combine with American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls to supply the region with an unsurpassed supply of tourism, hydroelectric power, and beauty. While the area around the falls has become densely commercialized in the past 200 years, it means that there are plenty of memorable and exciting ways to experience the splendor of Niagara Falls. Consider soaking up the falls (literally) with a wet and wild ride along the base of the falls on the Maid of the Mist, feeling the whipping winds of the Bridal Veil Falls at Cave of the Winds, or venturing high above on the American side’s observation deck with its incredible lookout point. If you don’t feel like leaving your hotel, don’t; many of the surrounding hotels on the Canadian side of the falls present picturesque views that you can enjoy from the comforts of your room.
2 Ban Gioc Falls (Detian Falls), Border of China and Vietnam
When you think of tranquility and the beauty of Asian nature, the image that comes to mind likely looks a lot like Ban Gioc Falls. The waterfall is made up of a three-tiered watercourse that cascades over stunning stony peaks, scattered with trees and jutting rocks. Also known as Detian Falls, these two waterfalls are the largest in Asia and the fourth largest that separate a national border. Any time of year is the perfect time to visit Ban Gioc Falls, as the scenery is ever-changing, depending on the season. In summer, for instance, you’ll be amazed at the water’s turbulent nature, whereas winter brings with it slowly falling streams. Springtime at Ban Gioc Falls is blooming with fiery red blossoms that transform into a golden hue come autumn. A dream-like mist surrounds these impressive formations and the region’s blossoming vegetation and flowers. To see Ban Gioc Falls in person is to experience a painting come to life.
1 Iguazu Falls in Argentina, South America
With 275 individual waterfalls, along nearly two miles of the Iguazu River composing its system, Iguazu Falls was created from a volcanic eruption that left the earth with a massive break. Today, more than 450,000 cubic feet of water per second gush over its formations nearly twice as wide and significantly taller than Niagara Falls. Despite its massive scale, visitors are able to get up close and personal with this incredible watercourse via several walkways that surround the falls. From there, you will be greeted with some of the most spellbinding vantage points that highlight the glory of Iguazu Falls, including its surrounding jungles.