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6 of the Most Awe-Inspiring Waterfalls Around the World

By Daily Passport Team
Read time: 6 minutes

Waterfalls have a way of fascinating us like few other natural wonders do. Watching thousands upon thousands of gallons of rushing water cascade over the edges of cliffs and mountain sides — sometimes hundreds of feet high — is nothing short of mesmerizing, so it’s no wonder many of us seek out waterfalls on our travels. From the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the depths of the Venezuelan jungle to the spectacular waterfall whose name means “the smoke that thunders,” here are six of the most awe-inspiring waterfalls you can visit.

Iguazu Falls – Argentina/Brazil

Aerial view of Iguazu Falls on border of Argentina and Brazil
Credit: atosan/ iStock via Getty Images 

The name Iguazu is derived from a Guaraní word meaning “great water,” but even that may be an understatement. Wider than Africa’s Victoria Falls at 1.7 miles across and 100 feet taller than Niagara Falls at its highest point, Iguazu Falls is considered the world’s largest waterfall system. Made up of more than 275 separate cascades along the Iguazu River, the falls straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil, and both countries have rightfully created national parks around this true natural wonder.

In the midst of the glorious waterfall complex, the memorably named Devil’s Throat stretches over 300 feet wide. Catwalks extend over the Iguazu River, allowing visitors to walk across and peer just over the edge of a precipitous drop more than 260 feet below. The horseshoe-shaped curtain of water is so powerful that it completely obscures the pool below with a thick mist. You can also experience that mist firsthand, as a popular way to visit the falls is to join one of the many boat tours that skirt just below Iguazu’s many impressive cascades.

Angel Falls – Venezuela

Angel Falls in Venezuela, world's tallest waterfall, seen in the distance
Credit: evenfh/ Shutterstock

The majestic curtain of white water billowing down Venezuela’s Angel Falls — the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall — would certainly be a worthy inspiration for its celestial name. But the waterfall was actually named after an American pilot, Jimmy Angel, who was the first to fly over it and share his discovery with the outside world. In 1935, Angel was scanning the mountains of southern Venezuela for potential sites to mine precious jewels when his plane crashed on a mesa. Fortunately, he survived, only to later spot the falls in the distance. Today, his restored plane resides in Venezuela’s Aeronautics Museum, while a replica overlooks the cascade. 

Angel Falls consists of one dramatic single drop from Auyantepui Mountain to the unspoiled wilderness 3,212 feet below. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 20 times taller than Niagara Falls. The dense jungle region surrounding the falls is nicknamed the “lost world,” otherwise known as Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to its extreme isolation, visitors must take either an airplane tour or a long river journey to witness the falls in person, but it’s hard to argue the payoff isn’t heavenly.

Skógafoss Falls – Iceland

Skógafoss Falls in Iceland
Credit: HandmadePictures/ Shutterstock 

Skógafoss Falls isn’t just one of Iceland’s biggest (and most impressive) waterfalls — it is said to conceal where a gold-filled treasure chest was left 1,100 years ago. Legend states that Þrasi Þórólfsson, an early Viking who settled on the island’s southern tip, buried his fortune in a cave behind the thunderous, 197-foot-tall, 82-foot-wide cascade. After his death, when fortune seekers tried to recover the chest, one of them reportedly snagged its circular handle before the riches were lost forever. The handle is now on display a mile away at the Skógar Museum. 

The land at the base of the falls is flat, so if you don’t mind getting splashed, you can walk right up to the water, as characters did in the films The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Thor: Ragnarok. For an overhead view of the torrent and the glimmering Atlantic Ocean, visitors with stamina can climb 370 steps to access an observation platform. The colossal spray of Skógafoss Falls means that at least one rainbow is typically visible any time the sun is out — and during summer, Iceland’s famous “midnight sun” offers plenty of daylight to relish them.

Shoshone Falls – Idaho

Aerial view of Shoshone Falls in Idaho
Credit: Jeremy Christensen/ Shutterstock 

Despite playing second fiddle in its nickname — the “Niagara of the West” — Idaho’s Shoshone Falls actually stands taller than Niagara, reaching a height of 212 feet with a rim spanning 900 feet wide. The falls were an early “roadside” attraction as a popular detour for settlers along the Oregon Trail in the mid-19th century. And long before then, the falls provided sustenance for the Lemhi Shoshone peoples (for which it’s now named), who relied on the Snake River’s salmon population as their primary food source. 

Though Shoshone is stunning any time of year, water flow varies depending on the season. The falls experience peak flow in the spring months as temperatures rise, caused by snowmelt in the nearby Rocky Mountains. Throughout the summer, however, water is diverted to irrigate nearby farmland, leaving Shoshone Falls a relatively dry — albeit still impressive — rock formation. Visitors can enjoy hiking trails, observation decks, and stop by a nearby monument commemorating daredevil Evel Knievel’s much publicized (failed) attempt to jump over the Snake River Canyon on a motorbike in 1974.

Khone Phapheng Falls – Laos

Rushing waters of Khone Phapheng Falls in Laos
Credit: Rudolf Ernst/ iStock via Getty Images 

The world’s widest waterfall is found in Southern Laos, near the border of Cambodia in the Champasak Province, but the river that forms it begins high on the Tibetan plateau before tumbling into the South China Sea. The mighty Mekong — which, at 2,703 miles in length, is Southeast Asia’s longest river — winds through Si Phan Don (which translates to “4,000 islands”) to create the Khone Phapheng Falls. These chocolate brown rapids drop 70 feet and stretch over 6.7 miles wide. The series of cataracts prevent the Mekong from being completely navigable into China. 

One of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, the falls are home to a visitors center with a temple, museum, and observation deck. The region surrounding the falls is easily explored by bicycle, or opt for a kayak tour on the Mekong and encounter rare Irrawaddy dolphins. Don’t miss the historic (and now defunct) bridge built by the French to connect Don Det and Don Khone islands, and — if you dare — take a thrilling zipline over Li Phi Falls. 

Victoria Falls – Zambia/Zimbabwe

Rainbow over Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe, seen from above
Credit: guenterguni/ E+ via Getty Images 

At the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, about midway through the course of the Zambezi River, one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls roars. British explorer David Livingstone gave the falls their English name after he became the first European to see them in 1855. But the local Kalolo-Lozi people call the spot Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “The Smoke That Thunders,” because of the loud roar and large veil of iridescent mist the falls create. (The mist can be seen more than a dozen miles away.)

Victoria Falls is not the tallest falls in the world, nor is it the widest. But UNESCO, which designated the falls a World Heritage Site in 1989, calls the site “the largest curtain of falling water in the world,” based on its width and height combined. Composed of five distinct falls, Victoria Falls measures 5,604 feet wide and 354 feet tall (almost double the height of Niagara Falls). The waters here fall at an average of 33,000 cubic feet per minute. Further downstream of Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River empties into the Indian Ocean in Mozambique.  

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