These Eight Secret Waterfalls Will Make Your Next Vacation Magic
From Hawaii to Mongolia, these hidden delights will live on in your imagination.
Niagara, Iguazu, Victoria Falls: They’re some of the prettiest places in the world, but they’re definitely not secret. And if you don’t time your visit just right, you might end up having to elbow through crowds for the perfect photo op.
Truth is, getting a smaller waterfall all to yourself can be just as big a thrill, especially when you can jump in for a private swim, surrounded by nothing more than jungle thickets, imposing boulders, and the roaring soundtrack of mother nature’s most dramatic work.
Here are eight secret waterfalls worth working into your next vacation.
The 19 Falls in Ecuador’s Cloud Forest
waterfall San Vicente Mashpi Cloud Forest Choco Rainforest Choco Rainforest Ecuador
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There are probably far more than 19 waterfalls in Ecuador’s mist-shrouded cloud forest, set three hours north and west of Quito. But that’s the number of cascades that the guides at Mashpi Lodge, a 22-room eco-resort set on a 3,200-acre natural reserve, have found on their swath of the country’s verdant countryside. A handful are worked into the lodge’s daily hikes—restricted to groups of six—but you should prioritize Magnolia waterfall, which has a so-called “natural jacuzzi.”
The Secret Falls of Sumba Island
Falls on Sumba Island, Indonesia.
Source: Nihi Resorts
To get to these secret falls, you must first figure out where Sumba Island is. (It’s in Indonesia.) Then you have to book into Nihiwatu, one of the world’s most raved-about resorts. (Really, it’s won nearly every accolade possible.) From there, it’s a 45-minute drive through the Wanukaka Valley, on Sumba’s south shore, and then a 90-minute hike to the main event: a cascade, framed by 300-meter cliffs, whose water crashes into a swimmable blue lagoon.
Jurassic Falls, Kauai, Hawaii
Manawaiopuna Falls gathered fame as the “Jurassic Falls.”
Photographer: Ignacio Palacios/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images
What’s in a name? A mouthful, if you go by the official one for “Jurassic Falls,” Manawaiopuna. To make things easier, it’s been nicknamed after the famous Steven Spielberg film that made the falls famous. Until recently, though, Jurassic Falls were totally inaccessible, thanks to their location deep in the interior of Hawaii’s Kauai. Now you can get there with the help of Island Helicopters, which will fly you to the base of the 400-foot falls and take you on a short hike for the best views. (Pro tip: Stay at the St. Regis Princeville Resort and let the concierge coordinate your adventure.)
Orkhon Waterfalls, Mongolia
Ovorkhangai, Orkkhon Valley, Mongolia.
Photographer: Nick Ledger/Getty Images/AWL Images RM
You don’t exactly think about waterfalls when you’re horseback riding through the steppes of Mongolia. They’re even more surprising come winter, when Mongolia turns into a frozen wonderland and the 20-foot-tall Orkhon Falls freeze over. But that’s what makes them so intriguing. Go with the help of Nomadic Expeditions, which works in stops at Orkhon on its 14-day Adventure Mongolia trips.
Bali’s “In the Know” Falls
Sekumpul Waterfalls in Bali, Indonesia.
Photographer: kapulya/Getty Images/iStockphoto
The InterContinental Bali Resort is surrounded by so many undiscovered cascades that its staffers put a list together as part of an insider guide called “In the Know.” Finding them can mean going on a rigorous hike or taking a breezy nature walk, so the concierge is trained to pair travelers with the right guides and waterfall excursions to fit their abilities and interests.
The Machu Picchu Falls
Falls near Machu Picchu in Peru.
As if Machu Picchu weren’t already shrouded with mystery, the area immediately surrounding it is home to two little-known waterfalls. First is an unnamed cascade at the end of a walking trail on the grounds of the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, in Aguas Calientes; guides lead meditative twilight walks to the falls and point out pre-Inca petroglyphs along the way. Then there are the secluded Mandor falls, midway between the hotel and Machu Picchu. It’ll take a half-day to hike there, but the trail is home to speckled-faced parrots and green jays, and Inkaterra’s guides will gladly lead the way.
Hellemobotn Falls, Norway
Falls in a Scandanavian birch forest in Tysfjorden, Hellemobotn, Norway.
Photographer: Ralph Lee Hopkins
The most famous falls get their cred from towering heights; this one, in Norway’s far north, stands out for being practically horizontal. Guides from Lindblad Expeditions long admired them, having spotted the splashing water from afar, but they never knew exactly how to see them up close. This summer, a group discovered steep trails leading straight to the source. See them for yourself on the company’s Norway’s Fjords and Arctic Svalbard expedition.
The Picnic Waterfall, Thailand
Falls on Koh Kood, Thailand.
Source: Soneva Kiri
Dining under a waterfall can be a risky endeavor. (Just see what it’s like at this spot in the Philippines.) But Soneva Kiri, a luxe resort on Thailand’s least populated island, Koh Kood, turns it into the ultimate date night. Guests can ask the concierge to set up a “destination meal” for two at the base of a small cascade, where the mist spray isn’t substantial enough to ruin your Penang curry.