Canaima and Angel Falls

Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, is one of the most unspoilt places on earth. At over 3 million ha, it is the second largest national park in Venezuela, the 6th largest on the planet. It is a world apart, with its fantastic table mountains, waterfalls which include the world's highest (Angel Falls), caves, deep forests and indigenous cultures.

At Canaima camp, the Río Carrao tumbles spectacularly over Ucaima, Golondrina and Hacha Falls into the lagoon, which has beautiful tannin-stained water with soft beige beaches. It's a lovely spot, but it also has the air strip and is the centre of operations for river trips to indigenous areas and to Angel Falls. The Falls are named after Jimmie Angel, the US airman who first reported their existence in 1935. Two years later he returned and crash landed his plane, the
Río Caroní
, on top of Auyán Tepuy. The site is marked with a plaque. The sheer rock face was climbed in 1971 by three Americans and an Englishman, David Nott, who recounted the 10-day adventure in his book
Angels Four
(Prentice-Hall).

There is a famous `tunnel' between Sapo and Sapito Falls (where Río Carrao passes behind Isla Anatoliy), where one can walk behind the huge waterfall - a must for any visitor. It is essential to be accompanied by guide. The easiest way is to get there is from Tomás Bernal Camp on Isla Anatoliy (5 minutes boat ride from Canaima Camp). It's a 25-minute walk from there. Plastic raincoats are usually provided by the guide, or wear a swim suit. Wrap your camera and other belongings in a plastic bag. No matter what, you will get completely soaked in the middle of the tunnel. The path behind the waterfall is extremely slippery and should be taken only by the reasonably fit. Wrap your hand in an extra plastic bag, otherwise it will be cut by the rough rope. When taking photos from behind the wall of water, experiment with camera speeds for the best effects.

Warning
 There is one more, invisible, waterfall on Canaima Lagoon, at the opposite end from Canaima Camp. It is called Salto Ara. The lagoon is a terrace and at Salto Ara all the water goes down one step. It is invisible from the surface, the only indicator is foam rising as if from nowhere. This fall is extremely dangerous: do not swim or take a boat near it. This is where Tomás Bernal, the Peruvian discoverer of the above tunnel, lost his life in 1998 after the engine of his boat broke down. He is buried on Isla Anatoliy.

Canaima

There are several tourist lodges at Canaima and some package tours now visit on day trips. For good information on the region, see
www.thelostworld.org
. Do not forget swimwear, insect repellent and sun cream; waterproof clothing may be advisable. Do not walk barefoot as there are chiggers, or
niguas
, in the lagoon's sand beaches.

Trips to the Angel Falls

The Angel Falls, the highest in the world (979 m - its longest single drop is 807 m), 70 km downriver from Canaima, are best reached by plane to Canaima from Caracas, Ciudad Bolívar or Ciudad Guayana. Trips by boat upriver to the Angel Falls operate May-January, depending on the level of the water in the rivers. Boats literally fly up and down river over the bolders (not for faint-hearted) but even during the rainy season, you may have to get out and push in places. Most trips make an overnight stop on one of the islands, continuing to the Falls the next day. There are also bottom-numbing, 12-hour day trips. More relaxing, with more stops at beauty spots, are 44-hour, 'three day' trips. Trips can be arranged with agencies in Ciudad Bolívar or at Canaima airport. All
curiaras
(dugouts) must carry first aid, life jackets, etc. Take wet weather gear, swimwear, mosquito net for hammock and insect repellent, lots of film and a plastic bag to protect your camera/day bag. The light is best on the falls in the morning.

Kamarata

The largest of the tepuis,
Auyán Tepuy
(700 sq km) is also one of the more accessible.
Kamarata
is a friendly indigenous settlement with a Capuchin mission on the plain at the east foot of the tepuy.  The whole area is within the Parque Nacional Canaima.

Pemón families in Kamarata have formed co-operatives and can arrange
curiaras
, tents and porters for various excursions.

Kavác

About a two-hour walk northwest of Kamarata, this is a new indigenous-run resort consisting of a dozen thatched huts (
churuatas
) for guests, a small shop, and an excitingly short airstrip serviced by Cessnas from Ciudad Bolívar, Santa Elena, and Isla Margarita; flights from the north provide excellent views of Angel Falls and Auyán Tepuy. There is a vehicle connection with Kamarata but it is expensive because all fuel has to be flown in.

The prime local excursion is to
Kavác Canyon
and its waterfall known as La Cueva, which can be reached by joining a group or by setting out early west up the Río Kavác. A natural jacuzzi is encountered after a 30-minute wade along the sparkling stream, after which the gorge narrows dramatically until the falls are reached. Go in the morning to avoid groups of day-trippers from Porlamar. The sun's rays illuminate the vertical walls of the canyon only for a short time around 1100. Be prepared to get wet; swimwear and shoes with good grip, plus a dry change of clothing are recommended; also insect repellent, as there is a mosquito and midge invasion around dusk. Late afternoon winds off the savannah can make conditions chilly.

Uruyén

South of Auyán Tepuy and west of Kamarata,
Uruyén
is similar to Kavác, only smaller and more intimate. It also has a beautiful canyon and is the starting point for treks up Auyán Tepuy. The camp is run by the Carvallo family. Charter flights can be arranged through
AmazonAir
, www.amazonair.com. For more information, see also www.angel conservation.org/lodges.html.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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