10 Of The World’s Most Breathtaking Waterfalls

waterfalls One reason many people love to travel is to see some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. Furthermore, one element in nature that travelers can’t seem to get enough of is waterfalls.

From South Africa to Asia to Europe and everywhere in between, you’ll be able to find beautiful and unique waterfalls in all shapes and sizes. There are blood-red waterfalls in Antarctica, glacially formed falls in Iceland and waterfalls that flow from 3,212 feet high in Venezuela, to name a few.

To see some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls, check out the gallery below.

[image via Paleopod]

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Vagabond Tales: Standing inside the Devil’s Throat

Eleanor Roosevelt and I have one thing in common: We both have stood inside of the Devil’s Throat.

Yes, those words came out right, and no, I haven’t been drinking.

Far less cult-like than it originally sounds, La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat) comprises the most dramatic section of Iguazu Falls, a humbling series of waterfalls spanning the border of Argentina and Brazil.

Recently voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Iguazu Falls was actually able to render me speechless. Not in that clichéd “I’m a travel writer so I should say ‘speechless,'” type of way but in the sense that I went into a zone, tuned out the world, and literally refrained from speaking for a solid one to two minutes.

As I mentioned here on Gadling while hiking in Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest, I believe that waterfalls, in their innate ability to entrance us humans, are akin to being “nature’s televisions.” If this reasoning holds true, then Iguazu Falls is nature’s IMAX theater.

Mrs. Roosevelt, however, was not rendered speechless by Iguazu Falls. Stoically staving off the instinct to mentally glaze over, she instead uttered a one-liner, which has been the foundation for Iguazu marketing campaigns for decades:

“Poor Niagara!”

That’s it. Poor Niagara. And really, what else needs to be said?

Iguazu Falls is so powerful in its intensity and so overwhelming in its scope that it arguably trumps any other waterfall complex on the planet. Comprised of 275 separate and distinct walls of water, which average 210 feet in height, at one point you can stand within the Iguazu Falls amphitheater and be surround by 260 degrees of waterfalls.

Sure, there are jet boat trips to the base of the waterfalls, swimming in roped off, calmer sections and photo opportunities at every conceivable overlook, but nothing in Iguazu Falls compares with walking out onto the metal gangplank and standing in the heart of the Devil’s Throat.

When planning a visit to Iguazu Falls, nearly everyone you meet will tell you to visit the Devil’s Throat last — logistically sound advice since visiting in the morning hours will leave you staring into the sun, however, the main reasoning for doing so follows the train of thought of saving the best for last.

An explosive crescendo, if you will, and what a crescendo it is.

Even the process of getting to the Devil’s Throat is an exotic adventure. First off, you have to get on the Ecological Jungle Train, which winds its way through dense forest teeming with crocodiles, panthers and fiery-billed toucans. Will you see any of these from your perch on the train? No. But the fact that they’re out there is exciting enough for me.

After departing the jungle train the next move is to walk out onto a metal gangplank, which slinks its way over the rushing, upper Iguazu River. It is one of those grated metal walkways where you can see right through the bottom; the proximity of the river to the bottom of your feet gives a sensation of literally walking over water.

Finally, at the terminus of the walkway, after crossing the expansive stretch of river, a viewing platform precariously peers into the depths of the Devil’s Throat.

A U-shaped chasm in the Earth, 492 feet long and 262 feet high, the water of the Iguazu River rushes with such ferocity into the “throat” that it’s impossible to see the bottom through the cloud of mist and foam. Staring down into the shifting white abyss, it becomes apparent that this is where water droplets come to die.

Peering out over the crowded platform, I am casually approached by a traveler from Peru visiting the falls with his family.

“You can tocame un fóto?” he inquires, nervously blending languages in his timid request.

Por supuesto,” I agree as he hands me his oversized Nikon.

Backing up against the railing and motioning for his family to join him, I notice tears, like the falling waters beneath, begin to stream down the contours of his young daughter’s face.

This is because standing with your back to the Devil’s Throat isn’t fun. In fact, it’s terrifying. Even my wife in a wave of anxiety was only able to sneak a fleeting peek over the cliffhanging ledge.

