Swimming Beneath a Tropical Waterfall

Most people have a fairly romantic notion of swimming beneath a waterfall.

I’ve done it. More than once.

You’ve probably never given this much thought but there are different types of waterfalls.

When fantasizing about swimming under a waterfall, most people think about what’s called a free-standing waterfall. That’s where water flows over a sheer cliff edge and goes crashing down to a pool below.

There are even sub-types depending on whether or not the water maintains contact with the vertical face of the cliff on its way down but let’s not complicate things. This isn’t a geology lesson, it’s a story about swimming beneath a waterfall.

Very quickly the other main type, which also has sub-types of its own, is a cascading waterfall. This is where the water flows and falls in multiple steps on its way down.

Allow me to share my admittedly limited experience of swimming beneath two different waterfalls.

Swimming beneath Kilgore Falls in Maryland

Swimming beneath Kilgore Falls in Maryland

The first waterfall I ever swam under is in rural Maryland, somewhat northwest of Baltimore.

This was a free-standing waterfall. Although it’s in a state park, it’s in a relatively remote area and is hard to find so mainly only locals go there.

Maryland can get hot during the summer but I’ve been to this waterfall a half dozen times and can tell you that the water is always frigid. On extremely hot days it’s refreshing but otherwise it’s rather cold for my taste.

This waterfall is roughly the height of a two story building so it’s possible to get right under the water without feeling like you’re going to get pummeled to death. (As I imagine you might be with much larger drops.)

The second waterfall I swam under is on the West Indies island of Tobago. Being just 11° north of the equator, Tobago is decidedly tropical.

Swimming beneath a waterfall in Tobago, West Indies

Swimming beneath a waterfall in Tobago, West Indies

I was determined enough to take my daughter swimming under this tropical waterfall that even though I was recovering from a severely broken leg, I hiked more than a mile into the rainforest (with the aid of a walking stick) to reach it.

This waterfall was of the cascading variety so, to be fair, we only swam in the pool below and not actually under the waterfall itself. We both swam right up to where the water drops into the pool and let it wash over us but it’s not really possible to swim “under” a cascading type waterfall.

To our great surprise, the water beneath this tropical waterfall was… decidedly frigid!

It felt pretty much exactly like the waterfall in Maryland.

Are all waterfalls this cold? I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to find and swim under more to find out.

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