Monday, 1 August 2016

Comparing the world's three greatest waterfalls

Three of the world's most spectacular waterfalls are Africa's Victoria Falls, South America's Iguasu and Canada's Niagara Falls.
I have been to Victoria Falls seven times over the years and have always been in awe of the majestic splendour. Niagara I have visited only once, and was slightly underwhelmed. Last year Barbara and I spent a wonderful week by Victoria Falls during the SAIMM's Base Metals Conference, and vowed that the following year we would visit Iguasu to compare these two mighty natural wonders.
So after last month's week in Peru, we flew to Rio de Janeiro, stopping off for 3 nights in Iguasu.
Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of Niagara, but while it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. In comparison Iguasu is the world's largest waterfall system, comprising up to 275 separate falls, varying between 60 to 82 metres (197 to 269 ft) high, dependent on the time of year and the water flow. Approximately half of the river's flow falls into a long and narrow chasm called the Devil's Throat.
Both Victoria and Iguasu straddle two countries, the former Zambia and Zimbabwe, the latter Brazil and Argentina, and any visit should take into account the very different viewpoints from either side.
Victoria Falls from the Zambian side...
...and from Zimbabwe
They also have the common feature of certain wildlife taking advantage of tourists in their hunts for food. In Africa it is the baboons which can be a nuisance, while at Iguasu it is the racoon-like coatis.
So, on our first visit to Iguasu we spent the first day in Brazil, which provides a great view of the overall system, but the "wow factor" of Victoria was not quite there.
On day 2 we took the long drive over to the Argentinian side, a big difference from the leisurely stroll across the Victoria Falls bridge which spans the two African countries. But the journey, and the long queue for the shuttle train to the Falls, was more than worthwhile. From this side of the river the marvellous man-made trails and viewing platforms gave us an awesome view of the Devil's Throat and many of the associated Falls, such that at the end of the day we had to agree that Iguasu was now our number 1 spectacle, and Victoria Falls number 2. And we had to agree with the late U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who was reportedly so impressed with Iguasu that she said "Poor Niagara."
The Devil's Throat
Having said that, overall I still rate Victoria Falls number 1 for an extended stay, due to the abundance of wildlife in the area, wonderful sunset cruises on the Zambezi, and the close proximity to Botswana and the chance of a day out to Chobe, arguably Africa's greatest National Park.
All very subjective, I know, so if you have been to any of these spectacular Falls, let us know your views.
Twitter @barrywills


  1. Really interesting read. I have yet to visit Iguasu but when I do I'll definitely do it from both sides. As you say, both sides of the falls offer totally different perspectives. Loved your comparisons here

  2. Wow that's great "WOW" for the water falls.

  3. I have not seen any of these 3, but have been to Kaieteur Falls - the world's widest single drop waterfall, located on the Potaro River in the Kaieteur National Park, in Essequibo, Guyana - in the Amazon forest. It is 226 metres (741 ft) high. Kaieteur is well worth a visit Barry, but is not easy to get to. You either charter a small plane, or get to it up the Potaro River and walk the last few miles (which I did many years ago!)
    Phil Oliver, Redruth, Cornwall, UK

  4. I have been lucky enough to visit all three, both Victoria and Niagara four times. Strictly speaking, Niagara (if you include the American Falls) also straddles two countries, Canada and the US. One should see Niagara first, because it is the least impressive of the three, but it is still, nevertheless, quite majestic. The sheer flow and weight of water going over the edge is literally quite awesome. It should also be seen from both sides. And one feature Niagara has which the others don't is winter. It's quite a magical land to see all the frozen spray around.

    Victoria you need to see at least three times; March/April at the end of the wet season, July in the middle of the dry season, and October at the end of the dry season. It's like three different places depending on the time of year, each with its own attraction. The sundowner on the Zambezi is special, especially if you approach the elephant island - they don't welcome guests, or alt least, did not when we went.

    Iguacu, I prefer the Brazilian side, with the hotel right next to the Falls. Not mentioned, but there is also a magnificent bird sanctuary close by, and a bit further upriver, towards Paraguay, is the hydro-electric dam, quite impressive in its own right.

    In the end, like Barry, I prefer Victoria, but they are all quite wonderful in their own right, and all quite different.

    Bryn Harris

    1. I agree with your great comments Bryn. We visited Niagara in January and the frozen water was certainly something you do not see in Africa or South America

  5. Iguacu is definitely my favouritr and most spectacular, with its sheer number of waterfalls and the different perspectives from the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. Victoria is great, but in my opi. Ion can't be compared to Iguacu.

  6. I went to Iguacu in 1982 and local "guides" offered rides in small coracle like rowing boats which negotiated the swirling currents right up to the edge of the falls. My pal and I decided to take it and very soon wished we hadn't. I expect this treat is no longer available - lost too many tourists I guess! Give me the hippos and crocs at Vic Falls every time. On my visit you could not get that near to the actual Falls at Niagara. Happy days

    1. No, those coracles were definitely not there when we visited. Sounds a bit scary, but I did get close to the abyss at Victoria Falls


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