In 2005, German economist Stefan Ziemendorff, who was working on a wastewater project in the Amazonas province of Peru, took a break from his work to go for a hike in Peru’s Utcabamba valley in search of one of the region’s abundant pre-Incan ruins. When he crossed into a blind ravine, he spied something unexpected: a towering, two-tiered waterfall in the distance that hadn’t appeared on any map.
The following March, after he had returned to the site with measuring equipment, Ziemendorff held a press conference to declare to the public that he had discovered the third-tallest waterfall in the world. The two tiers combined, the water plummets 2,531 feet, the height of well over two Eiffel Towers.
Of course, Ziemendorff’s “discovery” wasn’t actually a discovery at all. The residents of Cocachimba had known about the waterfall since the 1950s. Their town was located practically right beneath it. They knew it as “Gocta,” after the sound made by howler monkeys in the region. But they had mostly avoided the towering waterfall due to superstitions surrounding it. The natural wonder simply blended into the background of their daily life.
The pronouncement that Gocta was the third-largest waterfall in the world was met with controversy. Depending on your measurement (Do the multiple tiers count as one waterfall? Where does the waterfall begin, since it is mostly on a slope?), the falls could be anywhere from the third to the sixteenth largest in the world.
No one is doubting the impressive majesty of Gocta Falls though. The spike in international interest has benefited Cocachimba as well, which now plays host to the many tourists who come to witness the falls.