Venezuela’s spectacular Angel falls – an extreme adventure to the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world.
After buying a boat in the US and sailing in the Caribbean down to Venezuela back in 2008, I was lucky enough to squeeze in some travel to the unforgettable Angel Falls. By no means is this wilderness an easy destination, although the memory will remain with you forever…
With Reality safely berthed in a marina in Puerto Cabello, it’s time to start the long travel to the Canaima National Park. With only a sketchy idea on what’s involved to travel to Angel Falls and no itinerary, we’re hoping to book a tour along the way.
Puerto Cabello to Caracas
A little way from the marina in Puerto Cabello, the rustic local bus arrives. The journey to Caracas takes almost three hours.
Expect many undesignated stops along the way for passengers.
Arriving at the busy bus terminal in Caracas, we scout around for overnight buses to Cuidad Bolivar. If you can handle it, an overnighter is a great way to save on a night’s accommodation.
Caracas to Cuidad Bolivar
Taking the dodgy and uncomfortable overnight bus from Caracas to Cuidad Bolivar, you arrive at your destination around 12 hours later, if all goes to plan.
Without time to explore much of Cuidad Bolivar, we do manage to book a 3-day tour for Angel Falls.
Much prefer booking with a local company so that the money stays in the country and hopefully goes to locals. Typically, indigenous guides are used for Angel Falls as their knowledge of the riverways is far more superior.
Cuidad Bolivar to Canaima: Day 1
From Tomás de Heres airport in Ciudad Bolivar, the next travel leg takes just over an hour in a 6-seater worn Cessna to the Aeropuerto Parque Nacional Canaima National Park.
One passenger trembles with fright as the flimsy plane wobbles along the airstrip whilst picking up speed, before finally taking off.
Not wanting to look out of the window for the duration of the flight, the frightened passenger is happy to mask her face tightly between her hands. Such a shame as even through the smoky glass, the aerial vistas across a sliver of south-eastern Venezuela’s 3-million-hectare national park that spreads to the borders of Guyana and Brazil are fabulous.
Flying at this low altitude of around 5000 to 6000 feet provides wonderful unfolding landscapes of the arid Gran Sabana to the lush jungle…
My small compact camera doesn’t do this scenery or the Caroní River’s cascading falls justice. This mighty river flows 952-kilometres from Kukenán-tepui (flat-topped mountain) to its confluence with the River Orinoco.
But the best is yet to come…
Landing in this steamy jungle village, our young local guide meets us at the airport to take us to the basic but clean hostel.
The indigenous Pemón Village of Canaima is the base for all tours and treks to the falls, so spending the first night in this isolated town not reachable by road.
Take a stroll through this sleepy village and you may bump into Pemónes – indigenous locals – stringing together coconut fibres for roofing…
…or gaze at inquisitive vibrant-coloured exotic parrots…
…before heading out to explore around Canaima Lagoon for the afternoon, which is part of the tour.
Striking Canaima Lagoon is surrounded by a series of seven picturesque waterfalls, framed by beautiful beaches, and back-dropped with Tepuis (table-top mountains) – this can easily be a movie scene.
Gliding through the tea-stained calm lagoon waters in a motorised Curiara – dug-out canoe – it’s not long before we hit a choppy wake from the force of the fabulous Ucaima, Guaraima, and Hacha falls.
Soaring flat-topped mountains carved into the landscape through millennia unfold emotive moving horizons…each as breathtaking as the next.
Salto El Sapo (Frog Falls)
Continuing on this remarkable afternoon frolic around sublime waterfalls, Sapo is where things get exciting…
An easy 10-minute walk from the river between savanna and jungle, impressive Salto Sapo comes into view. Thinking it’s not possible to get close to Sapo let alone wander behind this curtain of thunderous water, our guide encourages us along.
Eerie darkness surrounds you whilst walking gingerly on slippery worn stones, entering behind the falls’ curtain. The incredible force of the icy spray and water roaring in your face is so loud and strong that you can’t hear yourself scream – totally exhilarating!
It’s a good time to mention that the name Sapo is after the tiny yellow and black poison-arrowed frog named Sapito Minero, which still lives close to the falls – comforting.
Once you emerge from the 40-metre high falls, everyone takes the obligatory photos before heading back into the blackness – there’s only one way back out again…
…an unbelievable afternoon before heading back to the hostel for some much-deserved delectable traditional food.
