RUTAHSA ADVENTURES has organized and will lead a trip to Angel Falls and across the Gran Sabana in late Sept. - early Oct. of 2003. This is a good time to visit Venezuela, as the rainy season is ending, but waterflow in the rivers and over the spectacular waterfalls is still good. A trek up the great tepui Mt. Roraima will be part of the overall trip, but participation in this rigorous hike is optional. A relaxing post-trip extension to the sunny beaches of Margarita Island is another option.
We are still ironing out a few minor details of the trip, but the following itinerary should be very close to the final plan. Starting date will be Saturday, Sept. 27.
Travelers who like to hike and wish to experience the beautifully exotic world of the tepuis up close and personal can sign on for the Roraima trek, which begins a week before the main Gran Sabana - Angel Falls trip. Travelers who do not wish to hike, or whose time is limited, can skip Roraima and opt for the Caracas - Gran Sabana - Angel Falls program. Both hikers and non-hikers can choose to end their Venezuelan odyssey with a restful stay on the beautiful beaches of Isla Margarita.
THE EXCURSION ITINERARY
DAY 1, Sat. Sept. 27: Travelers who wish to participate in the Roraima trek will fly from the U.S. to Caracas. You will be met at the international airport by an English-speaking guide and taken 20 km into the capital city of Caracas to our hotel, the Anauco Hilton.
DAY 2, Sun. Sept. 28: AM: We will enjoy a half-day tour of the bustling capital city, including a visit to the world-famous botanical gardens, along with other sites. Late PM: We'll go to the national airport and get our 6 PM flight to Ciudad Bolivar, on the banks of the broad Orinoco River. Here we'll overnight at the Hotel Laja Real, just across the street from the airport.
DAY 3, Mon. Sept. 29: Our flight to Santa Elena in very southern Venezuela leaves at 7 AM, but we'll still take time to admire Jimmie Angel's plane, a Ryan Flamingo named the "Río Caroní", which has been retrieved from the site of its 1937 crash landing atop Auyantepui, restored, and placed on display at the Ciudad Bolivar aerodrome.
Our flight to Santa Elena in light planes (Cessna 206 or similar, each carrying five passengers) is about two and one half hours long, and should offer some great scenic vistas of the Gran Sabana region.
Shortly after our arrival we will get under way toward Mt. Roraima in a "rustic vehicle" for the first leg of the journey to Roraima, as far as Paraitepui, at an elevation of 1600 m (5250 ft). Here we begin our next week's exercise with a 4-hour hike across mainly open savannah, gradually gaining elevation, with Kukenán and Roraima on the skyline luring us on. As we make our way across the savannah our focus grows on Roraima gradually looming larger. We reach the Río Kukenán to make our first camp at an elevation of about 1800 m (5900 ft). Lunch and supper included.
DAY 4, Tues., Sept. 30: From Kukenán Camp in the early morning we can see the tepuis of Warao-Tepui, Kukenán, and mighty Roraima, at 2810 m (9219 ft) the highest tepui of all. Streams originating high on Roraima pour into three countries, eventually joining the Orinoco in Venezuela, the Amazon in Brasil, and the Kukó in Guyana, giving rise to Roraima's nickname "Mother of All Waters". However, according to the Pemón-Taurepán Indians, the proper name is "Roroima", meaning "big bluish-green" mountain.
These massive, flat-topped, sheer-walled mountains are erosional remnants of ancient rock strata that once overlay this entire region. Today they stand separated like islands, and, in terms of biologic evolution are indeed islands upon which speciation has occurred in truly splendid isolation. Each tepui is home to endemic species, many restricted to an individual tepui. So great was the 19th-century fascination with the idea that strange life might exist (and past life *persist*!) in these remote mountain fastnesses that Roraima was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 adventure tale "The Lost World". For fun reading in camp at night, get a paper copy of this novel and bring it along!
Today we continue the trek with a 5-hour hike still through mainly open savannah, and still gradually ascending, headed toward the base of Roraima. Eventually we reach camp no. 2 at an elevation of around 2100 m (6890 ft), near the base of the mighty tepui, towering overhead. Breakfast, lunch, and supper included.
