Trip to Angel Falls, Venezuela:  July 28-31, 2008

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

Bus Ride

We used a travel agent to sign up for a 4 day/3 night trip to Angel falls, the world's tallest waterfall.  We were picked up at the east gate of the Bahia Redonda marina by Andreas, one of the well-known taxi drivers that specializes in serving the cruising community.  He took us to the bus station, gave us our bus tickets and our vouchers for the rest of the trip, and shepherded us onto the correct bus.  The literature had described the bus as air conditioned, and marina gossip had it that the bus would be very cold, so we were dressed in long shirts and trousers -- not the usual attire for cruisers.  As it turned out, the air conditioning on the bus was essentially inoperable, and we spent a miserable and sweaty five hours on the trip to Cuidad Bolivar.  And it wasn't just the gringos on board who were hot -- one young Venezuelan father with a small daughter got quite vocal in his complaints.

On the way back, once burned and twice shy, we all wore our usual T-shirts and shorts.  So you can guess what happened.  The modern, new, double-decker bus and its modern, highly efficient air conditioning units worked just fine, and we nearly froze.  Sound like an exaggeration?  The digital display at the front of the bus, which alternated between the time, the temperature, and a "bienvenido" message, reported a temperature of 16 degrees Celsius.  For those of you who reside in the only nation of the world that still uses Fahrenheit, that is the equivalent of about 61 degrees.

Cuidad Bolivar

When we arrived in Cuidad Bolivar, we were met by an associate of the group that had arranged the trip.  He took us to a nice hotel, which happened to be right across the street from the airport.  We caught a taxi to the river front, and spent an enjoyable time walking along the Orinoco river and window shopping through the many sidewalk stands.

One of the few bridges across the wide Orinoco river

Ferry crossing the rapid and muddy Orinico, which had already burst over its banks this early in the rainy season

Looking eastward along the wide river

There is a long plaza along the waterfront ...

... complete with many signs about the creatures of the Orinoco

Hunter and Devi (Arctic Tern) were our tour companions

Simon Bolívar statues are found in courtyards in virtually all Venezuelan burgs, not just in Cuidad Bolívar

Hunter and Chuck pause to buy new watch bands at a small sidewalk stand

At the extreme west end of the waterfront ...

... across the street from the plaza ...

... there is a long ...

... and colorful mural

Jimmie Angel's plane (see text, below, about Angel falls) now resides at the Cuidad Bolívar airport

Sign at the exhibition of the plane


Early the next morning, our guide Bladamir shepherded us through the airport and to the correct flight.  We were surprised when our luggage was subjected to x-ray search, and additionally surprised when our bottle of wine was confiscated.  Why surprised?  Well, for one thing, a plastic container of rum in the next bag sailed through.  And the flight was on a 5-passenger Cessna, as is typical for the many tourists who visit the famous falls.  And our literature from the tour group had encouraged us to bring our own booze.  But, we asked for the bottle and handed it back to our guide (as a gift), who shrugged and indicated surprise.  Just as we were stuffing our bags into the small plane, an airport worker came up to the plane carrying a folded magazine.  Guess what was in the magazine.  We quietly thanked him and quickly stuffed the bottle into our luggage.

The flight from Cuidad Bolívar to Canaima took about an hour, and passed over country that was mostly wild and uncultivated, but starkly beautiful.

Loading our luggage into our Cessna

Note the magazine in the hand of the right hombre (see text)

Scene right outside of Cuidad Bolívar

A massive housing development not too far south of Cuidad Bolívar

Shortly we were in country with little population...

... with the landscape becoming increasingly "scrubby" ...

... and then it got wilder with huge rocky outcroppings

Our flight passes over the massive Embalse de Guri resevoir

Another view of the resevoir

We pass a huge open-pit coal mine ...

... and another mine ...

