Herein we review estimates of global and regional wetland area from ‘bottom-up’ approaches of site or national wetland inventories and ‘top-down’ approaches from global mapping and remote sensing. The trend for increasing wetland extent reported in the literature over time is a consequence of improved mapping technologies and methods rather than a real increase in wetland area, because a continuing trend for natural wetland loss and conversion is documented over the same time period. The most recent high-resolution estimate of global wetland area is in excess of 12.1106 km2, of which 54% is permanently inundated and 46% is temporarily inundated. Globally, 92.8% of continental wetland area is inland and only 7.2% is coastal. Regionally, the largest wetland areas are in Asia (31.8%), North America (27.1%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (Neotropics; 15.8%), with smaller areas in Europe (12.5%), Africa (9.9%) and Oceania (2.9%). It is likely that estimates of global wetland area published to date persist in underestimating the true wetland area. The ‘grand challenge’ of a global inventory integrating all types of permanent and temporary wetlands at high spatial resolution has yet to be fully achieved.