DAY 5, Weds., Oct. 1: Another 5-hour hike is in store today, but this time headed up, and up and up, until we reach the top of the great, plateau-like tepui at about 2600 meters (8500 ft)! The trail may be muddy in places, and in other places zig-zags up and over bouldery talus. Our route follows that pioneered in 1884 by two English explorers, Everard Im Thurn and Harry I. Perkins, the first Europeans to scale Roraima. En route we will pass by several miradores or lookout points from which we should be treated to splendid views of the Gran Sabana below and to the north the tepui known as Kukenán with a 610 m free-fall waterfall (the second highest in Venezuela, and the fourth highest in the world). The trail creeps up, sub-paralleling a towering cliff known simply as The Wall. Eventually our route snuggles up close to The Wall to make the final ascent, permitting us to clamber up onto Roraima's mysterious summit, the "Lost World".
After reaching Roraima's plateau-like yet rugged topside, we will have an opportunity to visit the highest point on the mountain, located at a strange rock formation called "The Ford Maverick". Our overnight camp will be at one of several rock-shelters along a cliff known as "El Hotel". B, L, S included.
DAY 6, Thurs., Oct. 2: All day today, 7 or 8 hours, exploring the bizarre scenery on top of Roraima-- the "Lost World". We will visit famous sites such as the "Valley of Crystals", where sparkling pools of clear water are littered with thousands upon thousands of white quartz crystals. This abundance of crystals has led some people to suggest that Roraima may be the Crystal Mountain described by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1596 in his publication "The Discoverie of the Large and Rich Territorie of Guiana", though it seems rather improbable that he could have known what was on top of Roraima. As we hike we will enjoy observing and photographing strange rock formations in the mists and equally strange clumps of plants growing in pools. Beautiful plant varieties include orchids large and small, lush mosses, colorful lichens, and bromeliads galore. There are also carnivorous plants, including pitcher plants, sundews, and carnivorous bromeliads found only on the tepuis. Some species here are found nowhere else on earth but atop Roraima; in fact it is estimated that perhaps as many as half the species are endemic.
Besides exotic plants, you can expect to see jewel-like hummingbirds and other avians, and likely will see toads. But other, larger, animals require a bit of luck to see. We had a nocturnal visit by a hungry opossum at our camp on Auyantepui in 1997, and we had the singular good fortune to see a strikingly marked young boa on our hike up Auyan and a beautiful, tiny black and yellow striped frog, too. With a bit of luck Roraima may treat us to some unusual animal sightings.
In addition to hiking and photographing, perhaps we'll have an opportunity to swim (chilly!) in one of the numerous streams. Plenty of marvels to enjoy during the day. Second night at "El Hotel"; B, L, S included.
DAY 7 for TREKKERS, Fri., Oct. 3: Today we begin our return to civilization, descending Roraima and continuing on until we reach the Río Kukenán camp, a hike of 7 or 8 hours all in all-- Nice that it's downhill! B, L, S included.
DAY 1 for NON-TREKKERS, Fri. Oct. 3: Travelers who wish to visit the Gran Sabana and Angel Falls, but who prefer to enjoy the majesty of the tepuis from afar rather than laboring up one, will fly into Caracas today, be met at the airport and taken to overnight at the same hotel in Caracas as used by the Roraima trekkers, the Anauco Hilton.
DAY 8T, 2NT, Sat., Oct. 4: After breakfast the trekkers will hike another 4 hours to reach Paraitepui where we will be picked up and driven back into Santa Elena. Here we might just want to take it easy for a while. We will overnight at Campamento Yakoo. B, L, S included.
Today the non-trekkers will enjoy the same half-day city tour of Caracas that the trekking group enjoyed, including the botanical gardens, and then fly to Ciudad Bolivar in the late afternoon, to overnight at the Hotel Laja Real.
DAY 9T, 3NT, Sun., Oct. 5: Today is the day the trekkers and non-trekkers link up to travel together across the Gran Sabana. The non-trekking group will take the 7 AM flight from Ciudad Bolivar to Santa Elena, arriving around 9:30 AM. After introductions all around, our now complete group of travelers will head out in 4WD vehicles to the border with Brasil, to visit the Brasilian frontier town of Villa Pacaraima. You might pick up an extra stamp in your passport here! After lunch we will visit the beautiful Quebrada de Jaspe, where there is a waterfall tumbling over a streambed of flaming red jasper. We return to Sta. Elena to overnight at Campamento Yakoo for one final time. Breakfast included for trekkers; lunch and supper for the whole group.
Note: In the Gran Sabana the term "campamento" doesn't necessarily mean you're going to camp out. It is a traditional term stemming from the days of primitive gold camps, but today includes some very nice lodges.
