First discovered by French bio-speleologist Henri Coiffait in 1952, the Baatara Gorge Waterfall’s primary claim to fame is that it is almost entirely underground, falling into a stunning chasm in the earth in the mountainous Lebanese municipality of Tannourine. The waterfall descends more than 837 feet into a vertical drain of Jurassic limestone on Mount Lebanon. While partially obscured from view by a steep valley of cedar trees and rugged crags of rock, this waterfall became one of the most picturesque in the world after its secret was uncovered. Brave visitors clamber across cliff tops to climb into this magnificent chamber of cavernous walls of limestone strata, eroded over thousands of years by the falling water. Once inside, take a glimpse down if you dare, to view the three natural stone bridges that defy gravity to criss-cross the hole. These geological oddities will not be around forever though, with harsh winters continuously damaging their streamlined arches. In the spring the stone bridges are even drenched in a continuous ribbon of water, an incredible spectacle illuminated by the rays of a late Levantine sunset.
Once the waterfall reaches the ground its path is far less certain, disappearing into underground aquifers and streams that seep through the porous layers of bedrock. Pot holers from the Speleo Club du Liban, one of the oldest caving organisations in the Middle East, explored the extent of these hidden streams in 1962, descending more than 656 feet into the depths of the caves before discovering a huge underground lake. A few decades later, a study in 1988 stained some of the water of the Baatara Gorge falls with a harmless flourescent dye in order to track its progress, finally uncovering the fact that much of it ends up at the potable spring of Dalleh in Mgharet al-Ghaouaghir, meaning this waterfall supplies much of the surrounding area with fresh drinking water.
The best time to view this waterfall is in March and April, when the snows of the West Mountains melt, providing plentiful streams of cool water. At other periods of the year the waterfall is liable to run dry, unless rainstorms move inland to fill the rivers. Travel to the Baatara Gorge from the Lebanese capital Beirut takes around two hours, though from Batroun, the closest major city, you can make the journey in half that time. The drive up through the foot-hills, surrounded by green Cedar trees, olive groves and vineyards, can be particularly enchanting in the summer.