That distant roar seemingly out of nowhere. Like a drumroll, it grows louder as it attracts your steps. When you suddenly see it, it’s like a revelation in a splash of water. Yet another reminder of the powerful beauty –the beautiful power– of Nature. There’s something to a waterfall that’s magnetic, fascinating – so take your camera and let’s go! We’ve partnered with some of our favourite travel bloggers to create this selection of the most charismatic waterfalls in South America.
Best South America waterfalls:
Waterfalls in Colombia
Adam from Cartagena Explorer visits Marinka regularly.
Undoubtedly one of the best waterfalls to visit in South America is the Marinka Waterfall near the town of Minca, located in the forest covered Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Minca is a neat little town that has quickly made a name for itself as an ecotourist destination. There is terrific bird watching, coffee and cacao farms, and a few waterfalls you can visit. The best waterfall in Minca is Marinka. A series of two falls, there is an upper section and a lower one where you can take a dip in the refreshing waters.
You can reach Marinka by a 90 minute hike outside of Minca. Just head along the tiny road that goes out of town after taking a right just past the bridge when you enter. You’ll stroll along a pretty trail through the forest. At the falls, there is a small cafe and restaurant as well as a bathroom and changing area. There is a small entrance fee of a few thousand Colombian pesos.
There are larger waterfalls in South America but the nice hike, beautiful scenery of this coastal mountain range, and the many other things to do in Minca make this a must visit on a trip through Colombia. You can also check out the smaller Pozo Azul waterfall located a bit closer to town. The La Victoria coffee farm and longer hikes to the lookout point of Los Pinos are also worth checking out during your time in Minca.
|Measures:||About 10 metres (33 feet)|
|Closest location:||Minca, Colombia|
|When to go:||All year round but avoid local holidays|
Keep planning: Check out our backpacking guide to Colombia
Cueva del Esplendor
Julien Casanova of Cultures Traveled visited Cueva del Esplendor in April.
La Cueva del Esplendor, or The Cave of Splendor, is just that – a small cave with a magnificent waterfall that powers through an opening at the top of the rock and forms a pool below.
But the journey to get to Cueva del Esplendor from Jardín, Colombia can be as magical as the waterfall itself. A guided tour starts with a ride in a Willy Jeep as you travel through the vibrant green mountains just north of town.
Once you reach the trailhead, you’ll stop at a colorful house with stunning mountain views. After a quick snack of chocolo (a sweet arepa) with cheese and a cup of coffee, you’ll set off on the covered trail.
The trail follows a small stream toward the waterfall, with the tropical plants becoming evermore lush in the humid environment. The entrance to the cave is just as stunning, featuring a tall rock face with small plants thriving in the light mist that falls from the top.
And then as you enter, the splendor comes into view in the form of a powerful waterfall gushing through the top of the cave.
A tour to Cueva del Esplendor costs about 70,000 pesos. It is also possible to arrive and simply pay the entrance fee of 20,000 pesos. Although this option is only suitable for those who don’t mind climbing a few miles up the mountain before you start the hike.
|Measures:||Less than 10 metres (33 feet)|
|Closest location:||Jardín, Colombia|
|When to go:||Avoid the rainy months of April–May and October–November|
Travel from home and make your own arepas colombianas!
Waterfall in Venezuela
Giorgy of G-Extreme Travel visited Angel Falls in April.
There is no doubt that Venezuela’s Angel Falls are the highest uninterrupted waterfall, not only in South America but in the world! At 3,212 feet (979 meters), Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world, with the longest plunge measuring 2,648 feet (807 meters). Multiply Niagara Falls by 15 to get an idea of scale.
Being around such natural beauty made me feel even smaller as if I wasn’t already tiny! It just left me speechless, so much naturalness and beauty, and being far from human civilization.
This massive natural wonder is found in Venezuela’s Guayana Highlands, within Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s impossible to reach Angel Falls via automobile or bus. Depending on how many people you have, you can either take a plane from Ciudad Bolivar (as I did) or Puerto Ordaz.
Your best is to book a tour of 3-4 days, with flights, boat transportation, and everything else included although prices have been skyrocketing in the past years.
|Measures:||979 metres (3,212 feet)|
|Closest locations:||Ciudad Bolivar or Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela|
|When to go:||July–October|
Waterfalls in Ecuador
Carley from Home to Havana visited Molinuco regularly.
