Nature provides dramatic scenes everywhere, but few more breathtaking than the collection of waterfalls known as the Niagara Falls. For decades, these three falls have attracted millions of sightseers to the US-Canadian border and the southern limits of the Niagara Gorge.
The Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil Falls have become iconic images, almost what we think of when we think of waterfalls. The tallest – the Horseshoe Falls – drop water from a height of 173ft and are 2,600ft wide, spilling 600,000 gallons of its famed green waters per second.
Both US and Canadian sides have visitor centers with an extensive range of exhibits, including photography and 3D movies. There are also ways to get up close and personal with the falls, including the well-loved and very wet Maid of the Mist tours, in which small boats sail up to the bottom of the falls (rain wear is provided).
Another way to get a unique view of this natural wonder is to take one of the charter helicopter tours, a must for photography fans as they provide awe-inspiring aerial views.
The falls truly are one of the planet’s best free shows, and it’s little wonder that they remain a global favorite, but here’s a rundown of other epic cascades around the world…
Why: Another waterfall that lies on the border of two countries: Argentina and Brazil.
The Iguazu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. The falls are larger than anything in Niagara, with a height of some 240ft and a width of over 8,000ft. Iguazu is interesting as it’s made up of a number of cascades thanks to the rock formations shaping the falls direction, and vast sprays are thrown up as the water collides with them.
It’s surrounded by lush, subtropical rainforest populated by animals such as tapirs, ocelots and jaguars, with 2,000 plant species and around 400 types of bird. There are a couple of differences in the experiences you can have in each country. The Argentine side of the falls offers a better chance to get close up to the action, while the Brazilian side is better for looking out over the panorama from a distance.
Don’t miss: On the Argentine side, try the Forest Trains, a circuit of ecological carriages skirting the river allowing you to get around within the park and access the footbridges for the best views.
Why: Again, two countries enjoy a spectacular show as the natural border of the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe is the location for these falls.
There are two names in common usage, the Victoria Falls given by UK explorer David Livingstone to honor his queen, and the indigenous name Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning ‘the smoke that thunders’. The falls, another UNESCO site, are classified as the world’s largest at 354ft high and 5,600ft wide. The spray can rise to a height of 2,000ft and can be seen from up to 30 miles away.
There have been railways and hotels in the area since the early 20th century, allowing tourism in the area to flourish, and the two small national parks on either side welcome thousands of travelers a year in search of the local wildlife such as hippos and rhinos. One of the famous features on the Zambian side is ‘The Armchair’, a pool very close to the edge of the falls formed by a rock barrier where brave souls can swim in relative safety.
Don’t miss: At a full moon, an unusual ‘moonbow’ can be seen rising out from the mist, rather than the usual daylight rainbow.
Why: These falls lie entirely within the US, on tribal lands at Havasu Creek in the Grand Canyon, Arizona.
The striking aspect of the falls, which plunge from around 100ft, are the vivid colors that can be seen, the bright blue of the water contrasting with the deep red of the surrounding rock face. The color of the water is due to unusually high levels of calcium carbonate and magnesium, and since they originate from an underground spring, their temperature rarely dips below 70F.
There are plenty of spots from which to enjoy the views here, including a wide sandy beach, or picnic tables under the shade of the local cottonwood trees. Guided tours are especially popular, with expert guides leading groups on adventures that usually include camping out near the base of the falls. You can also camp independently, though this has to be booked in advance with the local tourist office.
Don’t miss: The deep blue lower pools are easily accessible via a series of pathways, so it’s easy to make your way down and take a swim.
Why: The Plitvice Lakes National Park is another UNESCO site, and with little wonder – the rock formations here have created a stunning collection of lakes, caves and waterfalls.
The park was founded in 1949 and is in the Karst region of Croatia, close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The falls here are relatively small compared to Niagara and Iguazu, with its two main ones just 225 and 75ft tall respectively.
However, what they lack in height they make up for in beauty, and together with the layered lakes that stack up along the topography, they form one of Europe’s most striking landscapes. Some 16 lakes of varying sizes have formed, and guided tours in English take place every day to help you make the most of your time here.
Don’t miss: The surrounding national park contains some of Europe’s rarest wildlife, with wolves, brown bears, lynx and wildcats. Again, local guides can help improve your chances of spotting them. You may even be lucky enough to spot a majestic Golden Eagle.