Guayana, the Highlands and Gran Sabana
The Province of Guayana encompasses all Venezuelan territory southeast of the Orinoco River, accounting for half the entire country. The area is rich in natural resources such as gold, diamonds, iron ore and bauxite, and has received much investment over the years, making it the fastest growing industrial region in Venezuela. Moreover, the countless habitats within Guayana's varied and incredible landscapes - ranging from the Amazon jungle to the tepuis of the Gran Sabana - are home to some of the richest and most biodiverse flora and fauna on the continent.
Guayana is more commonly divided into The Orinoco Delta, the Guayana Highlands and Amazonas. For more information on these regions, click on the appropriate link.
|The Guayana Highlands
The Guayana Highlands is a rocky upland region encompassing the central part of Guayana south of the Orinoco Delta. It is bordered by Guyana to the east and Brazil to the south. The region is fantastically rich; bewildering landscapes are only exceeded in diversity by the flora and fauna that inhabit them. The region comprises the state of Bolívar, and features the wondrous tepui landscapes of the Gran Sabana and the world's highest waterfall, the legendary Angel Falls.
Located on the Orinoco's south bank, Ciudad Bolívar is capital of Bolívar State and has a population of 261,000. It was founded as Angostura in 1764, and grew as a fishing port. It was, however, the arrival of Simón Bolívar in 1817 that was to put the town firmly on the map. Angostura became a strategic planning center for the re-grouping and re-organization of troops after battle, and it was here that the British, Irish and German troops joined the ranks in support of the fight for independence. On 3rd May 1836, Angostura was named Ciudad Bolívar in honor of Latin America's greatest ever hero.
Today, the state capital is a lively, historic town. Some colonial architecture remains, and there are several museums and sights of interest in and around the city. Among the most popular are Fortín el Zamuro, a hill fort built at the beginning of the century, Puente de Angostura, the only bridge over the Orinoco (1,678m), Jimmy Angel's restored plane, on display at the city's airport and the rock art in the Cueva del Elephante, south of the city. Ciudad Bolívar has an average temperature of 29ºC and is blessed by a cool evening breeze. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants and tour operators in the city, and trips can be arranged to the Angel Falls, the Gran Sabana, Canaima, the Orinoco Delta, Amazonas and just about anywhere else in the country. The airport operates daily flights to Caracas, and there are buses to all big towns and cities.
Ciudad Guayana lies south of the Orinoco, where the river is joined by the waters of the Caroní River. The city, officially founded in 1961, is actually composed of the old town of San Felix and the new town of Puerto Ordaz, which lie either side of the Caroní and are connected by two bridges. Today, the joint population of the towns is 600,000. San Felix, despite its early roots has no sites of historical interest. Puerto Ordaz is a relatively new town bursting with modern buildings, shiny shopping malls and factories, and is efficient, clean and very wealthy.
On the whole, Ciudad Guyana has little to offer tourists. It does, however, make a good base from which to visit the Gran Sabana and the Orinoco Delta, either by organised tour or car-hire. Tourist activities around the town are predominantly of an industrial nature, such as tours around the Macagua hydroelectric plant, the Guri hydroelectric dam, and the Cerro Bolívar Mine. There are also two restored forts in Los Castillos. The city has plenty of good hotels and restaurants, and the airport has daily connections to Caracas plus other major cities. The bus terminal operates routes to major towns and cities. Several car hire offices are based at the airport.
|Santa Elena de Uairén
Santa Elena de Uairén is the only town in the region. It is the capital of the Gran Sabana and has a population of 8,000. The town was founded in 1922 as a Capuchin mission, and grew in the 1930s with the establishment of diamond mines in the region.
The town has good hotels, restaurants and a wide variety of travel agencies. It is a good place to arrange a tour into the Gran Sabana; Mount Roraima in particular.
