The Angel Falls.

The Angel Falls, the tallest waterfalls in the world, are one of the highlights of any trip to South America. We did a "three day" trip to the falls from Ciudad Bolivar, booking thru Gekko Tours. We left our vehicles at the excellent Posada La Casita camp site.

Angel Falls can only be reached by a 65km boat trip from Canaima, and Canaima can only be reached by air. So the trip is quite complicated and relatively expensive at $290USA. If we knew then what we know now, we might have been better prepared!

On day one we flew from Ciudad Bolivar to Canaima in two five-seater single engine planes, a trip of about 75 minutes. Canaima is situated on a rather impressive lagoon with pink sand, palm trees and several (small) waterfalls (see above).

Our accommodation at Canaima was in a fairly basic thatched hostel. Most of the room fans worked. The food was surprisingly good and there was plenty of drinking water available.

In the afternoon of day one we were taken by canoe to visit two of the nearby waterfalls.

The short canoe trip ended with a 30 minute walk to the most distant falls. Here we were able to get behind the curtain of water and enjoy a cool shower.

Day one highlighted one of the problems we would also have on day two. To hike to the falls you really want to be wearing walking boots, but both in the canoe and at the falls, everything you wear or carry gets wet (cameras need to be in a plastic bag, which the guide provided).

For day one you can get away with wearing plastic sandals because the hike is very gentle.

You will then need a complete change of clothes for the evening meal.

Because of the humidity, your wet clothes will not dry properly for day two!

Day two starts with a four to five hour boat trip, up-stream to the falls. The "boat" is a dug-out canoe with a fifty horsepower outboard motor. You can take two bags with you on the boat. One bag, which will be inaccessible until you get to the falls, is wrapped in a big plastic sheet and will remain dry. The other bag will get wet, as will you (so you might as well wear your damp clothes from day one). The seats are un-padded and the bottom of the canoe will have several centimeters of water in it by the end of the trip.

The description of the boat journey that we read before our trip did not do it justice. Much of the scenery is spectacular and the boat is fast on the open sections of the river. What we had not expected was rapids! About 15 minutes into the trip, we were all put ashore to walk around a particular set of rapids that the boats are no longer allowed to carry passengers over (since somebody drowned a few years ago).

On our journey to the falls the river was low and the boat fully loaded. As a result we got stuck a couple of times, with the crew (and two of the passengers) getting out to push. The driver also stopped to change propellers several times, apparently saving his good propeller for stretches of the river without rapids.

Our destination for the evening was one of several "huts" near the base of the falls. Our hut had primitive cooking facilities, a two seater toilet and about 15 hammocks.

In order to see the falls properly you have to climb up a steep path strewn with rocks and crisscrossed with thick tree roots. Not something to be done without walking boots.

Unfortunately it was nearly 15:30 by the time we arrived and four hours sitting on a hard seat with your feet in water is not the best preparation for a very strenuous 90 minute climb.

Although the six of us eventually made it to the look-out point, we were all fairly tired by then. Much of the time the falls were covered in cloud, but as the last of us arrived, the clouds cleared to reveal the full 979 metres of the falls!

The trek down, partly in the dark, was definitely uncomfortable. On arrival at our hut, Mick was heard to say "I find myself a little weary and my back is slightly sore, I think I will omit the evening repast and go directly to my bed" or words to that effect.

The rest of us ate a rather fine chicken meal. (The frozen chickens had be thawing in the bottom of the boat all day.) Alas none of us had thought to bring a bottle of rum with us, so we had to drink our Coke unadulterated.

The sleeping arrangements in our hut were 15 hammocks in a line, slung from the roof. For most of us this was our first night "sleeping" in a hammock. The verdict was (5 to 1) that it was better than expected. The trick is to sleep slightly diagonal and be dog tired before you go to bed.

During the night it rained heavily. In the morning, not only was the river considerably higher, there were now two Angel Falls. (Note that this Angel is not one of God's messengers with wings. The falls are named after Jimmy Angel, a US airman who "discovered" them in 1935.)

On day three we returned by boat to Canaima in about three hours without incident. Again we wore our damp clothes from day one and two, and again we got totally drenched in the boat.

After lunch at Canaima, we returned by plane to Ciudad Bolivar.

The only alternative way to see the falls, if you do not fancy the boat trip and the hike (or in addition to), is by an overflight in a light plane from Canaima. This costs about $60USA and lasts about 35 minutes. (Judy says it was worth every penny!)

Stop Press: We are currently (2006-10-01) parked by the roadside about 40km north of Santa Elena in Venezuela waiting for the army to give us permission to drive to the border with Brazil. We are told there are demonstrations (riots?) in Santa Elena and it is not safe for us to drive thru the town.

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2006-10-01.