Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Angel Falls

Trip experience to one of the amazing wonders of this world

Top of the  "Kerepakupai merú" or "Kerepakupai Vená" (Angel Falls) water fall
I will share our experience getting there, what you will need, and the best time of the year to plan your visit. This is a trip for adventurous people only, in good health, and ready to take a 3-day jungle like trip. It is not recommended for children or people with special needs. They will not make it. Because this place is in the middle of the eastern part of the Venezuelan Amazon Jungle.

Angel Falls is the world's highest uninterrupted waterfall, with a height of 979 m (3,212 ft) and a plunge of 807 m (2,648 ft). The waterfall drops over the edge of the "Auyantepui" mountain in the Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Gran Sabana region of Bolívar State (Venezuela). The height figure 979 m (3,212 ft) mostly consists of the main plunge but also includes about 400 m (0.25 mi) of sloped cascades and rapids below the drop and a 30-metre (98 ft) high plunge downstream of the talus rapids. Eventually merging into the waters of the "Carrao" river. (Source wikipedia)

Our experience:

We purchased a basic 3-day tour package. And I believe this is the minimum package you can get. There are several tourism agencies (you can find them at the Maiquetia airport complex, in Caracas, Venezuela) that offer the same package with different prices, depending on what amenities you want included (this means the type of stay in the main camp: open air, or private rooms, etc...) We got the simple package, because we wanted to enjoy the real deal. I believe they also offer packages for more than 3 days.

Gran Sabana Tepuyes (taken from the plane)
On day one, Monday April 10. We arrived early at the Maiquetia Airport (Caracas main International Airport) around 5:00 am. Then, took a domestic one-hour flight to the city of Puerto Ordaz. Once we arrived, we had to look for the tourism company office we purchased the tour. At their desk we presented the voucher, and our IDs. An hour later we were flying our way into the main Canaima Camp in a small plane with other few tourists whom joined us. The flight was about 45 minutes, and as we approached to the landing strip, we were already fascinated by the terrain and landscape. We could see many "Tepuy" (table top mountain), and several waterfalls, and rapids below us.

After landing, we checked-in, and register with the park rangers. There we paid the entrance fee to enter this national park. To our amazement, we noticed that the locals were using cell phones (and texting too). So, we tested the international-calls enabled phone we brought and it worked. We realized that even here in the middle of nowhere there is phone and wifi service. However when you leave the village area, there is no longer any cellphone antennas.

In the main camp, our tour guide was waiting for our arrival. After introducing himself he took us to the other end of the Canaima village, to wait for a boat ride to the other side of the river.

Canaima group of water falls
When we got to the river beach we got to see the first group of beautiful waterfalls: Hacha, Wadaima, Golondrina and Ucaima. Then we took a wooden "curiara" (wooden boat) ride to get to the island right in front of the water falls. This was going to be our main central lodging spot. Additionally, on the other side of the falls, there is a fifth water fall called: "Salto el Sapo". On the afternoon of the first day we took a short excursion to this water fall. And walked above it, and under/behind it. It was awesome! (See picture below)

People on the left of the water fall "El Sapo" getting ready to walk "trough it"
A little "visitor"
Then we returned to our main camp site, and we slept. During the night I took a stroll around the site to see the water falls during the night, and came across a baby python (or baby boa constrictor) that was moving through the ground and called my attention. Of course I had to chase it, and caught it. It was only about a foot and a half long. I showed it to the locals, and to my surprise they were afraid of it. So we took it far away, and throw it back into the jungle.

On the second day, we had the breakfast served and in mid morning we took a curiara ride back to the main village. There I waited for the other tourists that were going to join us to go up the river stream towards Angel Falls. First we took a half hour off-road ride on a 4x4 vehicle. Then a bigger curiara boat was waiting for our departure towards the "Isla de Raton". Warning, this ride is very rough on your rear end, because you will be sitting on a wooden "chair" going trough rapids, and sometimes scraping rocks, non-stop for FOUR hours. So, when you finally get up there, you really want to get out of the boat in a hurry. Depending on the time of the year you come, you might have to get out of the boat more than once, because of the river rapids can be very dangerous, or because of the river level is not high enough for a loaded curiara boat to clear the shallow areas. And if the water levels are too low, sometimes the tour to the Angels falls is not possible at all. Thus, make sure you pick the right time of the year to come to this place (I will tell you about it later).