To be fair, the construction of the platform is modern and sound, and I have zero doubts about its structural integrity. Nevertheless, there’s something about toeing the edge of a gaping cleft in the planet, which is aflame with the fury of nature that raises certain emotions in even the hardiest of travelers.

From the edge of the throat you cannot only watch rainbows emerge from the mists, but also feel the upward rush of wind in your hair. Cast your thoughts deep within the turbid foam as useless voices in your head are silenced by the sound of incessant thunder. Lazily watching a stick floating at the cusp of the river, you wonder if it has any idea of what’s in store. As many of us do while standing atop a waterfall of grandeur, you momentarily imagine what it would be like to be that stick.

Placidly floating, peacefully drifting and then, suddenly, this…

Want more stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” here

New Seven Wonders of Natural World revealed amidst controversy

The Amazon is one of the new seven wonders of the natural worldAfter four years of hype and fanfare, the new seven wonders of the natural world were unveiled last Friday, honoring some of the most amazing landscapes on the planet. But as the competition drew to a close, dark clouds of controversy formed, casting a shadow over the entire affair.

The selection process for the new seven wonders began back in 2007, when 440 natural wonders, from 220 countries, were first submitted for consideration. Over the course of several rounds of voting and judging, that number was eventually reduced to 28 finalist. The seven winners were selected from that list following months of online voting.

According to the preliminary results, the new seven wonders include the following: the Amazon Rainforest (South America); Halong Bay (Vietnam); Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Jeju Island (South Korea); Komodo National Park (Indonesia); Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (Philippines) and Table Mountain (South Africa).

The organizers behind the new seven wonders are quick to note that this list is for the provisional winners, as they are currently conducting a recount of the votes to ensure that the correct wonders have been named. The results are now being independently verified and they expect to confirm the winners in early 2012.

On the eve of the announcement of those winners, disturbing stories began to emerge about how organizers were attempting to collect millions of dollars from the nations that were home to the finalists. When the search for the new wonders first began more than four years ago, countries were required to pay a $199 entry fee, but as the selection process narrowed the candidates, some countries were asked to pay large sums of cash to aid in a world-wide marketing campaign. The Indonesian government claimed, for example, that the organizers wanted $10 million to cover licensing fees and an additional $47 million to host the official closing ceremony. Earlier, the Maldives withdrew from the competition altogether when costs to participate spiraled upwards towards $500,000.For their part, organizers of the new seven wonders competition say that their branding efforts were optional, and that allegations of charging exorbitant prices are completely “baseless.” They also refused to discuss exactly how much individual countries were charged for taking part in the branding campaign, but did acknowledge that the fees varied by nation.

Considering that the entire “new seven” idea was the brainchild of an international marketing firm, it should come as no surprise that it was seen as a way to make some money. Critics have pointed out however, that the firm should have secured financial backing prior to announcing the campaign four years ago, thus avoiding any attempts to seek funds from the countries involved.

Which brings up another issue with the whole competition. Since the organizers also don’t disclose voting numbers, we have to take it on faith that they are reporting the correct winners. After all, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that a country that paid the large fees would receive some kind of preferential treatment over those that bulked at them. I suppose the independent verification system is suppose to keep everything on the up-and-up, but there is no denying that there were some strange decisions made along the way.

Those issues aside, what are your feeling on the list of the new seven wonders of the natural world? Did we end up with some good selections or are there others sites that were more worth of inclusion

Top ten hotel rooms with a view

Hotels aren’t the sum of travel, but the right hotel can bring magic to a journey. Friendly employees, amazing furnishings, and great locations can all make a good holiday great. And an exceptional view, above and beyond the rest, can stick in one’s memory forever. Here are ten hotels strewn around the world, each with ridiculously stunning views.

1. Shearwater Resort, Saba. Shearwater’s Cottage Rooms, which overlook the resort’s cliffside pool from an altitude of 2000 feet and sport views of the ocean and several neighboring islands (St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, and Nevis) are in a league of their own. See above for evidence. Shearwater’s owners also recommend the views from their Ocean View Suite. Cottage Rooms from $175; Ocean View Suite from $250.

2. Longitude 131, Ayers Rock Resort, Australia. The tents at Longitude 131 at Ayers Rock feature heart-stopping panoramic views of this most iconic of Australian sights. This is real fantasy territory, with rates well beyond feasibility for most. From A$4080 for two for two nights ($4095).

