Chasing Waterfalls: Africa’s 8 most spectacular curtains of falling water
A majestic curtain of falling water. Green, riverside foliage nestled on earth’s surface and within the crevices of rocky outcrops. Africa is endowed with vast terrains, secrets to biodiversity that form nature’s intrigue and compelling displays of earth’s metamorphic processes. As the African continent is an invitation to view its array of superlative natural wonders, from the world’s longest river to its second-largest desert, its waterfalls are equally impressive and a testament to the spirit of life springing from its belly.
Some experts debate South Africa’s seasonal Tugela Falls as a contender for Venezuela’s Angel Falls in height, while others wrangle between which is more majestic between the mighty Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, and Canada’s Niagara Falls. Because any chance for comparison also presents an opportunity to learn, and clock in more destinations to add to your bucket-list, here are our picks for Africa’s must see waterfalls.
1. Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe. It goes without saying, Victoria Falls, known by the locals as Mosi-oa-Tunya (meaning “The Smoke that Thunders”) and located on the Zimbabwe-Zambian border, is remarkable spectacle of nature, and a one of the seven natural wonders of the world, boasting several principle gorges. Its remarkable, and also largest curtain of falling water measures 5,604 feet wide and 354 feet tall, with a spray from the plunging volume of water easily and felt from great distances away. This is especially so during the flood seasons after the summer rains (from February to May), when more than 500 million litres of water plummet over the gorge’s edge every minute.
Viewpoints are abundant along a trail in the in Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwean side, or Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side. With the bigger, more impressive falls most visible from Zimbabwe, Zambia offers adventurers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim in a natural pool on the edge of the falls known as the “Devil’s Pool”.
2. Lumangwe Falls – Zambia. These Falls so closely resemble Victoria Falls and form the largest waterfall found wholly within Zambia borders, measuring heights of 115 feet and a width of 328 feet. The Kalungwishi River falls cascades downwards in a wide, mesmerising veil, creating spray that rises some 328 feet in the air, and nurturing a small rainforest on the adjacent river banks.
Local folklore has it where the waterfall is believed to have been named after the Great Snake Spirit, Lumangwe, which stretches between the falls at Lumangwe and Kabweluma; and is most powerful at the end of the rainy season in April and May. Viewpoints emerge at the summit and on the opposite bank, with a camp site for those that wish to spend the night at this location in the throngs of nature.
3. Murchison Falls – Uganda. Situated on the Blue Nile (although the river is known as the Victoria Nile in Uganda), Murchison Falls is one of premier focus points of Uganda’s most prolific wildlife landscape. The river avails an intriguing natural sight, as it forces itself through a narrow gorge that measures just 23 feet in width, before plummeting 141 feet into the Devil’s Cauldron. A permanent rainbow adorns this majestic waterfall, with an estimated 187 million litres of water flowing over its lip each minute. A trip upriver from Paraa village garners you a view of the falls, with plenty of wildlife species such the elephant, buffalo, lion, and the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe making their appearance during your excursion.
4. Tugela Falls - South Africa. Comprised of a series of five free-leaping, seasonal cascades, South Africa’s Tugela Falls has a total drop of 3,110 feet, making it the second-highest waterfall in the world. It’s a spectacular sight to behold, plunging in a plume of froth from the top of The Amphitheatre escarpment—which is the most recognizable natural feature in KwaZulu-Natal’s Royal Natal National Park. One of the highest peaks in the Drakensberg Mountains, Mont-Aux-Sources, is the source of the Tugela Falls. Those with a penchant for activity can take on the challenging Sentinel trail or hike through the Tugela Gorge to the foot of the falls.
5. Ouzoud Falls - Morocco. One of the lesser known waterfalls of Africa is the Ouzoud Falls, located in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, a landscape of contrasting lush greenery in some parts and sandy desert dunes in others. A collection of cascades tumble into the El-Abid River, and are named Ouzoud; for the Berber word meaning “the act of grinding grain;" referencing the small mills located where the falls begin top of the falls.
Visitors to Ouzoud Falls will note its popularity for tourist, and will also the supporting infrastructure that make it a great destination for exploration. From taking a boat tour to the swimming pool at the base of the falls, or tucking into a sumptuous meal eat at one of the restaurants located along the waterfall footpath, a day out at Ouzoud Falls is one that will leave you refreshed and inspired by your surroundings.
6. Kalandula Falls - Angola. The falls are one of Angola’s best-known natural features, lying on the Lucala River in Malanje Province, measuring a significant 344 feet in height and 1,300 feet in width. Kalandula Falls are one of the largest waterfalls by volume in Africa, boasting a horseshoe-shaped waterfall on the edge of a dense forest, numerous cataracts and plumes of spray thrown up by the plummeting water, much like Zimbabwe and Zambia’s shared Victoria Falls. Accessing Kalandula Falls is a mere 10 minute taxi drive from Calandula Village and a longer 5 hours from Angola’s capital, Luanda.
7. The Blue Nile Falls - Ethiopia. Also a distinctive display of nature are the Blue Niles Falls, found on a River bearing the same name, and less than 20 miles downstream from Lake Tana. Referred by the locals by its Amharic name – Tis Abay, which means Great Smoke – the Blue Nile Falls clock at approximately 170 feet in height, and are made up of a confluence of four streams that originally combined to create a width of 1,312 feet during the rainy months.
Two different hiking routes avail visitors access to the falls, with the first taking you across the first even 17th-century stone bridge in Ethiopia to revere the main waterfall viewpoints from either side of the river. Visitors can also take in the view of the falls by taking a short boat trip across the river to the base of the falls.
8. Maletsunyane Falls - Lesotho. Graced with rolling hills and lush green landscapes, Lesotho is very much that sleeping giant on travel radars, yet in terms of sheer beauty, few waterfalls rival the country’s Maletsunyane Falls. Located near the town of Semonkong, meaning the Place of Smoke in the local language, the Maletsunyane River plunges into a continuous cascade of water over a 630-foot precipice, and is one of the highest single-dropping falls in Africa.
As you can imagine, countless local legends are told of this wondrous display of nature, including claims that the echo caused by the sound of plunging water are wails of souls that have drowned in the falls. Nearby adventure activity operators can buckle visitors up for horse riding or abseiling while within the vicinity, making it a super opportunity to balance a little adventure and appreciation of nature.
9. Chamarel Waterfalls – Mauritius. This waterfall is particularly breath-taking, as it cascades down against the contrasting dense foliage, which stands out against exposed volcanic rocks, dating back to approximately 8-10 million years ago. River Saint Denis which is nearby the village Cachette, Cascade Chamarel and La Crete are the three streams from which the Falls originate, making Chamarel Waterfalls easily the most popular of the many curtains of water dotted across the Island and much loved destination for hiking.
10. Wli Waterfalls – Ghana. At 260 feet high, Ghana’s Wli or Agumatsa Waterfall is the tallest body of plummeting water in Ghana and the greater West Africa region. Special in that visitors can swim at its base, Wli Waterfalls are also nestled within the Agumatsa Wildlife Sanctuary, and create a pristine destination for hiking enthusiasts and bird lovers.
Africa’s landscapes are as diverse as its people, and so it’s never an easy feat to narrow down a list of “The Best of” anything when it relates to the continent’s travel destinations. But one must try, for therein do they often find reasons to venture out and explore further!