Five of the best: waterfall hikes in the world

If TLC had their way, we wouldn’t be chasing waterfalls – yet, there’s something about hiking to one of these free-flowing natural wonders that brings a real sense of adventure and accomplishment to a rural outing. Whether you’re a die-hard fanatic of the great outdoors or just appreciate a countryside sojourn every now and again, little is more satisfying in life than marvelling at the majestic beauty of a thundering torrent of water.

From gentle 20-minute hillside strolls to all-day sweat-inducing climbs, we’ve rounded up five must-do waterfall hikes from across the globe that are worthy of a place on your bucket list.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil. Image: iStock/R. M. Nunes

Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil

Upon visiting the towering Iguazu Falls, Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed ‘poor Niagara!’ – and for good reason. You only have to gaze up at the 2.7 kilometre-wide spectacle, and you’ll feel instantly dwarfed by its sheer size and volume. The biggest and most jaw-dropping of the falls – Garganta del Diablo – is a true sight to behold, and the sole reason many people flock to this part of the world. The slightly smaller-scale line-up of Dos Hermanos, Chico and Ramirez Falls on the Argentinian side is just as impressive, and the best viewpoints are easily walkable from inside the park. Arrive at the Iguazu Falls National Park from the Argentinian entrance and take your pick from two easy-to-navigate pathways – Upper Trail and Lower Trail – which form picturesque loops along different vantage points, affording you views of the falls from just about every angle. With a backdrop of lush jungle to boot, take the time to spy butterflies, toucans and coatis among the flora for a truly memorable experience.

Svartifoss, Iceland. Image: iStock/alexeys

Svartifoss, Iceland

Iceland is best known for its highlight reel of impressive waterfalls and, much like its better-known neighbour Gullfoss, Svartifoss draws in huge numbers of visitors year-round, but without the heaving crowds. Thanks to its location at the foot of the biggest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, visitors to this beauty spot can expect a waterfall trek with a difference. A 1.5-kilometre, uphill trail from the Skaftafell visitor centre snakes past a handful of smaller falls, through rocky gorges and along a towering black basalt backdrop. The show-stopping highlight can be found hemmed in by jagged hexagonal columns carved impressively from lava, with a pool of crystal clear water at its base. The route is paved for much of the way, making it fairly easy to navigate – but thanks to the spectacular scenery, you’ll no doubt be stopping for pictures at every turn.  

Aysgarth Falls, North Yorkshire. Image: iStock/andybphoto

Aysgarth Falls, North Yorkshire

A little closer to home lies Aysgarth Falls – on the smaller side of the scale than some of its far-flung counterparts, but no less impressive. Attracting visitors for over 100 years, this lush beauty spot was once visited by Wordsworth and, more recently, featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. You’ll find this Yorkshire treasure nestled in picture-perfect Wensleydale on the River Ure. From Aysgarth National Park, follow an easy two-mile trail through the surrounding rolling hills and ethereal woodland to find an Instagram-worthy spot overlooking a triple layer of cascading falls. As you’re in Wensleydale, pack a picnic of cheese and pickle sandwiches to enjoy as you take in the scenery.

Angel Falls, Venezuela. Image: iStock/DouglasOlivares

Angel Falls, Venezuela

A waterfall round-up wouldn’t be complete without including the highest, and arguably most famous in the world – Angel Falls. Providing inspiration for the falls in the Disney Pixar movie Up! and proudly touted as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Angel Falls’ magnificent measurements are sure to have acrophobes quivering. Standing at a height of 979 metres and with a plunge of 807 metres, an expedition to the summit is not for the faint-hearted – but don’t let its magnitude put you off, as a visit here is chalked up by many as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Reaching the summit is no mean feat, as it’s only accessible via a plane to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Canaima National Park – then a boat to the foot of the falls, followed by an all-day hike as part of an organised tour (phew). Still, you’ll forget the lengthy journey and ache in your calves the moment you catch a glimpse of the breathtaking views from the top.

Waterfalls in Costa Rica. Image: iStock/Gary Gray

La Paz, Costa Rica

Synonymous with nature, sustainability and eco-tourism, it’s little surprise that Costa Rica is also home to some of the most sparkling waterfalls in the world, and La Paz is the undeniable jewel in the crown. You’ll find this national treasure tucked away by the roadside in the verdant Alajuela region, just an hour’s drive from the capital San José. It’s an easy stop-over on the way to Arenal volcano if you’re short on time, but for the best views (and four more waterfalls) a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a must. Here, you can feast your eyes on the sights and sounds of the surrounding rainforest as you wander along the river, letting the refreshing mist from the park’s crowd-pleasing cast of waterfalls cool you down as you go. Once you arrive, you’ll want to take your time to enjoy each fall in all its glory so allow at least 90 minutes to stroll along the scenic trail at a moderate pace, before checking out the on-site serpentarium and butterfly gardens.

Words by Carlie Mesquitta

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