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Waterfalls of the World

We've researched the waterfalls of the world in an effort to compare and contrast our very own Victoria Falls with other great waterfalls around the world.

Astute readers will notice that in all three main categories for defining waterfalls, by overall height, width and volume of flow, we’ve come up with African winners. And no surprises for guessing the waterfall which has claimed the top spot in the highly subjective (and possibly biased) category of overall greatest, or ‘Biggest Waterfall in the World’!

Despite their apparent simplicity, the variations in dimensions and scale make classifying and comparing the world’s waterfalls a difficult task. For example, when does a river stop flowing and start falling? Some of the claimed largest waterfalls of the world could be argued to only be very big rapids, due to the shear size of the rivers concerned.

At the other extreme, some have such low flows that they dissipate into rain and wind before reaching their bases or exist as temporary seasonal falls in periods of flood only. See our section on Types of Waterfalls for more information.

For our purposes we have only included waterfalls which have a significant drop over a short distance, thus excluding large rapids which can stretch for kilometres in some cases, such as the Inga Falls and Chutes de Livingstone on the Congo River and Khone Falls on the Mekong (and which are an astonishing 10,783 metres wide, but which vary between sections of fast flowing water, rapids and small falls and only drop some 21 metres).

Waterfalls are evolving features of the geologically dynamic landscapes around us. Waterfalls can be relatively young or recent in formation, measurable in thousands of years, and some, like the Victoria Falls, are incredibly old, measurable in millions of years.

Many significant waterfalls of the world have had their flow rates modified by man, through dams on their higher reaches, and some are now historical footnotes, having become inundated beneath the waters of lakes formed by hydro-electric projects. Others, located in some of the remotest and inaccessible landscapes in the world, are un-described and unmeasured in detail.

Different measurements are used to categorise the variety of waterfalls, and defining and classifying the waterfalls of the world is very much an evolving science. We review the tallest, widest, largest and overall greatest, or biggest waterfalls of the world.

Angel Falls

Angel Falls, measuring a claimed 979m, is widely regarded at the highest waterfall in the world.
Rich Childs

Take the tallest, or highest waterfall in the world as an example. A brief internet search and you would be quite confident that Angel Falls in Venezuela is the highest waterfall in the world, with an overall height of 979m.

However serious doubts have been expressed as to the measurement of this waterfall, which appears to have only ever been conducted once, in 1949, and reportedly includes down to the shores of the Río Churún, almost a mile away from the base of the main fall.

If revised estimates are correct, then the Tugela Falls in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, at 948m, may turn out to be the tallest waterfall in the world. Unless however you are a waterfall purist and are measuring the greatest single drop, in which case Angel Falls is still the tallest, with 807 meters (Tugela is divided into several drops, the highest of which is 411m).

Even more difficult to compare are the widest waterfalls in the world. Having ruled out its competitors, we make the Kongou Falls on the Ivindo River in Gabon top of the list as the widest waterfall in the world with a width of 3,200m.

The final category by which waterfalls are commonly classified is by average volume of flow, is again highly debateable, with many waterfalls having huge variation in annual flow and recorded maximums. For us, the Chutes Wagenia (16,990 cms) on the Lualaba River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, top the list as the world’s biggest waterfalls by measure of average volume of flow.

In terms of describing the worlds largest, or overall best, waterfall we believe nothing can compare with the Victoria Falls, which whilst not coming top in any particular category, for us wins for its overall combination of height, width and volume of flow.

In order to allow accurate comparison of figures and information on the waterfalls of the world, we have taken all our data from one highly regarded source, the World Waterfall Database.

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