Curiara (wooden boat) ride up-river.
We had lunch during the boat ride. And I'll highly advice to be prepared for the boat ride; you will get wet! These are my suggestions: You must wear clothing that will get wet (such as swimming trunks or water suit), and on top of it you should wear a jacket and a poncho. If you are taking a camera(s) with you, make sure you have a water-proof camera, or you have a zip-lock bag to place the camera inside of it; because you are going to get VERY WET. Also it will get very cold because of the constant water splash, and the wind blowing on your face (it will eventually get very cold). We were shivering during our way up (because we didn't know how cold it will get, and didn't dress enough, and because it also rained during the ride). You should apply on your skin sun-block protector (the highest you can get) because although you are very cold, the sun is very strong, and it will burn your skin without you noticing it. Only at night you'll realized that you got badly sun-burned. Remember you are very close to the Ecuador, thus very close to sun exposure.

For this trip you will need an extra set of clothes, and dry shoes (to sleep dry for the night at the base of the water fall and the returning trip on the next day). Place all those items in a plastic bag inside a water proof hiking bag, that the tour crew will take from you; and will place it inside a big tarp they have inside the back of the boat (look at the picture above you'll see the plastic tarp behind us, and in front of the curiara captain, wearing a yellow shirt).

We arrived at our destination at the base of the Auyantepui around 4:00 pm. And started immediately a 2-hour hike to the base of Angel Falls. Wear shoes that can handle water, rocks, and roots well. Our guide prepared us mentally that sometimes the Water fall is covered, and blocked by clouds. So, after all this long journey there is a risk that we could not see the water fall at all. After an hour and a half hike we got to the main look point.

And it was cloudy as we were warned. We could only see the bottom of the water fall.

Then the tour guide instructed the group to keep hiking more to, at least, get to the pool at the base of the water fall. I stayed behind for few minutes praying that the clouds would go away. And to my mind-blowing surprise, the clouds and fog started instantaneously fading away. So, I yelled out to the rest of the people to turn back, so they could also see the beauty of Angel Falls being revealed to all of us.

Me pointing at the world tallest waterfalls: Angel Falls

Swimming and standing at the base of Angel Falls
After few minutes of taking lots of pictures and videos of it, we finally continued our ascent to the water fall base. Now, we were very excited that not only we got to see it in person, but that now we were getting ready to swim into it, and feel its force. It was so worth it! I'm glad I could bring my father in law with me in this great adventure. The picture to the right is one of the many pictures we took at the pool below Angel Falls. I wish pictures could capture the entire beauty of this place and its surroundings. There is no way to describe how awesome it is. Perhaps when I get chance to upload some live videos, you could get a taste of it.

After a half hour at this place, we needed to start our trip back to the camp at the base of the water fall, and it gets dark very early. By 7pm it was already pitch black (include in your list of items a flash light too).

Two hours later we arrived to the camp. This camp is placed right across from the water fall. We had dinner served, and then we slept in "hamacas" (Venezuelan jungle hammock). You must place yourself inside of it in a diagonal direction inside the hammock; otherwise you'll be in back pain the next day. At this place there is no need for mosquito nets, because the temperature is cold at night. However, you should apply on your skin, mosquito repellent (just in case). After dinner, the tour guide narrated us some indigenous stories about this place and about his people (I happily served as the Spanish/English translator for our group).

River ride back (trough the rocks and rapids)
The next day we woke up early to get ready for the 4-hour return trip back to the main camp. By this point we knew what to expect from the curiara ride, and we had an idea of some spots during the ride that we could quickly get the camera out and snap some more pictures of the scenery around us. So, here is one of the pictures I was able to get (see the picture below). There are so many waterfalls along the river route. Most of these waterfalls are coming from the same Tepuy that Angel Falls is produced.

More water falls from Auyantepui

Luis on a mini Curiara
Three hours into the boat ride, we stopped at a different camp site for a short break, were we got the chance to swim in the Carrao river. And we "tried" to learn to stand on a mini-curiara boat. A half hour later, we continued our journey down river. And arrived to the main camp. Lunch was served, and then we went to the small airport, waiting to be loaded into a plane to start our journey back to Puerto Ordaz. Later that evening, we flew back to Caracas, arriving there around 9:00 pm.

List of minimum required items for this trip:

  • Swimming trunks
  • Water shoes (for the short hikes around the main camp site)
  • Hiking shoes (for the Angel Falls long hike)
  • Rain coat/jacket
  • Poncho
  • Flash light
  • Personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, hair comb, deodorant, etc.)
  • Sun-block protector cream
  • Mosquito repellent lotion
  • Sweater
  • Towel
  • 4 set of clothes
  • Ready to have fun

Best time of the year to plan the trip:

As you've read the trip to the falls is a complicated affair. The rainy season in this area is June to December, therefore the time that increases the best odds to make it to the Water fall is end of August through October. And the dry season is December through March, to avoid it if your desire is to make it to the Angel Falls. We got lucky, since we didn't know this fact, and we traveled in mid April.


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