DAY 10T, 4NT, Mon., Oct. 6: We all head north, across the Gran Sabana today, toward Puerto Ordaz and the mighty Orinoco River. The name "Gran Sabana" applies to a broad region of grassy savannahs studded with palms, alternating with densely forested areas, and with tepuis rising dramatically above the savannahs. The transition from grasslands to forest is often quite abrupt, as can be seen in this view from the air. The origin of the grassy open lands is debated by scientists: natural or man-made? It seems that deliberate burning by indigenous people has at least played a role in maintaining the open areas. Scattered across the Gran Sabana are the tepuis, towering above the grasslands like great crenulated fortresses.
Today's program includes Quebrada Pacheco, the indigenous community of Riworiwo, and a walk to the Salto Chinak-Meru, at 106 m (348 ft) the highest waterfall in the Gran Sabana-- quite impressive! Later we'll go by boat (did you see the dugout in the photo?) along the Río Aponwao and hike to the base of the falls. Picnic lunch. In the afternoon we continue on to Campamento Chivaton for supper and overnight.
DAY 11T, 5NT, Tues., Oct. 7: Today we have some options. If the primitive dirt road conditions are good enough, we can drive 35 km to the mission village of Kavanayén to visit this old and remote mission to the local indigenous people. If the mission road proves unadvisable, we will continue north across the Gran Sabana visiting scenic balnearios (swimming holes) and waterfalls including Salto Kawi. We will also pass by the Piedra de la Virgen, or "Rock of the Virgin", a natural rock formation in which some profess to see an image of the Virgin Mary. Whichever option we select, we will end the day at Campamento Anaconda for supper and lodging. Breakfast, lunch and supper included.
DAY 12T, 6NT, Weds., Oct. 8: After breakfast, we continue north to the village of Cintillo where we will visit a fabrica de queso y casaba to see how cheese and casava bread (the "typical" bread of this region) are made. Next come the gold mines in the mining town of Callao, which should be something very new and different for all of us-- expect a rough and tumble type of town. After lunch we continue on to Ciudad Bolivar, stopping en route at the city of Puerto Ordaz to visit the Cachamay Park. At Cd. Bolivar we will overnight again at our familiar and comfortable Hotel Laja Real, closing the Gran Sabana circuit. Breakfast and lunch included.
DAY 13T, 7NT, Thurs., Oct. 9: On to Canaima National Park and Angel Falls! After breakfast we will depart around 8 AM in Cessna 206s over more sabana, perhaps getting an aerial view of a giant open-pit iron mine operation at Cerro Bolívar, on over the big hydroelectric project, past island-like tepuis to arrive at Canaima National Park.
If the weather conditions are propitious, we will do an overflight of Angel Falls en route to Canaima. The world's highest waterfall, with a drop of well over a half-mile, was named for American bush-pilot Jimmie Angel, who first spotted the falls in 1935. Your first view of Angel Falls from the air will be as unforgettable as Jimmie's. However, "overflight" isn't quite the right description, for our little Cessna-206s will fly down inside Devil's Canyon, circling up close and personal with the stupendous cascade as it tumbles down from above and falls on far below. This is truly memorable!
Three notes: 1) Most of the Angel Falls photos on this webpage were taken in December, during the dry season, when water flow was low; our trip is scheduled earlier, and a greater volume of water, similar to that in the "first view" photo above, is expected. 2) For a cinematic preview of an Angel Falls close fly-by, watch the movie "At Play in the Fields of the Lord"--but don't get any wrong ideas from the movie-- our pilots won't be suicidal! 3) If the weather happens not to be good for the Angel Falls overflight today, we have a second opportunity later.
After arriving in Canaima we will be taken to our lodgings at Campamento Wakulodge. Later, once we're settled in at Waku, we'll go for a boat ride in Canaima Lagoon to view and photograph its numerous beautiful waterfalls formed where the Río Carrao breaks up on a massive rocky ledge to plunge into the broad lagoon below. Lunch and supper included.
DAY 14T, 8NT, Fri., Oct. 10: The morning is free time to swim in Canaima Lagoon, visit the indigenous crafts shop, stroll and photograph, or just relax. (Also, if weather conditions yesterday did not allow an overflight of Angel Falls, we will have a second chance today.) PM: Around 2 o'clock we'll set out on a 20-minute walk to Puerto Ucaima where we will board a curiara, i.e., a big dugout canoe with an outboard motor to power it up through rapids. This will be our transportation up the Río Carrao and its tributary the Churun to Angel Falls. However, there could be spots where we will have to lend a helping hand.
Our first stop this afternoon will be to visit Sapo Falls, which you can walk behind along a narrow trail for wet thrills. Then upstream a ways we'll stop again to swim in the Pozo de la Felicidad or "Well of Happiness", and finally stop for the night at Ahonda Camp on Orchid Island. Breakfast, lunch and supper are included today and supper will be cooked for us at the camp; for sleeping, hammocks will be provided, under shelter. Restrooms are also available here in the camp.
