Natural Wonders of Waterfalls

Discover great waterfalls around the world as finest natural attractions-and in the process learn the history and terrain of the mountains themselves. Here are 4 amazing waterfalls and give you suggestions for further hikes, swimming holes, and some great spots.

Thousand-Foot Falls

Cayo, Belize
Hidden Valley Falls
Height of falls: 1,500 ft

Thousand-Foot Falls

Thousand-Foot Falls is believed to be the   highest waterfall in Central America. The spectacular waterfall plunges in a sheer drop from its granite edge, down the mist- shrouded hillside, to the jungle below. Despite being a major tourist attraction, Thousand- Foot Falls only became a protected area in September 2000, when it was declared a national monument.

The falls are located in the rugged Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, an area of almost 300 square miles (777 square kilometers) in western Belize. From the entrance to the forest reserve follow the main road for 2 miles (3.2 kilometers), then take the turning to the falls. The falls and picnic area are about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) further down this road. It is a moderately difficult hike up to the viewing platform overlooking the falls. There is a short scenic trail around the escarpment which affords views of the valley. Day tours around Mountain Pine Ridge usually include Rio Frio cave, Rio On pools, and either Thousand-Foot Falls or Big Rock. Rio On pools is a series of warm water pools linked by small waterfalls that flow between large granite boulders.

Pulhapanzak Waterfall & Lake Yojoa

Santa Barbara, Honduras
Height of Pulhapanzak waterfall: 140 ft
Area of Lake Yojoa: 14,000 acres
Depth of Lake Yojoa: 50 ft

Pulhapanzak Waterfall

Pulhapanzak waterfall used to be an important Mayan cultural site. Here the Rio Undo crashes down 140 feet (43 meters) into a natural pool, which has become a popular swimming spot. Nearby Lake Yojoa, high in the mountains and surrounded by cloud forest, is the only large lake in Honduras.

Lake Yojoa is also one of the best bird-watching sites in the region; nearly 400 species have been recorded here. The forest comes down to the steep eastern shore, while the marshy habitat of the western shore is ideal for snail kites, herons, storks, and many species of wildfowl. The lake is also an important bass fishing center. Visitors to the Cerro Azul Meambar and Santa Barbara National Park cloud forest reserves that border the lake may see howler monkeys, sloths, toucans, and even the elusive quetzal. Pulhapanzak waterfall is 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of San Pedro Sula. The drive from Santa Barbara gives superb views over the country's mountains, valleys, and coffee plantations.

 Peace Waterfall

Heredia, Costa Rica
Catarata La Paz       
Number of falls: 5       
Height range of waterfalls: 60 ft to 120 ft

Peace Waterfall

Rio La Paz in northern Costa Rica begins its journey in virgin cloud forest at the summit of an active volcano and then tumbles nearly 5,000 feet (1,525 meters) in five miles (eight kilometers), before taking a final dramatic plunge out of dense tropical vegetation in a cascade known as Catarata La Paz, or Peace Waterfall. It is not size that gives La Paz character, though, but its surroundings and accessibility. Bursting out of a wall of impenetrable rainforest with such force that ferns the size of grown men whirl about while thick vines sway side to side, the fall can be seen from a quiet country road close enough to get dusted in mist.

However, Peace Waterfall is only the beginning—behind it lies the richest waterfall area in the country. Until 2001, this area was inaccessible. Now, with the construction of Peace Waterfall Gardens, visitors are offered a rare glimpse of nature's otherwise concealed power. The preserve includes a series of sturdy stairways as well as viewing platforms built into the sides of cliffs which afford vistas above and below of five breathtaking cascades.

 El Nicho Falls

Cienfuegos, Cuba
Cascada de El Nicho
Height of El Nicho Falls: 66 to 110 ft

El Nicho Falls

Although there is no central mountain mass in Cuba, mountainous regions are scattered throughout the island. El Nicho is located in the Sierra de Trinidad mountain range in the central part of the island. The El Nicho area has several waterfalls that are 66 to 115 feet (20 to 35 meters) high. A persistent mist arises from the foaming waters at the base of El Nicho Falls, where water plunges from a height of over 100 feet 130 meters) onto the rocks below. At the El Nicho nature reserve you can swim in the blue pools between the waterfalls, explore the depths of caves, hike in the lush mountains, or watch the exotic and varied wildlife.

With a bit of luck, bird-watchers may spot Cuba's national bird, the spectacular tocororo. The tocororo's distinctive red, blue, and white plumage (the colors of the Cuban flag) makes it relatively easy to find. El Nicho is about 29 miles (46 kilometers) from the city of Cienfuegos and is only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles. This scenic road has breathtaking views across the Sierra del Escambray Mountains. There are well-maintained walkways that lead to the heart of El Nicho Falls.