Tour agencies offer a range of deals on 1-7 day tours, from all-inclusive packages to just a guide. The most popular sites are Roraima and the gold and diamond mines. The airport at has daily connections to Ciudad Bolívar, as does the bus terminal, which also runs daily to Ciudad Bolívar, Ciudad Guayana, Porlamar and over the border to Boa Vista. A good road network facilitates easy visits to nearby settlements, and jeeps or cars can be hired to explore the Gran Sabana independently.
The landscape of the Gran Sabana characterizes Canaima National Park and the Guayana Highlands. The 35,000km² plateau, the oldest on earth, is covered with expansive grassland savanna, tropical forests and rolling highlands dotted with tepuis and magnificent waterfalls. A road link through the region was established in 1973, and a paved road runs directly from Ciudad Guyana to Santa Elena de Uairén, near the Bazilian border. Numerous waterfalls and natural pools lie just off the road and are easily accessible by trails. Among the most stunnng are the 100 metre-high Chinak-Meru falls, the beautiful Quebrada de Jaspe, where a shallow river runs over a bed of bright red jasper stone and the 70 metre high Kamu falls, particularly beautiful in the afternoon when a full rainbow forms over the plungepool.
The Gran Sabana is sparsely populated and most of the inhabitants are members of indigenous Indian groups. The largest settlement is the town of Santa Elena de Uairén. Small, basic hotels, hostels and camp-sites (where you can pitch a tent or string a hammock free of charge) can be found at intervals along the road.
There are over 100 tepuis (Pémon for 'mountain') in the Gran Sabana. These flat-topped mountains gradually formed as the softer surrounding land eroded, and today comprise some of the most unique habitats on Earth. The flora on the surface of the tepuis has evolved in total isolation, and over 2,000 species of plant are endemic to this alien rock landscape. Several of the tepuis, including Mount Roraima, are clearly visible from the road.
The Angel falls - the highest waterfall in the world - is undoubtedly the most famous tourist attraction in Venezuela. The falls, 979m high, pour from the rainforest-covered Auyán-Tepui, which in Pémon means the 'mountain of the God of evil'. With waters falling for a clear 807m, it is also the world's longest drop. The water plunges into the Cañón del Diablo (the Devil's Canyon), a gigantic gorge which almost divides the Auyán-Tepui in two. The falls were named in honor of the American aviator and adventurer, Jimmy Angel, who managed to land on the surface of the Auyántepui in 1937 after having sighted the falls from his plane two years before. However, his plane stuck in the soggy ground and he could not take off again. Angel and his three companions were forced to descend the slippery rock-face on foot and trek through the jungle for eleven days until they finally came across a mission settlement in the Kamarata valley. Although the discovery of the falls is attributed to Jimmy Angel, the credit in fact belongs to Ernesto Sánchez, a retired Navy officer who visited and sketched the falls in 1910.
The forested sides of the tepui are rich in flora; tree-trunks and branches are home to epiphytes such as bromeliads and orchids. The humid air and altitude creates perfect conditions for many species to flourish, including lianas, palms, heliconias, mosses, ferns, fungus and lichens.
Canaima, once a small Pemón Indian village, is now renowned as the gateway to the Angel Falls. It lies in a beautiful location 50km southwest of the falls, on the Laguna Canaima, a beautiful beach-lined lake. Though it remains a small settlement, Canaima has grown considerably since the construction of a tourist camp and an airport.
There are several popular waterfalls in Canaima such as Salto El Sapo, Salto El Sapito and Salto El Yuri. Boating trips around the lake are possible, as are hikes through the jungle. However, The Angel Falls (Salto Angel) is by far the main attraction. It is best to visit the falls in the rainy season, when they are at their fullest. As there are no hiking paths or trails to the falls, access is boat or plane only. Planes fly from Canaima and pass over and circle the falls for about 45-60 minutes. Boat trips take 1-3 days, and go from Ucaima to the base of the falls. Boat trips, however, are only available during the rainy season (November to June) when the water levels are high. There are plenty of tour operators in the area offering 1-3 day package deals to the falls and other sights in the area with food, guides, accommodation (cabins or hammocks on Isla la Orquídea) and transport by boat all included. On some one-day boat tours it is possible to pay for transport only.