Located in the little-visited Valle de Los Chillos just outside of Quito, Molinuco isn’t one of Ecuador’s most famous waterfalls, but it’s perfect for an exciting and unique day trip outside of Quito for travelers looking to get off the beaten path.
Molinuco is a nature reserve complex containing a series of waterfalls along the Rio Pita, each better than the next. Visitors can choose from several hikes along different sections of the river to multiple waterfalls. The path is relatively well maintained through the lush forest, and includes railings and steps when necessary. Whichever hiking trails you choose, make sure to visit the Gran Cascada, by far the biggest and most impressive in the natural reserve.
The entrance fee for visitors is $2, and admission gains you access to the entire complex and the trails to several waterfalls for the entire day. Van lifers and overlanders can also spend the night tent camping or boondocking within the complex.
To get to Molinuco, you can take a bus headed to Loreto in the Valle de Los Chillos from the Playón de la Marín bus terminal in Quito near the Historic Center. The journey should take about an hour to an hour and a half. From the small town of Loreto, get a pickup truck or regular taxi to take you to the complex’s entrance, which takes just a few minutes and should cost about $5 or so. Alternatively, take a bus from Quito’s terminal to Sangolqui, then hire a taxi to bring you the rest of the way.
|Measures:||5 metres (16.4 feet)|
|Closest location:||Quito, Ecuador|
|When to go:||Best avoid the rainy season in October–May|
Visit nearby: Our favourite cultural things to do in Quito
Pailón del Diablo
We visited Pailón del Diablo in June.
Between the towns of Baños and Puyo stretches the road that is modestly called the “Waterfall route” of Ecuador. There are over a dozen waterfalls along the road. A few of them earned both fame and a visitor platform around them.
The most famous of them all is the 80-meter tall Pailón del Diablo (“Devil’s Cauldron”), the third stop along the “Waterfall route”. It’s set in a very pretty and thick forest and surrounded by the charismatic rock formations of the river Pastaza. Although it’s heavily visited, it retains a sense of wild beauty thanks to these natural features.
Several paths allow different angles on the waterfall. One of them even goes behind the water –you’ll have to crouch through a narrow cave– so make sure you wear waterproof clothes. A suspension bridge crosses the river and gives the most encompassing view on that beauty and the green river that births it. All around, the rock formations look fascinating, as if the stones had been folded by some divine hand.
To visit this majestic waterfall you can either take a bus towards Puyo from the town of Baños, which lasts 40 mins, or rent a bike and burn calories. Just regain them by stopping at one of the melcocha shops along the road, which make on the spot this traditional sweet from Baños.
|Measures:||80 metres (262 feet)|
|Closest location:||Baños, Ecuador|
|When to go:||All year round (although avoid tourist season)|
Keep planning: Check out our backpacking guide to Ecuador
Waterfalls in Peru
Dan & George from Backpacking Latin America visited Yumbilla.
Located in the north of Peru, Yumbilla Falls is relatively unheard of. Only discovered within the last few decades, it’s actually the 5th tallest waterfall in the world, standing at a height of 895.5 m.
It’s located close to the city of Chachapoyas, and getting there is somewhat of a task. You’ll first need to take a bus to the town of Pedro Ruiz, and then a mototaxi to the remote mountainous village of Cuispes (2/3 hours travel time in total).
After paying the entrance fee (10 Soles), you’ll then walk for around 45 minutes before reaching the falls, which really is an adventure in itself! Along the way, you’ll feel lost in the jungle, passing exotic flora and canyon miradores along the way. After passing a few smaller falls, you’ll begin to hear the roar of Yumbilla.
This is our absolute favorite waterfall in Peru, given that there are two different drops to see. The lower one you’ll be standing above, where you’ll see the water disappear into the jungle foliage below. The second drop lands right next to you, and you can get really close to it too!
When making the day trip to Yumbilla from Chachapoyas, be sure to leave early in the morning (6:00 am is best). This is because the region that Yumbilla sits in begins to have stormy weather and thunderstorms around 3:00 pm. And trust me, it’s not a fun experience driving back through it in a mototaxi!
|Measures:||896 metres (2939 feet)|
|Closest location:||Chachapoyas, Peru|
|When to go:||May–June|
We visited Gocta falls in May.
