Angel Falls is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall with a dizzying height of 979 meters – 15 times that of Niagara Falls. The waterfall drops over the edge of the Auyan Tepui mountain in the Canada National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Gran Saban region of Bolivar state filled with awe-inspiring vistas. The park is 3 million hectares, making it the 6th largest protected area in the world. It’s home to more than 500 species of bird, 500 species of orchid, as well as ocelots, monkeys, poison arrow frogs, giant anteaters, armadillos, porcupines, three-toed sloths, otters, jaguars, pumas, and capybaras. The national park is filled with the unforgiving reality of nature, shaped by ancient, rugged mountains called Tepuys, countless twisting rivers, serene lakes, powerful waterfalls, the confused tangle of great majestic trees and countless other plants that comprise the jungle, and expansive, bright green savannahs. Yes, here you will find many fascinating, endemic creatures and plants, and nature’s most impressive landmark. This is our guide for Angel Falls. Don’t forget to put it on your BUCKiTDREAM list!
Before the 1930s, Angel Falls was an undiscovered wonder. Even the indigenous Pemon Tribe who occupied the valley beside Auyán-tepu stayed well away, believing that Angel Falls harbored evil spirits. They are named after Jimmie Angel, the US airman who first reported their existence in 1935. It all began in Panama city in 1921 and a chance meeting with a gold prospector who spoke of gold in the highlands and asked Jimmy to fly him out there. On the 12th of May, they flew out of Panama south of Rio Caranee and then westwards along Rio Carro. They had no map and no instruments but they eventually made it to the promised river of gold somewhere near Auyan Tepui and successfully panned for gold. In 1935, Jimmy set on yet another expedition in hopes of yet again finding that same river. This is when he discovered the rushing waters of Angel Falls.
When Jimmy returned home his story was dismissed as a wild exaggeration, so he returned to the falls two years later to prove its existence. Jimmy crash-landed his plane on the summit of Auyan Tepui – where it stayed for years to come (though it’s now proudly displayed at Ciudad Bolivar airport). In order to make it out of the jungle, his entire party had to walk for 12 days. The site is marked with a plaque in his honor.
Angel Falls is one of the world’s top tourist attractions and Venezuela’s most famous landmarks. It is part of the plateau that underlies the lands located in Venezuela to the south of the Orinoco river. The plateau is estimated at 2 billion years old and you can feel its age in its weathered immenseness. Its climate is tropical with frequent rainstorms and incredibly humidity. Formed more than 130 million years ago, the tepuis (table-top mountains) – of which Auyan Tepui is one of many found in the Canaima National Park – are massive and shrouded in clouds, with sheer drops that make navigation seem impossible. And the dense surrounding jungle makes you feel as though you might stumble across some ferocious dinosaur at any moment. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why they were the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost World. Over a century later and now the book’s title is made almost entirely redundant as millions of tourists find the area annually. The Falls were also the inspiration for the setting of the 2009 Disney animated film Up.
A flight from Puerto Ordaz or Ciudad Bolivar is required to reach Canaima Camp, the starting point for river trips to the base of the falls. The camp is framed by several small waterfalls which flow into a breathtaking lagoon edged by sandy beaches. River trips generally take place from June to December when the rivers are deep enough for use by the Person guides. Camping is forbidden in Canaima National Park, so arrangements will need to be made for accommodation – of which the local surrounding areas provide many options.
Between the end of December and April – Venezuela’s dry season – the rainfall is far more infrequent and the falls are far less impressive as there is very little falling. Whereas, during the rainy season, Angel Falls creates its own weather, those within a one-kilometer radius of the falls can feel its mist settling on their skin. If the flow from the falls is gentle – this will depend on the time of the year – then travelers are encouraged to swim in the turbulent pools formed by the plummeting waters.
The Tepui from which Angel Falls makes its dramatic plunge is known as Auyán-tepui, meaning ‘Devils Mountain’ (not ominous at all). The waterfall is not fed by conventional waterfall sources such as snow or glacier melt, lakes, nor a major river system. Instead, the deluge water responsible for the falls is all rainfall from equatorial tropical clouds opening up onto the forest atop the plateau.
Getting to the Falls proves a quite arduous journey, with two contraflow river boat rides, stream crossings, a steep, uphill 90-minute hike while struggling against the constant extreme humidity and mosquitos dining on your flesh the typical journey. Winding waterways edged with dense forest. Motorized canoes zoom over and around boulders through rapidly flowing sections of the river that have you bouncing around on your seat and likely getting soaked. However, as is often the case, the trials and tribulations inherent in the journey make the destination all the more rewarding. Standing in front of Angel Falls as it pours over the massive mountain and roars as it hits the gorge, sending water spraying in every direction is like nothing else on earth.
Note: the Falls cannot be seen on cloudy days and any meteorological predictions are likely to lead you astray. We recommend giving yourself enough time to account for the possibility that the waterfall may be shrouded in a miasma of water cloud the first time around. However, even with this precaution, there is no guarantee that a visitor will see its peak.
Other things to do in the area include: Roraima, a table top mountain near the park’s Guyana/Brazil border, is the tallest tepuis in the park, standing at 2810 meters tall! A trek to its summit takes five days. A famous walkway between the Sapo (translates to frog) and Sapito (little frog) Falls offers visitors the opportunity to walk behind a cascading wall of water from an entirely different perspective, and, therefore, an entirely different experience. And, as well as new opportunities to plunge into natural jacuzzis and bask on the shores of wide lagoons, travelers are encouraged to take part in hikes, boat trips, and excursions to the indigenous villages.
Alright, and that brings us to the end of our trip! Angel Falls is one of those to-be-remembered-forever places. Something that warms the cockles for years to come. Something so tale-ridden, you’ll be telling your friends, and their friends, and your kids and then their kids after them jaw-dropping stories and spreading the untouched natural beauty that is Angel Falls. Now stuff that backpacks full, and heads out to fill your brain with unforgettable experiences. Be sure to record your favorites in your BUCKiTDREAM planner!