June, 2016: The south east of Venezuela is largely taken up by the 3 million hectare Canaima National park. The park contains some of earth’s oldest rock formations including numerous table top mountains called ‘tepui’. Mount Roraima is the tallest of these at 2830m and we spent 6 sweaty but amazing days hiking it. While the hike is definitely quite challenging, climbing Roraima was one of the most stunning hikes we did on our trip. We couldn’t recommend it more.
We didn’t get off to the greatest start when torrential rain welcomed us at the start of the hike. Soon enough though, we were marching off with the muddy, clay rich soil making our shoes feel twice the size. Over the next 2.5 days a relatively well trodden path took us through rolling savannah country and across gushing mountain rivers. The whole time Roraima and it’s next door neighbour Kukenam came and went behind a constantly changing wall of cloud. A distant waterfall morphed from a barely visible trickle to a gushing torrent depending on how much rain had just fallen. When it wasn’t raining, the views were stunning.
On day 3 our well trodden path changed to a slippery, rainforest covered goat track which clung impossibly to the surrounding cliffs. The last few 100 metres saw us clambering over lichen covered boulders under the drenching mist of a waterfall. Around lunchtime we arrived at the summit drenched in sweat. While celebrating with a snickers and few shots of brandy, I realised we were standing in a landscape unlike I had ever seen. Cloud seemed to boil over the cliffs revealing sheer drops down to the savannah country below. A breath of wind would then close the cloud in again to leave us groping around in eery, white nothingness. Walking frogs* ambled over wind eroded rocks of all shapes and sizes. Bubbling streams of crystal clear water meandered past mini gardens of carnivorous plants. We had arrived at the lost world of Roraima!
Day 4 of climbing Roraima saw our guide wake us in the chilly, pre-dawn darkness. A rare break in the cloud provided the perfect opportunity to get a good view through the curiously named ‘window’ lookout. After an hours march we arrived, almost stumbling through the window before becoming aware of the stunning views all around us. We were standing right on the edge of Roraima. In front of us stretched cloud covered jungle as far as the eye could see. In the growing morning light, we could see a bunch of waterfalls tumbling over the walls of the adjacent tepui, Kukenam. We felt like the bushmen in the God’s Must be Crazy except we didn’t have a coke bottle to throw over the edge. It was nature in all it’s glory; breathtaking, spellbinding and completely humbling. We had it all to ourselves.
Our first foray into Venezuela’s wild side had been an absolute triumph. The 34km descent over the final two days nearly killed me due to my dodgy knees and the bottle of rum we drank on the last night. Still, the weather held out and we finished in style with wood roasted chicken, termite hot sauce and ice cold beer. Climbing Roraima was an epic way to start our Venezuelan trip!
*Note: A quirk of evolution means these little black frogs have developed without the ability to hop. They just walk everywhere.
Climbing Roraima travel tips:
- We booked our 6D/5N trek through Backpacker Tours in Santa Elena (http://www.backpacker-tours.com, Calle Urdaneta, Santa Elena). It cost around USD600 for both of us which included tents, guide and all meals. It also included porters to carry everything other than our personal belongings. We had to bring a 1L bottle of water each (you can refill along the way) plus chocolates and snacks. The food provided was plentiful but it’s still good to bring a bit of chocolate and other snacks. Also bring a bottle of booze to help warm you up at night and for the odd celebratory cheers. You can buy alcohol from the villages on the first day but it’s quite expensive.
- Our guide for the trip Ricky was amazing. He as been climbing Roraima for years (about 300 times) and speaks great English. He also went to great length to make sure we knew what to expect from the fairly gruelling hike. We had read some fairly ordinary reviews about Backpacker Tours but even though we paid more than what we could have, we were still very happy with them and would definitely recommend both them and for sure, Ricky.
- We later learned that you could book the trek more cheaply through some other operators in town. The cheapest way we heard of climbing Roraima was organising your own guide and food in Kumarakapay where the road to Roraima turns off the highway.
- While in Santa Elena we stayed Posada Backpacker which is directly above the Backpacker Tours agency. A huge double room with private bathroom (cold shower) cost USD6.30/night (for both of us). Both electricity and water were intermittent at best.