DAY 15T, 9NT, Sat., Oct. 11: Continuing upriver after breakfast, we reach Isla Ratoncito, and Angel Falls can be seen in the distance from here. But until a DC-3 full of sightseers lumbers by in front of the falls it's hard to really comprehend the astounding height of the falls.
From Isla Ratoncito we hike for about an hour through deep shady jungle-- which can contain some beautiful surprises such as this scarlet passion flower, and that wonderfully iridescent blue will-o-the-wisp, the Morpho butterfly, is likely to be seen flitting through the shadows and patches of sunlight. But the main goal of this hike is a mirador not too far from the base of the falls, for an awe-inspiring view of the falls. After gazing and gaping, and taking pictures (while wishing for wider lenses) we can hike a bit closer and go for a swim in a pool below the falls-- but be forewarned, it's right chilly!
Later in the afternoon we return downstream for a second night at Ahonda Camp. Breakfast, lunch and supper included. Sleep in hammocks again.
DAY 16T, 10NT, Sun., Oct. 12: Following breakfast in camp we continue on down river back to Canaima, arriving around 10 AM. There may be some final free time at Canaima before we need to proceed to the airport where we will board our flights. And once again the group composition may change: those who need to return to the U.S. will fly directly to Caracas, whereas those with a little more time and desiring some sunny relaxation will fly to Isla Margarita.
Homeward-bound travelers will be met at the Caracas airport as before, and taken to the Posada Il Prezzano, located conveniently near the international airport, to overnight.
Travelers favoring surf and sand will fly into Porlamar airport and be taken to the Hotel Le Flamboyant. This is a full-board accommodation, so supper at the hotel is included; also: open bar for Venezuelan beer and spirits.
DAY 17T, 11NT, Mon., Oct. 13: Homeward-bound travelers will be picked up at the Il Prezzano and taken to the international airport to get their U.S. flights, carrying with them many memories of scenes and sounds and people of Venezuela's magnificent Gran Sabana region. Who knows, some may have caught "tepui-fever" and begin dreaming of a return trip...it happened to us!
The Margarita beach bums have all day today and tomorrow at liberty to sleep in, swim and surf, lie in the sun, have a few drinks (gee, I wonder if they serve margaritas here?), read, or whatever strikes our fancy. Pure leisure time! Breakfast, lunch, supper included; open bar for national drinks.
For those who want more activity, we can also offer the following extra cost options: 1) a "jeep safari" around the island, with lunch and open bar; 2) an excursion by boat to Coche, with lunch and open bar. Each excursion is $40 p/p.
DAY 18T, 12NT, Tues., Oct. 14: Same strenuous regimen for the Margarita crowd today. Wouldn't surprise anyone if some member had found their favorite nightclub by now. Breakfast, lunch and supper included; open bar for national drinks.
The same optional excursions are available today.
DAY 19T, 13NT, Weds., Oct. 15: After breakfast (included, of course) we fly back to Caracas, and on out to the U.S. the same day on evening flights. (A final night in Venezuela at the Posada Il Prezzano can be arranged for those whose air schedules require it.) And so we close a truly memorable trip-- adventure by trekking, light plane and dugout canoe, fantastical scenery, the world's highest waterfall, strange plants, new foods, sunny beaches, and more! Venezuela will entrance you!
COST OF THE TRIP:
Participants may choose from four trip options, to meet the varied needs of our travelers:
Prices are based on double occupancy lodging. Trip fees include: all lodging, all meals specified in the itinerary (all but a half dozen meals are included), park entries, ground transportation, all internal flights (five flights including Isla Margarita, three flights for the non-Margarita options), airport taxes for internal flights, and guide services.
Single room accommodation available at extra cost.
Not included: air fare to and from Venezuela, meals not specified in the itinerary, Venezuela exit tax, tips and other personal expenses.
Note: Ten participants are needed to make this trip go. A maximum of 16 participants will be accepted.
If are interested in participating in this trip, you should request an application blank and any further information you need as soon as possible, as trip participation will be limited to 16. Send an e-mail requesting an application blank for the Venezuela trip: Mail us now!.
If you *think* you might be interested in the Roraima trek, but aren't sure, take a look at the May 1989 issue of National Geographic to get a better idea about Roraima and the dramatic, other-worldly scenery of the tepuis.
You should also visit our Angel Falls webpage to see the pictures! Angel Falls.