Very close to the Yumbilla Falls and the Peruvian city of Chachapoyas, the Gocta waterfalls had to make it to this list. They are simply among the tallest free-leaping waterfalls in the world with 771 metres, divided in two sister falls. Because of its altitude, clouds occasionally cover the waterfall, giving it a misty and mystical look.
The circle hike to see them both takes several hours (at least 8 hours), through a forest on a steep slope. But even the view of the lowest (and more accessible) of the two falls makes up for an early rise and a bumpy ride on a minibus from Chachapoyas. The beauty of Gocta lies in the mix of different landscapes: Mediterranean-like scented bushy slopes, jungle forest, and also tranquil mud paths along fields.
Gocta has been brought to the attention of the world in 2005 by the otherwise unknown German researcher Stefan Ziemendorff. It enjoys since then a notoriety among national & international nature lovers. Even though, there weren’t many people visiting when we were there in low season, and I read that it’s never crowded.
Keep reading: The amazing hike to Gocta.
|Measures:||771 metres (2530 feet)|
|Closest location:||Chachapoyas, Peru|
|When to go:||May–June|
Lake Humantay and the Salkantay trek
Cynthia & Alexander from Travel your Memories visited Humantay in September.
From Cusco, you can make many beautiful day trips and the hike to Humantay Lake is one of them. This beautiful glacial lake is located 4,200 meters above sea level and is surrounded by huge mountains and glaciers, which gives it a beautiful view. During the summer months in Peru, you see the snow melting creating a waterfall that ends up in the lake.
You start the hike at an altitude of 3,800 meters and walk to an altitude of 4,200 meters. So you have to complete a climb of 400 meters. The path is quite steep and, especially if you have to get used to the altitude a bit, it can be a tough hike.
You can follow a tour as a day trip from Cusco to Humantay Lake, only it is way better to follow the Salkantay trek. The big benefit is that beside Lake Humantay you also visit some other waterfalls and end the last day at sunrise at Machu Picchu.
We did the Salkantay trek ourselves in September and it’s one of the best hikes we ever did in our life. We really recommended doing it because in 5 days you get remote from the hustle of daily life and can enjoy nature at its best.
|Closest location:||Cusco, Peru|
|When to go:||Southern Summer, aka December–February|
Alternative route: The cheapest way to visit Machu Picchu
Megan from Packing up the Pieces visited Perolniyoc in September.
In the Sacred Valley of Peru lies the spectacular, yet little known South America waterfall of Catarata Perolniyoc. What’s amazing about this place is that on top of the falls house the Inca ruins of Raqaypata. These ruins are absolutely free to visit. While many places in Peru can be crowded with tourists, this Inca site has very few visitors and is still a hidden gem.
The easiest way to visit Perolniyoc waterfall is to take an organized tour from Cusco. The tours start in the tiny village of Soqma. While the hike itself is not too complex, it is steep and not extremely well-marked. The trail twists up along the mountainside and offers incredible views of Perolniyoc Waterfall and the valley.
The Inca site isn’t very large, but the fact that they were built on top of a waterfall cliff is absolutely incredible and intriguing. The climb up is most definitely worth it. Remember, it’s best to be properly acclimated before attempting any hike in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Raqaypata Archaeological Park sits at 3,645 meters.
When spending an extended time in the Sacred Valley, it’s easy to reach the village of Pachar on a colectivo from Ollantaytambo or Urubamba. Once you reach Pachar, follow along the road to Soqma. It’s also possible to walk an Old Inca road from Ollantaytambo to reach Pachar.
|Closest location:||Ollantaytambo, Peru|
|When to go:||All year round|
Keep planning: Check out our backpacking guide to Peru
Waterfalls in Brazil
Ribeirão do Meio
Laura from Laura the Explorer visited Ribeirão do Meio in July.
Ribeirão do Meio (which roughly translates to Middle Stream) is a fun waterfall located near the town of Lençóis in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Cascading gently over a large smooth rock face with a series of pools, this waterfall is known as a natural waterslide that’s a lot of fun for kids and big kids (adults) alike.
One of the most popular things to do in the town of Lençóis (gateway to the Chapada Diamantina National Park and a must visit location on a trip to Brazil), the easy trail starts on the south edge of town and takes about 30 minutes to walk each way. Simply pop Trilha do Ribeirão do Meio into Google Maps to find your way to the trail, where there’s also space on the side of the road to leave a car, but note it can get busy at peak times.
