Nearly two-thirds of the earth is covered in water, and cascading water falling over rocks and cliffs is one of nature’s greatest gifts. Of the many magnificent waterfalls to explore in the world, which are the most spectacular of all?
That question can be a bit tricky to answer, as there are two ways of measuring falls: by width and height. Here, we’re highlighting the top 10 largest in each category.
Some of these falls may be difficult to reach, so allow us to show you their epic beauty.
10th Widest: Inga Falls, Democratic Republic of the Congo
When you think of a waterfall, more often than not you imagine a large cliff overflowing with raging water. The first to appear on our list doesn’t give you that image, but it is raging with water. As the 10th-widest waterfall, Inga Falls spans 3,000 feet in the lower Congo River.
The water flows here at a rate of about 1.5 million cubic feet per second — for comparison, Niagara Falls averages 84,760.
In 1972, the area became a hydroelectric dam, and it continues to supply electricity to the Katanga province today.
*Lists sourced from here and here, with all measurements independently confirmed.
10th Tallest: Browne Falls, New Zealand
New Zealand’s South Island is home to this 2,743-foot waterfall in Doubtful Sound that begins the list based on height.
Named for the aerial photographer Victor Carlyle Brown, who first found the falls during the 1940s, the falls are the tallest in New Zealand, although some argue they are multiple unconnected cascades so that title is “unofficial.”
Doubtful Sound is located in a glacier-carved fjord and is nicknamed the “Sound of Silence” for its peaceful and quiet atmosphere.
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the famous falls that connect America and Canada near Buffalo, New York, and Toronto extend 3,950 feet in width. The falls deliver enough energy to power 3.8 million homes, creating 2.7 million Kilowatts on the U.S. side and 2.2 million on the Canadian side.
With its close proximity to major cities, Niagara Falls has been a top tourist destination for generations, especially as a honeymoon spot. Part of the waterways that make up the Great Lakes, the falls are found on maps dating as far back as 1641.
Although some argue that the honor of tallest waterfall in North America should go to Yosemite, that distinction actually belongs to James Bruce Fall. The British Columbia-located waterfall is 2,756 feet tall, while the American national park icon “only” stands at 2,425 feet.
The waterfall does not have an official name. Instead, it’s called by the name of a local man who had a love for waterfalls.
Located in Princess Louisa Marine Provincial Park, the falling water is dependent upon the amount of winter snow received.
Although its is considered a waterfall — 4,500 feet wide — Wagenia is like its Congo partner, Inga Falls. This flow of water is really more like rapids and is famous for the Wagenia fisherman who live and fish on its banks.
Wagenia Falls (or Chutes Wagenia, in French) is more commonly known as Boyoma, Kisangani or Stanley Falls. Boyoma and Kisangani are both acceptable to use when discussing the falls, but the Stanley name dates back to British colonial rule and isn’t popular among the locals.
Hawaii is renowned for having out-of-this-world waterfalls in tropical jungles, but the island of Molokai has the honors of being home to the world’s tallest. (This isn’t the only time you’ll see the island on this list.)
With water falling over a cliff at 2,756 feet, Pu’uka’oku Falls is a beaut, but difficult to get a glimpse of. Located at the Haloku Cliffs on Molokai’s northside, the only way to view it is by helicopter or boat.
Africa’s Victoria Falls is so famous, it is often assumed to be the world’s widest — some say it stretches a mile across. While that is inaccurate (it spans “just” 5,600 feet in width), Victoria Falls is definitely among the world’s most breathtaking sights.
Victoria Falls was the original infinity pool, as the Zambezi River spills over the edge of a sheer cliff within the national park of the same name. Named for Queen Victoria by the Scottish explorer David Livingstone after its discovery in 1855, the falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although there isn’t a ton of water spewing from Norway’s Balaifossen, the thin waterfall is one of the tallest in the world. Located on the eastside of the Osa Fjord, the waterfall extends 2,789 feet into a lake.
It’s amazing to think a waterfall this towering is still bested by six others in height!
This 6,000-foot-wide stretch of the Peace River in northern Alberta is technically a waterfall, but calling it that is a bit of a stretch. Chutes and rapids are more like it, which is why this is a haven for kayakers seeking adventure. The rapids are downstream from Fort Vermilion and are filled with cold-water runoff from the Rocky Mountains.
