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


4 Answers 4


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.

  • 2
    +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
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 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."


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. :)


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

  • 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
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 16:20
  • Good call. But as for small, "anonymous" waterfalls, and in my experience, my point stands.
    – deprecated
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 16:33

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