Mount Roraima is a spectacular flat table mountain surrounded by sheer cliffs creating an island floating in the sky on the plains of the Gran Sabana (the Great Savannah), a large part of south eastern Venezuela. The mountain is the highest of the Pakaraima chain of tepuis in South America. Covered with unique structures, animals and plants found nowhere else on earth this unique table top mountain is a prehistoric island. It is unfortunate the amazing country Venezuela has so many political and financial problems, because it is one of the most beautiful countries in South America. The spectacular Mount Roraima and Angel Falls are some of the only destinations in the country still frequented by adventurers from over the globe.
After traveling for more than a year in South America this is what we think is the 29 Best Places to Visit in South America.
Hiking on Mount Roraima, surrounded by three different countries; Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana is one of the most unique places I have been in more than seven years of traveling and exploring the world. A hidden treasure in the lesser known parts of South America this amazing place belongs on the top of any explorers bucket list. ‘Roroi-ma,’ in the Pemon language means ‘big blue-green. This mountain is the highest of the many Table Mountains scattered over the grasslands of The Gran Sabana. There are some unique fauna and flora on each of the tepuis since species have developed in complete isolation on top of them over millennia.The strange rock formations, quarts fields that look like a diamond encrusted fairy land, insect eating plants and many high waterfalls gives the whole area an unreal feel and has been an inspiration to writers and movie makers since its discovery. Roraima is truly a lost world, an expedition undertaken by only a handful of adventurous hikers and explorers these days.
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Mount Roraima Facts
Mount Roraima is a tepui shared by three countries Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. A tepui is a table-top mountain found in South America, the word means “house of the gods” in the indigenous Permon language of the Gran Sabana. The tepuis are large sandstone blocks that rise up sharply from the surrounding jungle creating spectacular scenery. At 2810m above sea level this prominent peak is the highest point in Guyana and among the highest points in Venezuela and Brazil. The flat top of the mountain is a massive 31-square-kilometer area defined by 400-meter-tall cliffs dropping down on all sides. Hiking through the Gran Sabana in Venezuela it takes two to three days to summit Mount Roraima. There is no trail on the Guyana or Brazil side and the sheer cliffs can only be scaled by the most experienced climbers. There are just so many spectacular and interesting sites on top that you can camp here for a week exploring pools, waterfalls and the unique fauna and flora.
While traversing the top of the mountain you can reach the triple border point where the three countries meet. Mount Roraima is one of 115 tepuis in the Gran Sabana area of Venezuela close to the border with the countries Guyana and Brazil. It rains almost everyday on top of this mountain. The large surface area at the top forms a huge area to capture rain water creating some spectacular waterfalls over the sheer cliffs all around the mountain. Another well known tepui in Venezuela, Auyantepui, located in the Bolivar state is the source of the famous Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall. The largest part of Mount Roraima is located in Canaima National Park in Venezuela, 85% of the mountain is located in Venezuela, 10% in Guyana and 5% in Brazil.
Animals and Plants on Mount Roraima
There are some unique fauna and flora on each of the tepuis since species have developed in complete isolation on top of them over millennia. 35% of the plants and animals on Mount Roraima are not found anywhere else. It is interesting that several carnivorous plant species evolved on Roraima and we were very excited to find some of them!
One of these insect ‘eating’ plants is the beautiful Marsh Pitcher Plant. The plant has large white and red flowers that attract pollinating insects, once the insect is sitting on the tubular leaves it slides inside into a pitcher-like depth filled with a deadly mix of digestive enzymes. Some other indigenous and interesting species we kept an eye out for were the Bellflower, Rapatea Heather, the Roraima Bush Toad and the brown-nosed coati.
Mount Roraima Stories and Myths
The mystical Mount Roraima has been inspiring story tellers for centuries and still does today. The story told by the native Pemon and Kapon tribes of the Gran Sabana was that a mighty tree holding all the fruit and vegetables of the world used to stand on the Gran Sabana. Makunaima, a mythical trickster chopped it down unleashing a terrible flood. The flat Mount Roraima is the stump left after chopping down this tree.
More recently it is said to have inspired the Scottish author Arthur Conan Doyle to write his novel The Lost World published in 1912. It is a story about the discovery of a living prehistoric world (that looks like Roraima) full of dinosaurs and other primordial creatures.