Canaima to Angel Falls: Day 2
Beyond excited as today is the start of the actual trek to the falls.
Wandering down to the port once more, our guide and boatman are happily waiting.
Settling in on the Curiara’s hard wooden bench-like seat and donning our lifejackets, the motor is cranked and we head up the Río Carrao for the 4 to 5-hour journey.
To miss the rough Los Rápidos de Mayupa, we take a welcomed 20-minute stroll stretching the old legs to the other side…
Continuing to the Pozo de la Felicidad fall for a quick lunch stop and a dip in the icy cold waters, we contine this extraordinary journey along the Rio Churún.
Imposing mountains and soaring cliffs haunt us as we turn every bend of the snakelike river…
…turning into the Rio Kerepakupai Merú for a little while longer in the dugout, our sore backsides welcome our covert campsite finally coming into view after 5 hours. Nestled within the thick selva (jungle), this is home for the night.
The concrete slab, tin roof, no walls, cooks, and helpers wait for several tour groups including ours to arrive.
…our group takes a quick walk to the pebble riverbank just minutes from the campsite to catch a glimpse of the natural splendour that awaits…
Camping in the jungle is never comfortable and always opened to the elements.
At least mosquito nets attached to the 60 hammocks in this campsite deter nasty bites. Only outdoor cold-water showers are provided but in this steamy environment, no one complains.
The crude camp’s kitchen is where magic is created for hungry travellers ready to devour everything in sight. Freshly made golden arepas (corn flour pancakes) and wonderful tasty rice accompanies the tender BBQ chicken. Flasks of good coffee are filled continuously.
The campsite mascot arrives in the evening hoping to feed on left-over goodness.
Last night can only be described as uncomfortable with the annoying sound of hundreds of hungry mozzies (mosquitoes) buzzing around my ears throughout the night.
I don’t find sleeping in a hammock very comfortable, although the distant sound of the falls pounding down to the earth is remarkable.
Mirador Laime – spectacular Angel Falls
After a warming breakfast of pancakes and freshly brewed coffee, our group starts the greatly anticipated 90-minute trek to the first and most popular lookout at the foot of Angel Falls: Mirador Laime, named after the first explorer to cut the trail to the top.
Clambering up boulders and over the jungle’s slippery relentless tangled roots, whilst grabbing at tree trunks isn’t easy…
…but manage to trek up the 400-metres without breaking anything to arrive at the base of the majestic falls for a sensational taste.
It’s not often that I’m lost for words. But, this surreal and otherworldly natural phenomena forces you into a state of awe and silence.
Angel Falls in English. Salto Ángel in Spanish. In the Pemón language, it’s Kerepakupai Meru – “waterfall of the deepest place” or Parakupá Vená – “the fall from the highest point”. Regardless of name or meaning, it’s mesmerising!
Nothing can prepare you for the thunderous noise of the falls spilling over ancient Auyantepui’s (Devil’s Mountain) carved vertical cliff, crashing down 979 metres into the Cañon del Diablo. During the wet season, the drop turns into 1,015-metres high – more than one kilometre. Hard to fathom?
Our great indigenous guide wants to provide an even more memorable experience so we trek another 450-metres for a higher vantage point. Sadly, I don’t remember our guide’s name and think the second mirador is named the ‘Japanese Lookout’ – can anyone confirm this for me?
Today, Channel 9’s Getaway Travel Show is also filming a documentary for the folks back home in Australia. Although this video was available up until a few years ago, it’s now removed.
This brief video provides a snippet of the extraordinary experience, should you wish to indulge in this adventure…
…that just keeps unveiling fantastic panoramas.
Partly shrouded, plummeting deep into the lush green forest below, towering Angel Falls is mind-blowing.
Leaving base camp for Canaima: Day 3
Another early start sees us packing up our few belongings for the trip out of this magical dreamlike wilderness.
Raider’s of the Lost Ark comes to mind whilst travelling once more down the Río Carrao absorbing dramatic surrounding panorama’s of this breathtaking ‘lost world’, which also inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his novel with the similar title.
Another quick stroll across the expansive sun-drenched Gran Sabana before waiting for the canoe with our gear, to continue down the Río Carrao from Los Rápidos de Mayupa.
After several hours on the river, we arrive back at the tranquil lagoon. A glorious dusk ends an unbelievable journey to the extreme destination of Angel Falls. Everyone should make the effort to visit the falls in their lifetime!