... and the associated ore railroad cars

Then we begin to see cliffs


The runway at our destination: Canaima

Terminal/reception area at Canaima airport

A few of the many small planes on the tarmac at the airport -- almost all visitors arrive by air

Bus used by our group to take us to their headquarters

Sign along the path to Salto de Sapo

Chuck at the end of Excursiones Kavac's churuata comedor -- a traditionally thatched, open-sided dining room

Hunter demonstrates the device used to squeeze the water out of rinsed ground Yuca flower

Canaima resident drying out his eggs -- all food has to be flown in

At the beach of Laguna de Canaima, with some of the Canaima falls in the background

Kavac canoe ready to transport us across the Laguna over to the Sapo falls (Salto de Sapo)

Our Pemón indian canoe driver

Our trip will take us past the falls on the right through the lagoon to the falls on the left, the entire width of which we will walk behind

A closer look at Sapo Falls

Our Pemón Indian guide for the trip to the Salto de Sapo and Salto de Angel

Sign just before the Sapo falls

After traversing behind the falls for its entire length, we paused on the far side before returning

Our group of six became a group of eleven in Canaima -- here are seven of them

After returning back behind the falls, we dried off and hiked ...

... up to the top of the falls ...

... for another round of picture taking


Suppose anyone was in the canoe when it lodged right on the percipace?

While waiting for the canoe to take us back across the lagoon, we notice a column of harvest ants ...

... busily taking leaves back to their colony

When we returned to Canaima some members of our party decided to "beach-i-fy"

We spent a night in Canaima in a posada ...

... and while the lodgings were very basic, they were more comfortable than sleeping on hammocks

Canoe Trip to Angel Falls

There are two ways to get from Canaima to Angel Falls:  by small plane (avionetas) and by motorized dugout canoe (curiaras).  We chose to cover the 25 miles by taking the 5-hour canoe ride up the Rio Carrao and Rio Churún.  The views were spectacular, particularily near the falls when we passed through the Cańón del Diablo, and the ride was exciting, since the long canoes often have to maneuver through rapids.  The seats are simple wooden planks, where we sat two-abreast, but we had all been advised to bring along some type of cushion.   "Exciting" may be somewhat of an understatement.  Whizzing by rocks, skirting by treacherous shallows, zipping close to shore where we had to duck under overhanging branches and narrowly miss deadheads.  Is it good for a person to have a full five hours of adrenalin rush?

Placing luggage under plastic wraps

Securing our life vests -- note small cushions in Chuck's left hand (see text)

We depart to Angel Falls from a point just above Canaima Falls ...

... where there are many large canoes and one small one-person dugout ...

... and two small boys playing in the river

The canoe driver stood up when he needed to navigate through rapids

30 min. portage over a savannah while the guides bring the canoe up through a too-dangerous-for-passengers set of rapids

There was a small craft stand along the savannah path

Note the tepui in the distance ...

... and the tepui we had already passed

We ate lunch (cheese and meat sandwiches) at the end of the portage ...

... and relaxed a bit before continuing our journey up the river

We had another stop to play in the small falls of a tributary joining our river

The water was cool but refreshing

Barb has just stepped out from behind the falls

Some stretches were calm, and some had rapids

The tepui ...

... just got ...

... more and more dramatic ...

... and suddenly we could see Angel falls!

Base Camp

We arrived at our base camp just a little too late to hike up to the path to the falls overlook.  Good thing.  The falls were already becoming enshrouded in clouds, and soon is was pouring.  As the pictures below attest, the base camp maintains a permanent pantry, and serves surprisingly good food.  (But sometimes the veneer of civilization was a little thin:  Barb watched one of the Pemón Indians  carefully wrapping each tableware set with a napkin.  Place the knife on the napkin.  Fold.  Place the fork on the napkin.  Wrap tightly.  Then seal the package by licking the edge with tongue -- like a fresh-rolled cigarette.)  We had a delicious supper of chicken, roasted on spits in front of a roaring fire, warm potato salad and cucumber/onion salad. Then we climbed into our mosquito-netted hammocks.  We had been advised that the evenings would be cool, but I think we all underestimated the drop in temperature.  The camp provided a blanket for each hammock, and each member of our party took along an extra sheet.  But, despite wearing socks and levis and two T-shirts under a long-sleeve shirt, I was so cold I had trouble sleeping.  (Barb slept like a baby.)