In modern popular culture Paradise Falls in the animated Pixar film Up is said to be inspired by Mount Roraima.
The modern story – the tabletop mountains of Roraima are seen as some of the oldest geological formations on Earth, dating back some two billion years. Sandstone settled on igneous rock and eroded away over millions of years to form the tepuis. Erosion of the flat surfaces on the top created depressions, which was further sculpted by rain over time to create amazing rocks, caves and crystal clear ponds and pools forming this unique prehistoric landscape.
Being South African Mount Roraima kept reminding me of the famous Table Mountain back home in Cape Town. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania was one of our toughest and most interesting trekking challenges on the African continent.
Getting to Mount Roraima
The trailhead for the Mount Roraima hike is at the hamlet Paraitepu which can be challenging to reach on public transport. Getting to the trailhead on your own is not impossible, but looks like a mission.
San Francisco de Yurani is the closest town to the Paraitepu 22kms (14 miles) away. There is public transport for this stretch, but this is however not very reliable. It is a long walk (5hours) or you can try to hitch a ride with a jeep taking groups to Paraitepuy.
San Francisco de Yurani can be reached by public bus from Santa Elena de Uairén, Caracas, Ciudad Bolivar, or Ciudad Guyana
Getting to Paraitepu from Santa Elena de Uairén
There is an airport at Santa Elena if you choose to fly in. Santa Elena has a variety of accommodations and you can find tourist agencies, restaurants, public busses and stores selling supplies here.
Tour companies leave from Santa Elena de Uairén, a large town close to the border with Brazil. If you do the hike with an agency, they will take you by jeep to Paraitepuy.
How to Hike Mount Roraima
The Paratepui Route, is the only non-technical hiking route available for climbing the mountain. The route crosses the Gran Sabana from Paraitepu hiking towards the two prominent tepuis Roraima and Kukenan and after some river crossings starts to climb a rugged and slippery trail to the summit.
You cannot hike this route completely independently since a guide is compulsory. There are companies in Santa Elena that offer all-inclusive tours; you can also try to find a guide here to lead your trek.
The cheapest way to do the hike is to make your way to Paraitepu and get a guide in the village. Doing it this way you will need all your own equipment and you will probably be responsible for food for the guide.
We did the hike with Martin and Jana, a couple we met in Santa Elena and a guide, Luiz (Vago L Suarez). We managed to rent tents, a stove and other equipment and buy food in Santa Elena, Luiz owns a jeep, we paid him for transport to Paraitepuy.
Mount Roraima Tour
Vago L Suarez (Luiz) owns the company La Gran Sabana, all inclusive tours with him from Santa Elena cost between $280 and $375 per person depending on the duration of the trek (6-8 days).
You can do the trek with La Gran Sabana like we did, using all your own equipment. The cost is $150 per person with a minimum group size of 5 people. Prices for May 2020
Contact Luiz at La Gran Sabana
The Mount Roraima Hike -7 Days 6 Nights
The return hike from Paraitepuy usually takes 6 to 8 days, three days to reach the top, then one to three days exploring the top and it takes two more days to come down the same trail.
Following the trail to the top of Mount Roraima would not be hard without a guide, but on your own you will never find all the awesome hidden treasures on the top.
This first day of trek starts with a 2 hour drive from Santa Elena to the village of Paraitepuy where you check in before the trek starts. When we arrived at Paraitepuy and Argentinian couple that were camping close to the start of the trek asked us if they could join our group. They were refused entrance without a guide.
Day 1: Paraitepuy to Rio Tek Camp – 4 hours
The first day is a relatively easy 4 hour hike with the two massive tepuys, Roraima and Kukenan, looming on the horizon. The nearby river is a nice place to go for a swim. The Puri-Puri (sand flies) is a pest. These sand flies (midges) are everywhere the first two days. They are small and basically invisible, but leave extremely itchy bites. So keep your tents closed, wear long pants and DEET helps! There were two poisonous snakes around our camp, so walk around with a headlamp after dark.