Accommodation in Canaima is varied, ranging from cabins (only available as part of a package deal) to small hotels to hammocks. Camping is permitted free of charge on the beach of the lake. There are few restaurants and shops, and only basic supplies are available. Canaima can only be reached by air; there is no land link. Daily flights operate to and from Caracas, Porlamar and Puerto Ordaz, and less frequent flights to Santa Elena de Uairén and Ciudad Bolívar, the latter of which is a also good place to organize a package tour to the falls.
Situated south of the Auyán-Tepui, Kavac is an additional base from which to visit the Angel Falls. It is an Indian-run resort and has a small airstrip with daily flights over the falls. The other popular trip from Kavac is to the Kavac Canyon and the La Cueva falls. Kavac is most popular as a dry season alternative to Canaima, as its rivers remain high.
Mount Roraima lies on Venezuela's border with Guyana and Brazil. The massive tepui, which plateaus at 2,700m and peaks at 2,810, is among the biggest on the continent. Mount Roraima, which in Pémon means 'the great, ever fruitful, mother of streams' is dramatic and strange in appearance. Black rocks, shrouded in fog and coated with lichens and mosses dominate the terrain, forming colored rock-pools lined with small beaches and adorned with beautiful flowers. The fascinating landscape and the relative ease of the climb make Mount Roraima an extremely popular tourist destination.
Tours to Roraima take a minimum of 5 days, and involve lengthy hikes and camping at the summit. Limited accommodation is available in surrounding settlements. Roraima can be reached from San Francisco de Yuruaní (69km north of Santa Elena) and Paraítepui. There are also buses from Ciudad Guayana and Santa Elena. All-inclusive package tours can be arranged in Santa Elena, Caracas, Ciudad Bolívar and Canaima. The dry season is from December to April, though the tepui plateaus can be cloudy and damp all year round.
|National Parks of Guayana
Canaima National Park is the sixth largest national park in the world. Covering some 3 million hectares and with an altitude range of 400 - 2,400m, the park encompasses the Laguna Canaima, the Carrao river basin, the mountains of Sierra de Lema, the Gran Sabana and the Angel Falls. The landscape of the park is dramatic and contrasting. Massive geological and altitudinal variation has produced a huge range of habitats within which flourishes an exuberant diversity of flora. The savanna varies from dry grasslands to wetlands interspersed with moriche palms. The moist air of the rainforest canopy is home to bromeliads, tree ferns and over 500 species of orchid, and cloud forests are rich in epiphytes, including mosses and lichens. The landscape is drained by a series of rivers, most of which are edged by gallery forests. The park is characterized by its numerous waterfalls and is famous for its tepui (table top mountains rising out of the flatlands), which are concentrated in the Gran Sabana and create an absolutely stunning setting at sunrise and sunset. The park is home to massive variety of exotic fauna. Jaguar, puma, ocelot, bush-dog, spectacled bear, giant otter, tapir, armadillo, capybara, brocket deer, agouti, giant anteater, raccoon, peccary, tree porcupine, sloth and capuchin, red-howler and stripey-faced monkeys are just a few of the countless mammals found within the various habitats. Canaima is renowned for its abundance of bird species, among the better known of which are toucans, macaws, parrots, parakeets, cock-of-the-rock, banaquit and hummingbirds. There are many species of reptile and amphibian, notably chameleons, caymans, iguanas, tree-frogs and many species of snake. The average temperature ranges from 10-21ºC depending on altitude and season. The dry season is from January to March.
Jaua-Sarisariñama National Park occupies the southeastern corner of the region, covering some 330,000ha. The three principal tepuis of the park are noted for their distinct caverns. Formed by subterranean waterways, these are possibly the oldest caverns on the continent. A range of vegetation types flourish in the sub-montane and montane habitats, including many endemic species. Access, however, is restricted to scientific researchers only.
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