3. Hotel on Rivington, New York, New York. The corner king rooms at this Lower East Side outpost of extravagance have floor-to-ceiling glass walls affording astounding views of the city. Aim for a room on a higher floor. From $379.

4. Hotel de Crillon, Paris, France. Terribly exorbitant, yes–not sure that a room at this price point should ever be recommended–but the views are exquisite here. Do you best to nab a room with a view over the Place de la Concorde to the Eiffel Tower. From €630 ($875).

5. Sheraton Iguazú Resort and Spa, Iguazú Falls, Argentina. The only hotel inside the Iguazú National Park offers awe-inspiring views of the falls themselves. The Falls View rooms, all with balconies, are perfect for the view-minded. From $255.

6. Campi ya Kanzi, Mtito Andei, Kenya. Campi ya Kanzi lies in a 400 square-mile are of Maasai-run land in southern Kenya. Mount Kilimanjaro is 35 miles away from the camp site, which consists of six tented cottages and two suites. Suites run $1600 for two; single occupancy $900.

7. The Intercontinental, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Stunning Hong Kong Harbor provides the world one of its most exciting skylines, and a harbourview room at the Intercontinental is one of the best places to glimpse it. From around HK$2600 ($335).

8. The Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff, Alberta, Canada. The most iconic of Canada’s mountain lodges, the Fairmont Banff Springs is in a league of its own as far as picturesque placement is concerned. Many rooms offer extraordinary views as well. Book a valley view room (not a mountain view room) to take full advantage of the Rockies’ scenic majesty. From around C$439 ($437).

9. Explora, Torres del Paine, Chile. Gorgeous if minimalist modernism features here in the wilds of Chilean Patagonia, courtesy of famed Chilean architect Germán del Sol. Views of Macizo del Paine are drop-dead extraordinary. They’re also most definitely not cheap. Four nights will run $5840 for two.

10. La Haut Plantation, St. Lucia. The least expensive of the options here is this reasonable stunner, which has great views of St. Lucia’s famous Pitons. Even the least expensive Standard Garden rooms here boast incredible views of the Pitons. From $120 in low season.

A list like this one is of course necessarily quite subjective, and my evaluation here is designed to suggest and expose more than it is intended to lay down the law. Have a hotel view in mind that you think belongs on this list? Add it in the comments below!

(Images provided by hotels, except for the view from the Sheraton Iguazú Resort and Spa [Flickr / Tran’s World Productions] and view from the Fairmont Banff Springs [Flickr / dbaron]

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World’s longest bike race gets underway on Sunday

As that little bike race in France comes to an end this weekend on the Champs Elysees, an ocean away, another one will begin, as the inaugural Vuelta Sudamericana gets underway from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The “expedition race”, as it is billed, is 134 days in length, making it the longest stage-race in the world.

The Vuelta is brought to us by the same deviously adventurous minds behind the Tour d’Afrique and the recently launched DreamTours, which lets you build your own cycling adventure. The organizers of the race have years of experience handling these types of events, and they allow the riders to focus on the journey while they take care of all the logistics.

While the race does run 134 days in length, only 110 of those are actual riding stages, with 23 rest days and 1 travel day built into the schedule as well. At the moment, 23 riders from all over the planet are set to embark on the ride, which begins on Sunday and will cover nearly 7500 miles, passing through Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru before ending in Quito, Ecuador four months from now. Along the the route they’ll peddle through steamy jungles, across arid deserts, and over mountain passes, climbing as high as 13,780 feet in the Andes.

The riders won’t be at a loss for interesting scenery either. Along the course they’ll pass by Iguazu Falls, Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America, the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth, Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable body of water in the world, and the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. All in all, a fairly great tour of the continent.

Of course, not all of us have four months to go cycling around South America, so the entire ride is also broken down into nine smaller sections allowing cyclists who can’t do the entire distance to join and leave at a variety of points along the way.

To learn more about the Vuelta Sudamericana, check out the official website, where you’ll find updates from the riders starting soon. There is also more info on the route, profiles of the riders, an F.A.Q. and a detailed look at the event. This seems like a great adventure for anyone who is into long distance cycling, and makes the Tour de France seem like a short ride in the countryside.