Day 2: Rio Tek Camp to Base Camp – 3 hours
We crossed the two rivers close to our camp. The Kukenan river is quite strong and a great place to go for a swim. We helped each other to get all the backpacks dry across the river. The walk to basecamp is beautiful, slowly gaining elevation towards Base Camp at 1900m above sea level. There is a small river and pool close to camp, we went for a swim in the freezing water! It was a hot day, take sunscreen. Be prepared for amazing views of Kukenán and Roraima, camping right at the base of Mount Roraima.
Day 3 Base Camp to Hotel Cave Camp (Mount Roraima Summit) 3.5 to 4.5 hours
Steep climb with elevation gain of 900m from Base Camp at 1900m to our camp at 2800m. The climb was beautiful and steep going through thick jungle, waterfalls and at places climbing up rocks. If you carry your own equipment it is a tough climb carrying food, tents etc. The summit took us about 3 hours and 30 min. Camps are set up in caves on the mountain called hotels. This is great since it rains most days on the mountain. The mountain is beautiful on top, it is not perfectly flat with many pools and smaller flat top hills scattered over the surface.
After camp was set up we climbed ‘Maverick Rock’, the highest point on top of Mount Roraima and the views were spectacular. Maverick Rock located on the Venezuela side is the highest point of that tabletop mountain at 2,810 metres (9,220 ft). The rock stands near the southwestern edge of the mountain plateau, many groups only climb this rock the following morning.
Camping in the hotel was great, but pitching the tents on rock made for some hard sleeping, pack the thickest mattress you can get hold of. It got quite cold at night, but do yourself a favor and walk out of the cave late at night when the sky is clear, the stars were spectacular! We spent the next two days exploring the surface. Keep a look out for the carnivorous plants, there are a few different kinds around.
Day 4: Exploring on top of the mountain – La Grieta, the Mirador, La Ventana and the Jacuzzi
The highlight of the Roraima trek was exploring all the awesome sites on top of the massive plateau. Without a guide we never would have found the amazing sites. We explored the top of Mount Roraima for 2 full days.
On day 4 of our hike we were exploring the various sites on top of this interesting tepui for about 8 hours. We walked past some interesting caves, pools, massive boulders and oddly shaped rocks, my favorite was a rock that looks like a turtle!
We started hiking early before the rain started and our first stop was at La Grieta, there is a massive crack in the mountain and the split creates the big freestanding part of the mountain, this is a nice place to take photos, just be careful on the edge, it is a long way down!
Next we continued to the Mirador (Spanish for viewpoint). From here we had some amazing panoramic views of the valley.
We had several amazing views all around the top of this incredible tepuis, but our next stop La Ventana (The Window in Spanish) was our favorite, one of the most spectacular views that I have ever seen! This viewpoint is named after a rock formation that looks like a window. Here you can see many waterfalls dropping down from the vertical sides of the impressive Mount Kukenan. At this amazing spot we were above the clouds and you can look a couple hundred meters own the vertical cliff.
After a long day of walking we went for a refreshing swim on the way back in the pools called The Jacuzzi, it was nice, but the water was chilly!
Day 5. Exploring on top of the mountain – Triple Point, Lake Gladys, Valle de Quarzo
Day 5 was another awesome day exploring sites on top of the plateau.
It was a three hour walk from our hotel to the triple border point where the borders of Brazil, Guiana and Venezuela meet. Walking around the beacon in 5 seconds you were in three different countries!
We had lunch here after which we walked on to Lake Gladys.
Valle de Quarzo
The The walk back to camp took about four hours and we walked through Valle de Quarzo (the crystal valley). This surreal crystal covered landscape looks like something out of a fairy tale.
It is illegal to remove crystal and we were told people sometimes get searched after the trek, with fines up to $500 for removing crystals.
Day 6: Mount Roraima to Rio Tek Camp
This was a long day covering the distance of days 2 and 3 in one day while descending. We packed lunch and took break at base camp. Swimming at the river before the Rio Tek camp was great after which we went to pitch our tents for a last night camping.
Day 7. Rio Tek Camp to Paraitepuy – 3h
We walked about 3 hours back to the town. It was a relatively flat walk and easy walk. Our jeep waited in Paraitepuy and took us back to Santa Elena.
The trek was amazing, we walked a lot, but it was not too hard since we did not climb too much and altitude was not a factor. It is one of the most beautiful, unique, impressive places that I have ever been and I will recommend that anybody that loves hiking puts this one on their must do list!
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The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.