So where do you go to find a prehistoric landscape that looks untouched by modern humanity? That is the question many viewers pondered after watching the Hollywood blockbuster “The Lost World”. The answer? Mount Roraima…
British explorers Everard Im Thurn and Harry Perkins were the first Europeans to ascend the Roraima in 1884 from the Guyana side. Upon returning, their scientific conference in London inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write the science fiction classic, “The Lost World.“ Mount Roraima is one of the most attractive and impressive natural sights in South America.
About Mount Roraima
Mount Roraima is one of the biggest flat mountains that you could find. The tepuys – the flat protrusions of mountain – are regarded by scientists as ‘islands in time,’ since species have developed in complete isolation on top of these geological formations over millennia. The largest tepuy is Auyan, which is located to the northwest of the park. From its vertical flanks chute the amazing Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall.
Although Angel Falls might be the most impressive, especially after the rains, all of the tepuys in the region are threaded with waterfalls – a beautiful sight for any visitor.
Many of the tepuys are studded with enormous sink-holes that can be up to 1000 feet wide and 1000 feet deep. These sinkholes are unique to the region, and like the tepuys themselves, each of these sink-holes are “islands” that sport evolved species of amphibians and insects that can not be found elsewhere.
Climbing Mount Roraima
This lightly populated region is where the three major languages of the Americas intersect with the magnificent table top mountain of Mount Roraima at their center. Here, you can interact with the Spanish of Venezuela, the Portuguese of Brazil and the English of Guyana.
To climb Mount Roraima you must hire a guide. Independent hiking is not allowed. Expect to get wet during dry season. It is very cold at the top of Mount Roraima, so don’t forget to bring a warm and well-insulated sleeping bag. Crossing Rio Kukenan is also not for everyone. Good shoes are absolutely essential.
Weather Conditions at Mount Roraima
On top of the tepuys, thunderstorms are frequent and torrential downpours are a way of life. The dry season between December and April is preferred, but the weather is changeable at any time, and rain and mist are a constant. With rain, the rivers swell and crossings may be difficult.
Because of its elevation, the weather in the Gran Sabana is more temperate than the surrounding lowlands. It clocks in at a minimum of 10°C (46°F) and maximum of 32°C (90°F). The village of Santa Elena de Uairen can be found at an altitude of 900 – 1000m (3000f – 3250f), with a nearly perfect climate (16°C / 45°F – 28°C / 79°F all year round). It has lots of water and gorgeous waterfalls, since the rainy season extends from February to November.
Other villages in the region include San Francisco de Yuruani (close to the turn-off to Roraima Tepuy), Kavanayen, El Paují, and Icabarú. There are small airstrips at Santa Elena, El Paují, Ikabarú, Wonken, Kavanayen, Kamarata and Canaima. These are served by small six-seater planes. These flights cost less than you might expect, at about $50-60 per leg, and offer an incredible way to see the Sabana. There are also small airstrips at Santa Elena, El Paují, Ikabarú, Wonken, Kavanayen, Kamarata and Canaima.
Two roads split from the main north-south highway, allowing you to penetrate other parts of the region. One of these roads heads to the mission of Kavanayen, via the lovely waterfalls of Chinak Meru. Another heads west from Santa Elena to the small and interesting village of El Paují and on to the mining town of Icabarú.
El Pauljí is a unique border town where the Gran Sabana ends and the Amazonian jungle begins. The mining (low-tech subsistence mining for gold and diamonds) and tourist community features attractions like the Cathedral falls, Pozo Esmeralda (Esmerald Pool), Pozo El Paují (Paují Pool), the Abismo overlook, and the community offers many places to stay. This special place is surrounded by an evergreen and gallery forest, bush and savannah and an endless number of rivers, ravines and waterfalls. Many artists have settled here, forming a strong community in harmony with nature.
You can best get to the region via a 20 minute flight on Rutaca from Santa Elenas airport. The road can be terrible, but continues as far as Icabarú. This journey is only for 4-wheel-drive vehicles.
Kavak: can only be reached by air or guided tour through the jungle. It is near spectacular falls and rivers.
Las Caritas: a mining town with spacious green areas extending into a great forest. Located very near the Gran Sabana, it’s a good departure spot for excursions with visitor infrastructure, places to stay, and the Aponwao waterfall.
El Callao: the best place to explore the mining treasures of the region. Gold trading and goldsmiths are concentrated here. This is also the home of Venezuela’s most famous Carnival, which is over a century old and based on the Caribbean Carnival traditions brought by early gold miners from Trinidad and Martinique.
My Travel Experience at Mount Roraima
Once we reached the summit there was barely a pause for breath or photos as we made the painful 40 minute walk to the camp site.
Contrary to our expectations, the top was far from flat, with strange shapes eroded by both wind and water forming peaks and troughs, the latter occasionally filled to become streams. The single narrow path over the soft rock was clearly marked by lines of sand worn away by years of weary hikers. After much unwanted walking and climbing, we reached the camp-site, which was located in a cave system in the side of a smaller peak.
Once tents and beds were sorted, we heard the porters call us for dinner. Our celebration of climbing a mountain was somewhat tempered by receiving a thin soup of pasta and onions. Assuming this was a starter, I limited myself to one small bowl only to discover that that was the entire meal. Time to break out the emergency snack supplies: a pack of Oreos between the six of us and the three porters added up to only a couple each, but this was still enough to bring us back to the land of the living. Revitalized, we walked to the edge of the mountain to dangle our legs over the 2km sheer face and watch the sunset over Venezuela.
Finding our way back across the uneven ground was somewhat trickier in the dark and with little else to do, most people turned in at 7pm. This left me alone with the porters who talked me through the spectacularly clear view of the stars.
The following morning, an early start saw us split into two groups. Those who wanted to walk 9 hours to the tri-point, the meeting place of Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana, and those of us, myself included, who wanted to see everything else the mountain had to offer.
Over the next nine hours we saw a number of spectacles:
The Crystal Valley – pretty, but not the expected 6ft shards of crystal we’d seen in films like “The Lost World” or “Journey to The Centre Of The Earth.”
The Rivers and Lakes – being way above the clouds, the water reflected the beautifully clear blue sky.
The Jacuzzis – bath-shaped holes in the river bed, filled with crystals. We stopped here to wash in near freezing water and dry off in the sun.
Carnivorous Pitcher Plants – these trap insects in their wells and slowly digest them for food.
Tiny black frogs – in such isolation, these have evolved away from frogs and now run about, rather than hop, on all four legs.
The Window – more of a ledge than a window, this spectacular spot made the whole climb worthwhile. From here it was possible to lie on the edge and look down a 2000m drop to the jungle below. Ledges on both sides of the outcrop make you feel like you are hovering over the jungles of either Brazil or Guyana, all the while providing views above the clouds of the next three tepuys. – by Steve