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Destination Angel Falls and Canaima

Locked away in a rain-forested canyon to the northwest of the Gran Sabana, Angel Falls is the world’s tallest waterfall: twice the height of the Empire State Building, three times higher than the Eiffel Tower and four times Canary Wharf. The waters drop almost one kilometre, tumbling and billowing out of the sky before they meet the forest floor.

Angel Falls is so isolated that despite a first report in 1910 it was not finally known to the outside world until 1935 when it was seen by bush pilot Jimmy Angel, the far from celestial being after whom the falls are named. Angel only confirmed the falls’ location in 1937 when he crash-landed nearby on a search for gold.

Jimmy Angel

Angel’s story is an entertaining one. A Canadian air-force pilot of the First World War, he was in a bar in Panama when he met geologist and explorer J.R. McCraken. McCraken contracted him to fly to the Gran Sabana, landing on the summit of a tepui. Here McCraken settled down to a day’s serious gold-panning, extracting a sack of nuggets so heavy that Angel was worried the plane could not take off. When it was time to leave, the plane waddled as best it could over the sheer edge of the tepui then dived alarmingly before Angel could level it out. He coaxed it back to Caracas, where McCraken settled the second half of Angel’s hefty $3,000 fee.

Clearly no fool, McCraken did not give Angel a map but simply directed him as they flew. Angel later scoured the area on his own account, but though he found the falls that bear his name, he never located McCracken’s lode again.

Tepuis

Auyán-tepui, the mountain from which Angel Falls plummets, is the largest in area of the hundreds of tepuis (sheer-sided flat-topped mountains) scattered over the Gran Sabana and the Orinoco rainforests. The falls pour into the side of a deep canyon that splits the mountain almost in two. At the canyon’s bottom runs the Río Churún, a pleasant fast-running river which winds around rocks and boulders through the forest of the canyon floor, between the mountain’s massive orange, red and mauve walls; here sparkling with quartz in the sunlight, there lowering broodily in the gloom of the shadows.

Getting up close to Angel Falls

An exciting way to see Angel Falls is to travel up the Churún river by dugout when its waters are high enough,  mooring opposite the face of the falls, which are an hour and a half’s walk away on a jungle trail. You can stop at a lookout point in front of the falls, or continue to their base for an exhilarating dip in the pool below the cascade, billowing and tumbling over itself from an impossible height above you. Wildlife is never far away: sightings on our most recent trip included a sloth swimming across the river.

Canaima

To reach the falls you generally fly to the tourist village of Canaima where there is a small selection of lodges. Canaima’s location is seriously beautiful: to the side of a lagoon fed by two sets of handsome waterfalls, with a backdrop of two fine tepuis. A boat trip around the lagoon is very worthwhile, with the option of walking behind one of the waterfalls – an impressively deafening experience. River trips to the foot of Angel Falls start nearby.

From Canaima you can also take scenic flights to see Angel Falls from the air. If the jungle adventure to reach the foot of the falls is not for you, then this is an excellent way to experience their sheer scale and the romance of their remote location.

To the east more tepuis stand like sentries across the landscape, but the next village of any size is far-away Kavanayén perched on the edge of an escarpment overlooking the forest.

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