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A waterfall ranks as one of nature’s greatest masterpieces, but what exactly about waterfalls do we notice? Is it hearing the gush of water fall, or imagining yourself standing on the edge and taking a step forward? From above, the great drop excites thrill seekers, while from below, a gently spray of mist settles on the everyday traveller. Let’s not forget the rainbow that appears, but only when the sun is set behind both the viewer and waterfall.
Many consider this to be a visceral experience given that they can’t put a finger to why the magnificence of the power and grandeur of moving water possesses such a force of attraction. What they can agree on however, is how they’ll go out of their way to witness this primal force of nature.
The journey to view a waterfall is part of the excitement as well. Some waterfalls are deeply buried in lush rainforests or national parks, requiring a long trek or even a chartered aircraft to view.
We bring you top three highest natural waterfalls of the world, each with imposing heights and impressive single drops that will be sure to land on your bucket list.
1. Cataras Las Tres Hermanas
Location: Otishi National Park, Junin region, Peru
Named after the three most visible tiers in the waterfall, Cataras las Tres Hermanas means ‘waterfalls of the three sisters’ in Spanish. Located in the remote Ayacucho region of Peru within Otishi National Park, the third highest waterfall in the world stands at 914m. While the top two tiers fall into a large catch basin of water, the third falls from the basin, and into the Cutivireni river below.
Cataras las Tres Hermanas is surrounded by a lush, tropical rainforest where trees easily grow to 30m in height. Despite its towering nature, the lake below the waterfall reaches a depth of just 4m. Due to the dense vegetation and rugged terrain that surrounds the waterfall, it is best to view the Tres Hermanas Falls from the air, as it is impossible to see the entire length of the falls from ground level. In fact, the photo above only shows the tail end of the waterfall.
Bespoke travel agency Jacada Travel offers personalised trips around the world, including Peru, and will be able to design a tour to the waterfalls.
2. Tugela Falls
Location: Royal Natal National Park, KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa
The highest waterfall in Africa and second highest in the world, Tugela Falls is located in Drakensberg (Dragon’s Mountains) in South Africa. Cascading from 948m, the Tugela Falls rushes down the Amphitheatre cliffs in a series of five clear leaps. Its source is the Mont-aux-Sources plateau that is nestled within the Royal Natal National Park itself, and extends several kilometres away from the falls.
The waterfall is best visited after heavy rain during the summer rainfall season, but if you happen to be there during winter, the river sometimes freezes to form pillars of ice, making it a rare and enchanting sight to behold.
Hiking enthusiasts have two hiking trails to choose from. The first offers an easy-to-follow foot path and leads you to the foot of the falls through the forest. This route allows you to get up close to the waterfall, while offering a view of cascades with sprays of fine mist to freshen you up.
The second is better suited for adventure enthusiasts as it’s a full-day walk that takes up to eight hours to complete depending on your fitness level. It also features a more direct and fear inducing altitude, using a series of chain ladders to access the viewpoint. This trek leads to the summit of Mount-Aus-Sources, and to the top of the falls.
African Sky offers personalised tours in South Africa, and includes five-star accommodation, luxury day tours, safaris, and golf tours.
3. Angel Falls
Location: Guayana highlands, Venezuela
Towering at 979m with an impressive 807m uninterrupted drop, Angel Falls in Venezuela is a marvel to behold. The waterfall is named after pilot James Crawford Angel, who discovered it in 1933 as he flew over the falls searching for the famed McCracken’s river of gold.
The waterfall dramatically plunges off Auyán-Tepuí, which translates to ‘Mountain of the God of Evil’ in Canaima National Park. In local Pemon language, the waterfall is is known as Parekupa-meru, translating to ‘Waterfall of the Deepest Place’.
The best time to visit is during the wet season (between May and November) to ensure the sight of a roaring waterfall, instead of a skinny trickle that may appear during the dry season.
The trip to the falls is a slightly complicated affair, as the waterfall is located in an isolated jungle. To get there, you will need to pass through the small village of Canaima and cross a river on a curiara, followed by an hour-long hike to the site. Alternatively, Salto Angel offers helicopter rides that allow a breathtaking panoramic view from above.