The African continent is full of superlative natural wonders, from the world’s longest river to its second-largest desert. Africa’s waterfalls are equally impressive, ranging from the Tugela Falls, which some experts claim to be the tallest in the world; to the mighty Victoria Falls, which boasts the largest sheet of falling water on the planet. Here is our pick of the top waterfalls to add to your Africa bucket list.
Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is the most famous waterfall in Africa. At 5,604 feet wide and 354 feet tall, it’s the world’s largest sheet of falling water. The spray thrown up by the plunging waters of the Zambezi River can be seen from 30 miles away, giving it its local name, Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders). Victoria Falls is most impressive during the flood season (from February to May) when more than 500 million liters of water plummet over its lip every minute. You can admire this majestic spectacle from viewpoints in Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwean side, or Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side. Two-thirds of the falls are visible from Zimbabwe, while Zambia offers the once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim in a natural pool on the edge of the falls known as Devil’s Pool.
Lumangwe Falls, Zambia
Another classic block-type waterfall, Lumangwe Falls so closely resembles Victoria Falls that it is often confused with the world-famous falls. It is the largest waterfall found wholly within Zambia, with a height of 115 feet and a width of 328 feet. Here, the Kalungwishi River falls in a wide veil, creating spray that rises some 328 feet in the air and sustains a small rainforest on the neighboring river banks. The waterfall is named for the Great Snake Spirit, Lumangwe, which local legend says stretches between the falls at Lumangwe and Kabweluma; and is most powerful at the end of the rainy season in April and May. To reach the falls, take the signposted detour off the main road from Kawambwa to Mporokoso. There are viewpoints at the summit and on the opposite bank, and a campsite for those that wish to spend the night there.
Blue Nile Falls, Ethiopia
The Blue Nile Falls are found on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia, approximately 19 miles downstream from Lake Tana. Curtains of mist and shimmering rainbows give the waterfall its Amharic name (Tis Abay, or the Great Smoke). It stands some 170 feet tall, and sees the confluence of four streams that originally combined to create a width of 1,312 feet during the rainy season. Nowadays, much of the waterfall’s power is harnessed by a hydro-electric station built in 2003; but it’s still an impressive sight in the peak flood months of August and September. Two different hiking routes provide access to the falls. The first takes you across a 17th-century stone bridge (the first in Ethiopia) to admire the main waterfall viewpoints on the opposite side of the river; while the second includes a short boat trip across the river to the base of the falls.
Murchison Falls, Uganda
As the focal point of Murchison Falls National Park (one of Uganda’s most popular wildlife-viewing destinations), Murchison Falls is also situated on the Blue Nile (although the river is known as the Victoria Nile in Uganda). Here, the river forces itself through a narrow gorge that measures just 23 feet in width, then falls 141 feet into the Devil’s Cauldron. Shrouded in mist and adorned with a permanent rainbow, the waterfall sees close to 187 million liters of water flowing over its precipice each minute. The best way to get a close-up view is to embark on a launch trip upriver from the village of Paraa, which will take you to the base of the falls. En route, keep an eye out for the park’s abundant wildlife, including elephant, buffalo, lion, and the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. Shoebill storks are a particular specialty of Murchison Falls National Park.
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. Some sources claim that it may even surpass Venezuela’s Angel Falls to be the world’s tallest waterfall, based on alleged discrepancies in the measurements of both waterfalls. Either way, it is a spectacular sight, plunging in a plume of froth from the top of The Amphitheatre escarpment—the most recognizable natural feature in KwaZulu-Natal’s magnificent Royal Natal National Park. The source of the Tugela River is Mont-Aux-Sources, one of the highest peaks in the Drakensberg mountains. For a closer view, take the challenging Sentinel trail to the top of the escarpment, or opt for an easier hike through the Tugela Gorge to the foot of the falls.
Kalandula Falls, Angola
Known as the Duque de Bragança Falls until independence in 1975, Kalandula Falls is one of Angola’s best-known natural features. It is situated on the Lucala River in Malanje Province, and at 344 feet in height and 1,300 feet in width, is one of the largest waterfalls by volume on the continent. Similar in appearance to its larger sister, Victoria Falls, it is a horseshoe-shaped waterfall on the edge of a dense forest, with many separate cataracts and plumes of spray thrown up by the plummeting water. It is most impressive towards the end of the rainy season (from February to April), and visitors are allowed to swim in the pool at the bottom. Kalandula Falls is 10 minutes by taxi from Calandula village, and roughly five hours from Luanda. Book a stay at Pousada Calandula hotel at the top of the falls for a chance to see them at sunrise and sunset.
Ouzoud Falls, Morocco
Although first-time visitors to Morocco may not associate the Saharan country with abundant water, there are many oases of lush greenery to be found in the north. The Middle Atlas mountains are home to Ouzoud Falls, a spectacular collection of waterfalls that tumble together into the El-Abid River. The falls are named for the Berber word meaning “the act of grinding grain;" a reference to the small mills located at the top of the falls, several of which are still in working order today. Ouzoud Falls is a popular tourist destination and has all the infrastructure to go with it. You can take a boat tour to the swimming pool at the base of the falls, or eat at one of the restaurants located along the waterfall footpath. The olive groves that surround Ouzoud are home to troops of wild Barbary macaques, an endangered monkey species of monkey.
Maletsunyane Falls, Lesotho
In terms of sheer beauty, it is difficult to imagine a more perfect waterfall than Maletsunyane Falls. Located near the town of Semonkong (a name that translates as The Place of Smoke) in Lesotho, the waterfall sees the Maletsunyane River plunge in an unbroken cascade over a 630-foot precipice located at the point of a natural V in the rolling green cliffs above. It is one of the highest single-dropping falls in Africa, and the subject of many local legends including one that claims that the echo caused by the sound of plunging water is actually the wailing of souls that have drowned in the falls. Semonkong Lodge offers pony trekking and guided hikes to the falls, as well as an abseil route that descends from the summit and holds the Guinness World Record for the longest commercially operated single-drop abseil in the world.
Wli Falls, Ghana
Known locally as Agumatsa Waterfall, which means "allow me to flow," Wli Falls stands 262 feet high and is the tallest waterfall both in Ghana and in West Africa. Located in the Volta Region, it is made up of upper and lower falls and surrounded by the tropical Agumatsa Wildlife Sanctuary. Choose to visit the lower falls for an easy walk along a relatively flat trail that crosses the river several times or opt for the more strenuous hike to the upper falls to have them all to yourself. There are swimming pools at the bottom of both falls, and the nature reserve is known for its colony of wild fruit bats. Birders should also keep an eye out for more than 200 species of birds. Wli Falls is most impressive from April to October, although those that travel during the peak rainy season may find that the trail to the upper falls is too slippery to navigate safely.
Kalambo Falls, Zambia and Tanzania
Zambia may just be Africa’s land of waterfalls, with no fewer than three falls on this list. Kalambo Falls is located in the Northern Province near Mbala on the Kalambo River. It marks the border between Zambia and Tanzania and falls in a single, uninterrupted stream down a 725-foot drop into the gorge below. As well as being another of Africa’s tallest single-drop waterfalls, Kalambo Falls is a place of considerable archaeological significance. Evidence shows that the area has been inhabited for more than 250,000 years; making it one of the longest examples of human occupation in sub-Saharan Africa and earning it a place on UNESCO’s list of tentative World Heritage Sites. After the falls, the Kalambo River continues on towards the second-largest of the African Great Lakes, Lake Tanganyika.