Canaima National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Canaima) is in the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela, in the southern state of Bolivar and spread out over 3 million hectares.
Canaima National Park is the gateway to Angel Falls. Although other waterfalls and lagoons can be visited from Canaima camp, the main reason tourists fly here is for the three-day, two-night trips to the base of Angel Falls. It’s listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Landscape, Flora and Fauna
Flat, grassy savannahs with dramatic tepuis (table-top mountains), waterfalls and moriche palms. Angel Falls is on the side of the largest of the Venezuela’s tepuis known as Auyan-tepui.
There is an incredible variety of tropical wildlife in the area, including monkeys, poison arrow frogs and hundreds of species of orchids. Mammals in the area are generally difficult to spot but include giant anteaters, armadillos, porcupines, three-toed sloths, otters, jaguars, pumas, tapirs and capybaras.Some of the birds that you can see are king vulture, paradise tanager, white bellbird, cock of the rock, musician wren, great kiskadee, bananaquit, velvet browned brilliant, capuchin bird, sooty-capped hermit, blue-cheeked parrot and others.
How to reach Canaima National Park?
There are no overland routes to the settlement of Canaima. The only access is by air. Avior and Rutaca fly to and from Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Bolívar and Caracas. Flights from Santa Elena have been suspended as of May 2016.
Access to the Sector Occidental is by air into villages like Canaima. However, the Sector Oriental (eastern sector) has road access via the Troncal 10. The new El Dorado-Luepa road to Santa Elena de Uairen connects the east of the park with the Brazilian frontier and a branch of it reaches the small village of Kanavayen, which is close to the spectacular Aponwao Falls.
For a trip to the Falls, it’s possible to charter a plane to Canaima from Caracas, Margarita Island, or Ciudad Bolivar airports, and then organize a tour of the falls on your own. In practice, the simplest thing to do is sign up for a tour that takes care of the details. It is best you book a tour from your home country. It is cheapest to book a tour online. Most tours booked on your own from Ciudad Bolivar airport will include a fly-by of the falls on the way to Canaima camp.
Top Things to see inCanaima National Park
Angel Falls or Salto Ángel is the world’s highest waterfall, dropping a total of 978m from the summit of the Auyan Tepuy, and with an 807m uninterrupted drop.
It is known as Parekupa-meru by the local Pemon Indians but gained the Angel name after US pilot Jimmy Angel crash-landed on the Auyan Tepuy while searching the area for gold in 1937. Instead, he found this spectacular waterfall. After 11 days of trekking, he reached Kamarata and made his find public. His plane was later recovered and can be seen in front of the airport at Ciudad Bolivar. After his death in 1956, his ashes were sprinkled over Angel Falls.
Angel Falls is situated in the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela. The area is filled with grasslands, with some dense jungle along the course of the rivers and at the base of the numerous tepuis, or flat-topped mountains. Angel falls is located on the side of the largest of the Venezuela’s tepuis known as Auyan-tepui.
There is an incredible variety of tropical wildlife in the area, including monkeys, poison arrow frogs and hundreds of species of orchids. Aside from the monkeys, mammals in the area are generally difficult to spot but include giant anteaters, armadillos, porcupines, three-toed sloths, otters, jaguars, pumas, tapirs and capybaras.
Angel Falls is deep within the National Park. When first entering the park (at the airport in Canaima) one must pay the park entrance fee of BsF. 35 (US$ 4). Visitor flying out to Canaima National Park must also prove they have received a yellow fever vaccination. Those who cannot prove this will be given the vaccination in the airport at Ciudad Bolivar.
The falls are located about 5 hours’ ride in a dugout canoe upstream from Canaima village. Most of the Park’s attractions can only be visited with a guided tour from Canaima. These can be booked from outside Venezuela, from Caracas, or from Ciudad Bolivar but prices are much more competitive in Ciudad Bolivar. Most tours that take you to the foot of the falls are two nights (one in Canaima, one at the falls) and three days, and combine all of the three elements below (and also include food and transport). Alternatively you can hire shorter tours just to go up to Angel Falls and back again. A typical tour will include the flight to Canaima, and then three days of meals and (very basic) accommodation at the various campsites along the river towards the falls. The trip involves several hours in a dugout canoe and a few hours hiking through gallery forest to the main viewpoint below the falls. Most tour guides speak spanish with limited English.
Mount Roraima is in a different area of the park, the starting point for this 4-8day trek is Paraitepuy, a small village about 1.5hours north of Santa Elena de Uairén reachable only by motorbike or 4WD (or MAYBE high-clearance 2WD vehicle if you’re lucky). Organised tours leave from Santa Elena a couple times a week, it is also possible to meet other travellers there and get a group together, although expect to have to wait a day or two to start. Guides are compulsory, unfortunately, although not entirely necessary or especially motivated. Porters can be hired for around $15/day and will carry up to 15kg. There are several campgrounds along the route and “hotels” on top of the tepuy – caves where you can pitch your tent. Hotel Coati is in fact located in Brazil, the summit of Roraima is shared between three countries – Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana, there is a monument marking the tri-border on top.
Things to do inCanaima National Park
The trip towards the fall itself has many attractions. The boat rides and walks through the jungle offer a unique view of Venezuelan flora, fauna, and terrain. If the water flow is mild enough, you can swim in the small pool that forms below the falls.
Apart from trips to Angel Falls, the Canaima National Park offers some challenging trekking, including trips to the 700km² plateau of Auyan-tepui, which can be arranged in Ciudad Bolivar. The trek to the top from the tiny village of Uruyen takes three days on rough tracks, and the final climb up a cleft in the massive rock wall is a tough scramble, but the rewards are immense – the landscape is surreal, with clumps of insect-eating pitcher plants clinging to the bare rock, and unlike Mount Roraima, you’ll barely meet another soul. Trips typically spend a couple of days on the top, and take 2 days to return to either Uruyen or Kavac. The weather can be wet, and chilly on the tepui – bring a warm fleece and some waterproofs!
The tourist village of Kavac has a bar, a small shop selling crafts, and traditional huts with comfortable beds or hammocks. Stay for a morning before your flight out and someone will offer to show you to the “caves”, really a narrow canyon leading to a waterfall and a refreshing plunge pool.