It's a given that each of the locales is stunning -- there aren't many ugly waterfalls around. Those that made the final cut did so by being pleasing to the senses and unique, whether by virtue of some naturally occurring aspect or because they struck me as a reflection of an equally unique surrounding region. In spite of their ranking, each of these ten waterfalls could rival one another in terms of the adventure and atmosphere they afford their visitors..
#10 - Gullfoss – Iceland
Gullfoss is the largest waterfall in Europe, and widely acknowledged as the most beautiful in Iceland. In contrast to many North American cascades, Gullfoss remains to this day untouched by man, and allowing visitors to actually walk right up to the edge and run one's hand in the water. The falls evoke a mythical aura, and the locale is steeped in folklore; one legend maintains that an ancient treasure lies hidden in a cave behind the wall of water, prompting more than a few explorations over the years.
#9 - Nachi Falls – Japan
48 separate waterfalls are scattered across Japan's Mount Nachi, but the one referred to as Nachi Falls is clearly distinguishable, standing at more than 400 feet tall (making it the country's largest) and cutting a swath through a forest thick with cypress trees and cedars. Sets of stone steps descend on either side of the cascade, and from its summit the Pacific Ocean is visible in the distance. As was the case with a host of natural elements, waterfalls enjoyed sacred status in ancient Japan, and this particular one was considered a divine entity.
#8 - Giessbach Waterfalls – Switzerland
The Giessbach Falls lie in the midst of a landscape filled with Swiss postcard clichйs -- crystal-clear lakes, snow-capped peaks, cable cars, and cuckoo clocks (well, there's bound to be at least one cuckoo clock in one of the local farmhouses). The name of the locale might ring a bell as it was in the news in the summer of 1999, when some canyoning tourists were killed in a flash flood. The tragedy hasn't affected tourism in the region, and people continue to flock to Giessbach to indulge in river rafting and paragliding, or to simply soak up the Swiss atmosphere.
#7 - Upside Down Falls - Oahu, Hawaii
The name says it all. Stemming from the summit of Mount Konahuanui, the water of the Upside Down Falls doesn't fall for more than a few feet before prevailing trade winds blows it back upwards. This unique sight alone merits the voyage, but upon arrival, one will discover why Oahu, boasting the renowned Waikiki Beach and world famous scuba diving, is the most visited of the Hawaiian islands. For history buffs, nearby Pearl Harbor is an added attraction.
#6 - Angel Falls – Venezuela
At nearly 2700 feet, Angel Falls is the world's tallest and, located in the midst of the Venezuela's wild Gran Sabana region, perhaps the most remote. Getting to the falls alone is an experience in itself: inaccessible by road, visitors are left to choose between a multiple day hiking/boating trip through the tepid jungle or hiring a pilot to maneuver an old DC3 plane through the mountains. Upon arrival, you may find yourself in an adventurous mood and decide to take advantage of the fact that BASE jumping (skydiving) off of the falls' summit was recently legalized.
#5 - Niagara Falls - Canada/USA
Spanning the Canadian/American border, Niagara Falls is neither the world's tallest nor broadest cascade, but it is among the most impressive and certainly the single most powerful. Every minute, 35 million gallons of water rush over the edge of the falls, half of which is diverted towards the power plants that make Niagara Falls the largest source of hydroelectric power on the globe. Not only is Niagara Falls one of the hottest tourist spots on Earth, but the notion of tourism in itself practically originated here. People have been flocking to the "Honeymoon Capital of the World" since the mid-19th century, and the end result is a surrounding region filled with wax museums, amusement parks, and a host of other one-day attractions. Some find this aspect of the area tacky, others entertaining; either way, it provides a stark contrast that accentuates the majesty of the falls themselves.
#4 - Ahuii Waterfall - Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia
Nuku Hiva is the largest island on the Marquesas archipelago, a region so unblemished by human hands that it once attracted the studious eye of Charles Darwin. Well, ever since the suits at CBS made the area the setting for another Survivor series, this natural oasis has become progressively less natural, so there's no time like the present to visit before it changes irreparably. And there's no better excuse to make the trip than to check out the Ahuii waterfall. At just over 1,000 feet, it is one of the world's tallest, and the refreshing base pool and lush tropical surroundings make it the island's top tourist stop.
#3 - Apsat River – Russia
Not far from the river Apsat lie the remains of one of Stalin's prison camps, and while those on their way to the GULAG probably had other things on their mind besides the beauty of the surrounding region, today's traveler will find the Alpine relief of the Kodar region breathtaking. The falls themselves are located in the Marble Ravine, dropping roughly 32 feet into a deep canyon and within seeing distance of ancient glaciers. Be sure to bundle up and brace yourself for some rugged terrain on the way -- after all, there's a reason why this site was chosen for a prison camp.
#2 - Victoria Falls - Zimbabwe/Zambia
Its mile-long breadth makes Victoria Falls is Africa's biggest tourist attraction. Towering over spray-soaked rainforests that conceal all manners of African wildlife, Victoria Falls is truly an awe-inspiring sight, and with whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, safari tours, and scenic flights to choose from, it's difficult to find time to sleep when visiting.
#1 - Iguazu Falls - Argentina/Brazil
Iguazu Falls is comprised of not one, but an array of 275 separate cascades and waterfalls, spanning a total of 2.5 miles and plunging up to 269 feet into the Iguazu river. Surrounded by bamboo, palm and fern trees, populated by parrots and macaws, and decorated with the ruins of an 18th century Jesuit mission, Iguazu Falls seems suspended from time, making it an ideal location for the filming of the 1986 period movie, The Mission.