Don’t confuse this sizeable waterfall with Vermilion Falls in Minnesota, which is a 25-foot-tall waterfall into a chasm within granite. (That one is small, but pretty.)
The tallest waterfall in Europe, Vinnufossen (or Vinnu) is found deep within the Sunndal mountains. Although the smaller 2,313-foot Mardalsfossen is easier to get to and thereby more often visited, Vinnu bests its neighbor by more than 500 feet.
The fall’s vein-like streams of water are the product of runoff from the Vinnufonna Glacier in central Norway.
Mocona Falls may not offer the height of other waterfalls on this list (it’s just 66 feet at the highest spot), but it makes up for it in width. It runs parallel to the Uruguay River for an astonishing 6,775 feet.
The river is actually considered to be part of a trench that covers the falls for up to 150 days per year. As the water levels drop, the falls become visible, which is why the Mocona name is apropos; it means “to swallow everything” or “the big fall” in different indigenous languages.
Because of this unique geography, however, seeing the falls depends on the river’s cooperation.
This Amazon rainforest waterfall in northern Peru (in the aptly named Forest of Gigantic Waterfalls of Cuispes) drops 2,940 feet as the world’s fifth-tallest waterfall. Yet it is less frequented by visitors who instead travel to Gocta Waterfall a few miles away.
Don’t get us wrong, Gocta is amazing (and within the top 20 in terms of height), but hiking through the rainforest to see the four tiers of Yumbilla Falls is a can’t-miss experience.
The famous multi-tiered falls that separate Argentina and Brazil are more than twice the size of Niagara Falls — 8,858 feet. There are 275 individual drops at these sprawling waterfalls.
Although both countries share the falls, nearly 80 percent “fall” in Argentina. Both sides can be visited, with bus tours taking visitors to see the impressive falls from land, and helicopters providing aerial views.
The small, not-often-visited Hawaiian island of Molokai makes the list again with this dramatic waterfall, the tallest in the United States.
This thin waterfall topples 2,953 feet down between two mountains before eventually flowing over a cliff into the ocean. Tours by boat and helicopter offer visitors a chance to see Olo’upena, which is far more stunning than any photograph can display.
Kongou Falls is considered so beautiful that when Gabon planned to dam it to harvest its natural resources, locals raised such a stink that the plan was thwarted and it remains untouched.
Located on the Ivindo River in the national park of the same name, Kongou Falls measures 10,500 feet in width.
Tres Hermanas Falls, or “the Three Sisters,” is a trifecta of threes: its name, its three tiers and its nearly 3,000-foot height make it the third tallest waterfall in the world.
Located within Peru’s Otishi National Park, at the fork of the Cutivireni River, the falls are difficult to get to and are not often visited by guides.
Pará Falls (Salto Pará) is located just upstream from where the Caura and Orinoco rivers converge, and creates a boundary between the Caura’s upper and lower sections.
Located in Bolivar, Venezuela, the waterfall spreads 18,400 feet across the Caura, and although it is the second-widest waterfall in the world, it’s about half the size of the No. 1 fall coming up.
The horseshoe-shaped waterfall is one of 12 within the Orinoco rainforest, and in order to see it, you have to make a 2-hour trek.
With a drop of 3,110 feet divided among five cataracts (the longest uninterrupted being 1,350 feet), South Africa’s waterfall is runner-up as the tallest in the world.
The falls, named for the river they’re part of, are found within Royal Natal National Park. Visitors can hike trails leading to them to take in the views.
The widest waterfall in the world can be found on the Mekong River in Laos. The 35,376-foot wide Khone Phapheng Falls in Ban Hang Khone is actually a combination of the Khone and Pha Pheng Falls.
Two and a half million gallons of water flow through these falls — double what Niagara Falls sees! So large are the falls and its rapids that Chinese trade along the Mekong River was forever stymied.
Located in Canaima National Park, Angel Falls is the tallest natural waterfall in the world at 3,212 feet — and the tallest uninterrupted. There are two drops on the falls, but the longest is 2,648 feet.
As you watch the falls cascade down the sheer face of Auyan-Tepui (Devil’s Mountain), you may the name Angel Falls is a reference to heavenly beauty. In reality, it’s named for the 1930s American explorer who “discovered” the falls, James Angel.
Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared in 2009 that the name should return to its indigenous name, Kerepakupai Merú.