Once you reach the falls, it’s easy to spend all afternoon enjoying the natural waterslide and bathing in the pools. Even in July this winter-less tropical location has both the perfect weather and water temperature for swimming. There’s often vendors selling drinks and snacks, but it’s not guaranteed, so come prepared with enough drinking water for a few hours out in the sun.
From Ribeirão do Meio, the trail also continues on to Ribeirão de Cima (Upper Stream) and Sossego Waterfall which can all be combined together into a half day walk.
The trail is free to access and there’s no entrance fee to the falls, but be aware that signage isn’t great so stick to the main trail or ask the locals along the way. Guides and organised tours are available (starting at about R$80 for a group tour) but aren’t necessary.
|Measures:||Less than 10 metres (33 feet)|
|Closest location:||Lençóis, Brazil|
|When to go:||All year round|
Keep reading: Chapada Diamantina is one of our favourite national parks in Brazil
Disha from Disha Discovers visited Iguazu in March.
Iguazu Falls is one of the most stunning natural wonders in the world. Straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, this magnificent waterfall is truly a sight to behold.
What makes Iguazu Falls so special is its sheer size and power. Over 275 individual waterfalls make up Iguazu Falls, and together they are nearly two times the height of Niagara Falls. The thunderous roar of the water as it cascades down into the river below is an unforgettable experience.
To visit Iguazu Falls from Argentina, fly into the local town of Puerto Iguazu. From there, it’s a 25-30 minute bus ride or taxi to the national park where the falls are located. Brazil also has its own airport in the town of Foz do Iguaçu, which is a ten-minute drive to the falls.
Both sides of Iguazu Falls offer unique experiences. The Argentinean side is wider and offers several hiking trails through jungle landscapes. It’s also home to Devil’s Throat—the tallest and most impressive of all the falls.
The Brazilian side of Iguaçu Falls is smaller but offers a more intimate experience with the falls. One of the best ways to see them is by taking a walk along the 1.2-mile-long trail that winds its way along the edge of the gorge. Along the way, you’ll have several different lookout points where you can stop and admire the falls.
The entrance fee for both sides is $18. The main way to get around the park on the Argentina side is via foot and the Jungle Train, which is a small train that runs along a set route. On the Brazilian side, you’ll take a bus from the park entrance to the start of the trail and then walk to the different lookout points.
No matter which side you visit, Iguazu Falls is sure to be a highlight of your trip to South America.
|Measures:||width: 2,700 m (8,860 ft)|
|Closest location:||Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil OR Puerto Iguazú, Argentina|
|When to go:||Dec–Feb when the water volume is at its highest|
Read further: How to visit the Iguazu Falls from Argentina
Waterfall in Chile
Anna from Green Mochila visited Torres del Paine in April.
Salto Grande is a beautiful, turquoise waterfall in Torres del Paine, the most famous national park in Chilean Patagonia. The area is known for its glaciers, rather than for waterfalls, yet Salto Grande is a mesmerising feature in a land of wonders.
The waterfall is at Paine River, between Nordenskjöld Lake and Lake Pehoé, and isn’t part of the usual W trek and O circuit. It can be visited with a tour from Puerto Natales or in your own rented car. Since it’s within the limits of Torres del Paine, the National Park’s entrance fee applies, that is 26,000 CLP / 35 USD for foreigners as of Oct 2022.
To reach the lookout to the waterfall (Mirador Salto Grande), there’s a short hike from the car park. It’s also close to Pudeto, which is a ferry-crossing place through Lake Pehoé to Paine Grande – a location on the W trek/O circuit.
The weather is often hostile in the area, especially in the summer (Jan-Feb), so prepare for fierce wind. The park can be visited all year round, yet the highest volume of water is in Sep-Nov, during the southern winter. However if you want to hike Torres del Paine, consider traveling in the shoulder season (Nov-Dec or Mar-Apr).
|Measures:||15 metres (49 feet)|
|Closest location:||Puerto Natales, Chile|
|When to go:||November–April|
Keep dreaming: O Circuit, Patagonia’s Best Hike in Torres del Paine
Are you as excited about waterfalls as we are?
Tell us about your favourite waterfall in the comments below!