When Portuguese sailors first caught sight of Taiwan in the 1540s, they were so struck by the island's scenery that they called it Ilha Formosa—"Beautiful Island." Of course, the lush, topographic landscape of Taiwan was already well-known to its aboriginal residents, the oldest of whose cultures go back as far as 30,000 to 40,000 years.
Though a hodgepodge of cultures and traditions have exerted their influence on Taiwan throughout the centuries to create its unique culinary scene, architectural history and street culture, Taiwan's natural beauty remains in a class of its own. Studded with eight National Parks, 18 National Forest Recreation Areas and 14 national scenic areas, there's no shortage of natural wonder in Taiwan. And one of Taiwan's most stunning natural features? Its waterfalls.
Taiwan's climate and geography have made it ideal for the formation of these cascading streams. The country has a mix of subtropical and tropical climates, and Taiwan's seasonal monsoons dump an average of 98 inches of rain a year on the island. The country also lies on a complex convergent plate boundary that created a mountainous, heavily forested terrain in the east. Together, these elements create a saturated, craggy landscape with plenty of space for waterfalls.
From one of the largest in East Asia to a waterfall that appears to drip gold, here are seven of Taiwan's can't-miss falls:
The Shifen Waterfall is notable for its great girth. Weighing in as Taiwan's widest waterfall, Shifen, located in Pingxi District along the Keelung River, has a height of around 66 feet and a width that almost doubles that. Its appearance might be somewhat familiar for Western audiences—it gets its nickname, "Taiwan's Niagara Falls," from the famous waterfall that straddles the America-Canada border.
The waterfall resembles its North American cousin because its cascading waters hit against rocks that push against the water in the opposite direction. While Shifen might not be as much of a household name as Niagara, it is the most popular sight along the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail, which has become famous in its own right. The Keelung River, which collects more than 236 inches of rain a year, feeds the stunning falls.
"Niagara" isn't Shifen's only nickname, reports GuidetoTaipei.com—it's also called the "Rainbow Pond." That name becomes obvious upon viewing. The constant crash of water into the lake creates a mist that forms an almost ever-present ROY G. BIV dream.
Bring a flashlight for this waterfall. The trail to the Baiyang Waterfall in Taroko Gorge begins in an unlit tunnel carved into the side of the mountain.
Though the walk might start out as unsettling, it soon transforms into a picturesque and scenic trek. Six tunnels in total have to be passed on the way to the Baiyang Waterfall, which holds court with two drops from a 650-foot high cliff.
One of the best ways to view the waterfall is on the Baiyang Suspension Bridge, notes Taiwan's tourism department. But be sure to continue just a little farther down the trail after checking out the Baiyang Waterfall. There, you'll find one last tunnel that's worth the look. The seventh tunnel is a manmade one with a water curtain of groundwater that streams through the roof of the rock—an inspiring view in its own right.
The Wufengchi Waterfall is a three-layered standout in the picturesque mountains of Yilan County. While the smallest drop is about 30 feet high, the second layer drops at almost 100 feet and, for the intrepid hiker, the last drop is 330 feet in the air. At the bottom of the waterfall is a pond that travelers can swim in themselves.
The waterfall is located just ten miles from the famed Jiaoshi hot springs, and is also an easy day trip from Taipei. One of the best ways to take in a view of the waterfall? Enjoy a panoramic view inside the Wufeng Pavilion located at the middle layer of Wufengchi.
Jiao Lung Waterfall
The Jiao Lung Waterfall, located in Chiayi County, is not just the highest waterfall in Taiwan, it's also one of the highest in East Asia. But catching a glimpse of the almost 2,000-foot, towering drop isn't an easy endeavor. The waterfall is located in the cliffs near the small, remote town of Fengshan. There's only one road to reach the waterfall, and as Richard Saunders writes for the China Post, a heavy typhoon can flood it, cutting off access to the waterfall for days or even weeks.
Those who do catch a sight of the waterfall's stream after a storm, however, are in for a treat—the sight resembles a "jet of water from clouds," writes the Liberty Times. But for those who visit during the dry, winter season, never fear: The sight of the large bare rock is pretty dazzling all on its own.
"A hiker's grand prize," according to Travel in Taiwan, the Longgong Waterfall is a gem on the two-mile Zhukeng Stream Trail in the Alishan North. The almost 400-foot "hanging valley waterfall" creates the illusion that the water hangs in the air before it drops down into the pool below.
To get to the waterfall, follow the main trail for about a mile before turning off onto a side trail. The path leads to an overhang called the "Water Curtain Cave" near the top of the waterfall, which offers the best view of Longgong as well as the waterfall tucked underneath it, Leiyin.
While the waterfalls dump water on the same cliff, they each have their own pools, creating a rare phenomenon—double waterfall pools. "It is the only place in Taiwan with such unique scenery," notes the Cultural and Tourism Bureau of Chiayi County.
The Wulai Waterfall gets its name from the area's aboriginal residents, the Atayal people. In Atayal language, Wulai means "boiling water"—a fitting name seeing as the mountain district's hot springs remain famous today.
Located in Southern New Taipei City, the 80-mile high waterfall is said to be "magnificent like a white silk cloth coming down from the sky," writes the Taiwan tourism bureau. To get there, one can take a train to its base, walk along the path beside the rails or even take a gondola trip to the top.
Have you ever seen a waterfall that's made of precious metals? Well, the Golden Waterfall might be as close as you'll ever get. The waterfall gets its unusual, slightly yellow tinge from copper and iron deposits in the ground, as well as heavy rainfall in Jinguashi's old mines, explains RoundTaiwanRound. The rocks also are chemically altered by the minerals, and have turned their own golden hue.
While the glinting fall is great to look at, don't touch it. The toxicity level makes it dangerous for human contact. Can't get enough gold? The golden water flows flows to the Yin-Yang Sea, which appears to be yellow and blue.