When choosing a vacation destination, natural scenery is key for many of us. We seek mountain landscapes, lush rain forests, picturesque beaches and, more often than not, waterfalls. Waterfalls set the scene for some of our best photos — and in some places they are the destination.
From Gullfoss in Iceland, famous for its rainbows, to Thor’s Well in Oregon, a mysterious water hole that seemingly delves into an abyss, these are the world’s most beautiful waterfalls.
1. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
On the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls is located between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It measures more than a mile across, making it one of the world’s widest waterfalls. It’s also one of the most powerful — its noise can be heard for several miles.
How to See It: Tourist facilities allow travelers to easily drive or walk to the falls. During the dry season (August to January), you can also swim in Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls for a truly unique experience. View the falls from even farther above via helicopter.
2. Gullfoss, Iceland
Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s top attractions, with thundering glacial waters that tumble down multiple levels amid clouds of mist. Gullfoss, which translates to “golden falls,” indeed emits a golden color on a sunny day, often creating rainbows.
How to See It: It’s an easy drive to Gullfoss Falls from Rekyjavik, and many tour operators offer day trips to the so-called Golden Circle, which includes Gullfoss as well as Thingvellir National Park and Geysir.
3. Thor’s Well, Oregon, U.S.A.
Surrounded by water on three sides, Thor’s Well is located off the coast of Cape Perpetua in Oregon. Its waters rush into what looks like a bottomless hole. While you’re there, you can also spot Devil’s Churn, where thunderous waves crash against the rocky shores, and Spouting Horn (exactly what it sounds like), where sea water shoots into the air.
How to See It: Thor’s Well isn’t marked. Park at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and take the Cape Cove Trail to find it (staff at the visitor center can also point you in the right direction). It’s dangerous to get close to Thor’s Well, however, especially at high tide. Plan to visit an hour or so before high tide for the best view.
4. Athirappilly Falls, India
Nicknamed “the Niagara of India,” Athirappilly Falls drops about 80 feet, rushing into the Chalakudy River in Kerala. Located in a lush green forest, Athirappilly has a sister, Vazhachal Falls, located about three miles away.
How to See It: You can walk to the falls (it’s a fairly short hike to the entrance from the main road) and will see wildlife, including birds and monkeys, along the way. Consider a stay at Rainforest-Athirappally, located right at the base of the falls. At the hotel’s on-site restaurant, you can enjoy views of the falls while dining alfresco, and you can even sleep in a treehouse.
5. Plitvice Waterfalls, Croatia
Many people travel to Croatia for its pristine beaches (and rightfully so), but don’t overlook a visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park’s many waterfalls and cascades flow into a series of mesmerizing, teal-blue lakes.
How to See It: Set aside at least one day to see Plitvice Lakes National Park, whether you decide to hike or use one of the national park’s free buses and boats to get around.
6. Angel Falls, Venezuela
The world’s tallest waterfall, Angel Falls cascades more than 3,000 feet from the top of a cliff in remote Canaima National Park, Venezuela. The falls were the inspiration for Paradise Falls in Disney’s “Up.”
How to See It: To get there, you have to take a plane to Canaima, then a boat to Angel Falls. It’s easiest to explore on a guided excursion, such as the multi-night offerings from Angel Eco-Tours and Tucan Travel.
7. Erawan Falls, Thailand
Erawan Falls, a seven-tier, emerald-green waterfall, is the most popular attraction in Thailand’s Erawan National Park. The top tier of the waterfall is believed to resemble the three-headed white elephant from Hindu mythology, for which the waterfall is named.
How to See It: Visitors can hike the designated trail, looking down into the waterfalls’ pools to see fish or even stopping for a cool dip. The first few tiers are fairly easy to climb, but as you ascend, the trek becomes more challenging.
8. Stirling Falls, New Zealand
Stirling Falls is a haunting, desolate waterfall in Milford Sound, a fjord in New Zealand’s South Island. Its waters, which plunge some 500 feet, flow from mountain glaciers.
How to See It: You can explore the fjord by boat, kayak or helicopter. Choose one of the first two options, and you might encounter dolphins.
9. Waimoku Falls, Hawaii, U.S.A.
On Maui’s famous Road to Hana, Waimoku Falls is one of the most sought-after photo ops. The 400-foot waterfall, located within Haleakala National Park, flows down a lava rock and into a pool.
How to See It: Follow the Pipiwai Trail for a fairly easy, two-hour hike (roundtrip). The total trail length is about four miles.
–written by Amanda Geronikos Norcross