Spanish Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Spanish language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What is the difference between cascada and catarata as translations for the English "waterfall"? Are they synonyms, or is there a difference?

share|improve this question
you have the word cataract in English as well. Cataract, a large, powerful waterfall – Elzo Valugi Jan 19 '12 at 9:45
up vote 11 down vote accepted

In some way are synonyms, but catarata is used for big waterfalls. Of course, this is a subjective difference. For a waterfall in a little creek you say cascada for sure, but not catarata. And, for example, the translation of:

Niagara Falls → Cataratas del Niágara

¿Son las cataratas del Niágara cascadas? Sí.

share|improve this answer
+1. Exactly what RAE says. Catarata = cascada o salto grande de agua. So cascada is any waterfall, whereas catarata are big ones (Niagara, Iguazú, Victoria...) – MikMik Jan 18 '12 at 7:01

Catarata refers to a large, rushing MASS of falling water. Cascada refers to a more gentle falling of water, usually broken up into smaller units called "waterfalls."

share|improve this answer

What passes for a waterfall can be classified into many different subtypes, not just casacadas y cataradas.

One doesn’t usually think of a “rapid” as one, but in a way it is. Indeed, Wikipedia mentions that:

Una rápida es una característica hidrológica entre una corrida (una parte fluida de un arroyo) y una cascada.

Don’t confuse corridas de agua with corridas de toros, though. :)

share|improve this answer

Cascada is the prefered form in Spain, and catarata, the one in Latin America.

share|improve this answer
I don't agree. I'm from Spain and I use and hear "catarata" for big waterfalls like "Cataratas de Iguazú", "Cataratas del Niágara" or "Cataratas Victoria". – Javi Mar 7 '12 at 16:20
Good call. But as for small, "anonymous" waterfalls, and in my experience, my point stands. – vemv Mar 7 '12 at 16:33

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.