We also learned that the way to counter the "banana" body shape engendered by a hammock is to sleep at an angle:  legs way to one side and head way to the other.  Guess what?  It works!

There are a number of companies that provide the Cuidad Bolivar/Canaima/Salto Sapo/Salto Angel package tours.  We chose Excursiones Kavac, an agency managed by the indigenous Pemón community, and top-rated by Lonely Planet.  We were happy with their facilities at Canaima and at the base camp, and happy with the expertise of our canoe driver.  Our guide Antonio was nice enough, but fairly new with the company, and just learning English, and so not as informative as some of the guides we've had in the Caribbean.  But we have also had much worse.

Unloading the canoe at the base camp

View across the Rio Churún of the cloud-enshrouded falls ...

... and soon it was raining cats and dogs ...

... but we were secure in one of the base camp shelters

Putting chickens on spits

Our supper-chickens cooking on a spit

Preparing potatoes for our supper

The camp's kitchen window the next morning

Camp's "pantry" area

View of the hammocks in the sleeping area of the base camp shelter

Doing dishes on the dining side of the shelter

Closer look at netted hammocks

Cluttered area between sleeping and eating quarters

Our group of eleven at supper

Our group from the other end

What might happen when a canoe capsizes

Angel Falls

Angel falls is named in honor of an American bush pilot named Jimmie Angel.  Returning from a remote expedition, he claimed to have seen a motherlode of gold capping a huge jungle waterfall.  In 1937 he decided to prove the skeptics wrong, and loaded his wife and two friends into his 4-seater airplane and set out to rediscover the falls.  He found the waterfall, and crash-landed safely on top of the massive tepui (tay-POO-ee) that gives birth to the falls.  Called by the Pemón Indians Auyantepui (Mountain of the God of Evil) it is just one of many flat-topped mountains in the area that were raised by geological forces millions of years ago.  With shear walls, each mountain top is isolated from the others and has its own unique environment.  Jimmie's plane ran into a bog on his landing, and they were unable to free it.  Without food or supplies, they trekked through rough terrain to the edge of the plateau, then descended a steep cliff, and finally made it back to civilization after 11 days!

Many years later the plane was removed from the top of the tepui by the air force, restored, and placed in front of the airport terminal in Ciudad Bolívar.  In 1956, Jimmie Angel's ashes were cast upon the top of the Auyan tepui.

With a total height of 3,212 ft (979 m) and a continuous drop of 2,648 ft (807 m), Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world.

The Kavac base camp, as well as a number of others, faces the falls across the Rio Churún.  After a hearty breakfast, on the morning after our arrival our party of eleven boarded the canoe to be taken across the river to the path up through the rain forest to an overlook of the Angel Falls.  The path was muddy and strewn with roots and rocks, but we made it to the overlook, Mirador Salto Angel, in about 50 minutes.  There is no viewing platform here, nor any guard rails.  Just some large boulders that provide a spectacular, if somewhat windy and misty, view of the falls.  I duck behind one of the boulders and dig out my much-protected camera, and pop out repeatedly for quick shots in the sunny mist that blows over from the falls.


First half of the path through the rain forest was fairly level ...

... but there were mud holes and tree roots and rock outcroppings to keep things interesting

Unpacking my camera at the overlook

Just to prove we were there

Part of our group perching on the overlook

The object of our affection

Lounging in a protected area of the overlook


On the way back down we paused to admire a column of golden ants (who climb onto this leaf only to disappear through a hole and continue on their way)

Waiting for the others to catch up (at a small river that had to be forded on the path)

Barb and guide Antonio waiting for the canoe to come fetch us back to the base camp across the river