World's 10 best waterfalls

VICTORIA FALLS, ZAMBIA/ZIMBABWE

When the Zambezi River plummets into Batoka Gorge, it creates what locals call the Smoke that Thunders. The rising spray, created by a two-kilometre stretch of water, can be seen from the far distance. The spray creates rainforest along the riverbanks and, during a full moon, unusual lunar rainbows. Panoramic views and the roar of water are reason to walk the river's edge, but scenic flights are superb. See zambiatourism.com

DETTIFOSS, ICELAND

This churning, sediment-filled spectacle 100 metres wide and 45 metres high isn't pretty, but impresses with sheer raw power. The wild glacial river feeding it has created spectacular Jokulsargljufur Gorge, where Dettifoss produces so much erosion that the falls move slightly upriver each year. The eastern riverbank is more accessible, the western bank more dramatic. Further falls upstream and downstream can be reached on rugged hikes. See inspiredbyiceland.com

NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA/US

Sheer accessibility makes these the world's most famous waterfalls, though they're far from the largest. The traditional way to admire them is from Maid of the Mist sightseeing boats that bring you close to the thundering water, but you can also take to jet-boats, cable car, observation tower or the unnerving, spray-soaked wooden scaffolding at Bridal Veil Falls. At night, Niagara is illuminated in multi-coloured lights. See niagarafallstourism.com

RHINE FALLS, SWITZERLAND

These celebrated falls near Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland are a mere 23 metres high, but early summer sees impressive volumes of snowmelt feed the young Rhine River. Goethe – among the many painters and writers inspired here – was so impressed he declared the falls must be the source of the ocean. Take a boat to the rock pinnacle in the middle of the falls, or admire them from Laufen Castle's ramparts. See rheinfall.ch

PLITVICE FALLS, CROATIA

What Europe lacks in major waterfalls it makes up for with scenic settings. Plitvice Lakes National Park has a series of admittedly minor cascades, but they're superbly set between interconnecting lakes, flowering meadows and dense forest. White limestone beneath the water keeps it crystal clear and vivid blue-green. A hike is well rewarded with butterfly-filled gorges, caves and pretty cascades that gush and gurgle. See np-plitvicka-jezera.hr

TUGELA FALLS, SOUTH AFRICA

Africa's tallest waterfall (and, some argue, the world's tallest) dives off a Drakensberg escarpment and falls 948 metres in a series of five cascades – though only in the wet season. The largest uninterrupted fall is 411 metres. In winter, ice pillars form on the upper falls. An easy walk brings you to its foot, while a challenging hike via chain ladders accesses its summit. See southafrica.net

IGUAZU FALLS, BRAZIL/ARGENTINA

Before you see it, Iguazu's soft rumble grows steadily louder. It seems to be raining, although it's only spray from this stupendous waterfall. Turn a corner and a semi-circular cauldron of foaming water, the Devil's Throat, plunges until lost in its own spray below. This is just one of a mighty collection of 200 or more waterfalls here, formed by two rivers that topple into a great fissure in a basalt plateau. See argentina.travel

HUANGGUOSHU FALLS, CHINA

China's largest waterfalls feature a two-kilometre stretch of nine cascades on the Baushui River in southern Guizhou Province. They're impressive and set in a scenic karst landscape, but are also notable among large waterfalls because they can be approached both at the top and bottom, from each side, from the front if you wade into Rhinoceros Pool, and even from the back, inside Water Curtain Cave. See eguizhou.gov.cn

MITCHELL FALLS, AUSTRALIA

The rust-red and rainforest-patched sandstone escarpment that edges the remote Mitchell Plateau in the Kimberley thunders with a four-tiered waterfall at the peak of the wet season – and it can be impressive the rest of the year, too. The falls are only accessible by foot, four-wheel drive or helicopter on a spectacular aerial ride that allows you to buzz Little Mitchell Falls further downstream too. See australiasnorthwest.com

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YOSEMITE FALLS, US

The tallest waterfall in North America is best when spring snowmelt creates a magnificent, three-tiered spectacle against sheer cliffs in California's Yosemite National Park. You can hear the fall's noise across the valley, and hikers are soaked in spray long before they arrive at its foot. The best view is from Southside Drive at Yosemite Chapel. In dry summers, however, the waterfall can dry entirely up. See yosemite.com

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