Venezuela was the one country I didn’t expect to visit in South America. Back in 2016, I had the chance to go, and despite my fears about safety in Venezuela, I decided to risk it. I was lucky to spend some time with my friend in Caracas, where I would not have gone had she not been there. As I was going to ‘brave’ it and travel to Venezuela, I wanted to make sure I made the most of my time there, so instead of worrying about backpacking Venezuela and how to get to Angel Falls, I booked a tour to see Angel Falls, the Gran Sabana, the Orinoco Delta and Mount Roraima. After Caracas, Angel Falls was my next stop, so I set off with trepidation and excitement!
How to Get to Angel Falls
I left Caracas on New Years’ Day in 2016. What a way to start the year! I took a flight from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz, and was picked up at the airport to drive to Ciudad Bolivar, where the next morning I’d set off for Angel Falls. Getting to Angel Falls isn’t easy. From Ciudad Bolivar, we had to take a flight to Canaima National Park, where we would continue the journey to Angel Falls by boat, and then hike to the base of the falls. You can only visit Angel Falls as part of an organized tour.
Who is Angel Falls Named After?
Angel Falls isn’t named after heavenly angels as I had assumed. In fact, Angel Falls is named after Jimmie Angel, the first known outsider to see Angel Falls when he flew his plane over the falls in 1933. In 1937 he returned to the falls, landing his plane on top of Auyantepui, the flat-topped tepui mountain over which Angel Falls cascades. The plane got stuck in mud on top of the tepui, and remained there until 1970. Now, the little aeroplane is outside Ciudad Bolivar Airport. I was excited to see a little piece of history from the falls I was about to see with my own eyes!
My Journey to Angel Falls
We boarded our own small six-seater plane, for the journey to Canaima National Park. I’m not a fan of these little planes, as I suffer from motion sickness. I remembered the last time I’d been in one of these when I flew over the Nazca Lines in Peru and threw up the whole time! Luckily, I managed this journey without vomiting, although I was glad to be back on solid ground the views from the aeroplane were incredible!
We were picked up from the airport in Canaima National Park and taken to a hotel where we could store our baggage before we set off again to get closer to Angel Falls. I took a day-pack with me and a change of clothes, as that night we would be camping next to the river, before hiking the last part of the journey to the falls the following morning.
The next leg of the journey was up the river, in canoes. I admit I was a little disappointed to find they were motorized, but when I realized how far we had to go, I was glad to be speeding along! The canoes weren’t particularly comfortable, but we did have a couple of breaks to get out and stretch our legs, and to have lunch. The boat journey took most of the day, and we gazed around us at the changing scenery.
Tepui flat-topped mountains loomed in the distance. Green plains gave way to thick forest on each side of the river, which was getting low as it was late in the dry season. In parts we struggled to pass over the rocks on the river bed, the guides told me in a few days they would have to stop coming by boat until the rains came, meaning the only way to see Angel Falls would be by plane, just like Jimmie Angel!
We pressed on, the distant tepui getting closer with every minute. Suddenly, the boat stopped. The guide had spotted something unusual in the water. We couldn’t believe our eyes – it was a jaguar swimming across the river! Jaguar sightings here do happen, but even the guides had never seen one in the water! It crossed right in front of the boat, and once it had reached the bank it climbed out, and slid into the bushes, disappearing from view. We all looked at each other, amazed!! My first jaguar sighting! We were very lucky to see the beautiful animal.
WATCH: The video of my visit to Angel Falls
We finally made it to the camp just as the light was fading. We took a few photos of Angel Falls, which we could see across the river, a sliver of water tumbling over Auyantepui. It was dry season, so there didn’t seem to be much water cascading down, by the bottom it disappeared into mist behind the trees.
Meanwhile, our guides were busy preparing our dinner for the night – barbecued chicken and rice. After the long journey in the boats, I was ravenous! I’d never seen chicken cooked like this, on sticks around the barbecue. It was delicious! That night, we slept in hammocks, all of us excited for the final leg of our journey to Angel Falls.
Swimming in Angel Falls
The next morning we woke early, and after breakfast set off to hike the last 30 minutes or so to reach the bottom of Angel Falls. As we got closer, the falls loomed above us, no less magnificent for the lower level of water. The hiking path was narrow, and we clambered over roots, climbing up from the river to the base of the falls. Through a break in the trees we could see the falls again. Angel Falls really is incredible.
We soon reached the base of the falls and found a pool at the bottom. We couldn’t see where the main waterfall hit the ground, but there was a secondary level where the water flowed over sloping rocks, so the water had slowed and made a pool perfect for bathing in!
The water was cold, and there was still a strong flow which we battled against to get as close as we could to the flowing falls. I couldn’t quite believe I was there. This was a huge bucket list item for me, and I really didn’t think I would be able to do it. I felt truly humbled, and very lucky to be there.
Canaima National Park
When we had finished playing in the water, it was time to hike back to camp. I didn’t want to leave this magical place, it felt like we had only just arrived, and time had passed too quickly. The return boat journey was quicker too, we were going with the flow of the water this time, instead of battling against it. We arrived back to our hotel in the Canaima National Park, and explored the area. The hotel was on the shores of Lake Canaima, where more waterfalls splashed into the lake. The lake itself was shallow around the edges, then plunges deep enough to allow for diving right off the shore. In the middle of the lake there were sand banks to rest on and enjoy the view.
Our guide took us behind one of the waterfalls, Hacha waterfall (on very slippery rocks), and we scrambled up to the top of the falls for splendid views of the plains below. Although they weren’t quite as impressive as Angel Falls, it was still quite a place! When we took the flight back to Ciudad Bolivar we had a beautiful view of these falls as well.
When I arrived in Ciudad Bolivar, it felt strange to be back in a city. A driver arranged by the tour company picked me up from the airport, and he took me around some of the town to explore. It certainly didn’t feel dangerous here, different to Caracas for sure, but I was still uneasy. Perhaps the expectation of it being unsafe was playing on my mind. The next day I would be on the move again though, this time to go to the Orinoco Delta and spend a couple of days on a jungle lodge on the banks of the Orinoco River, before heading to my greatest challenge yet – Mount Roraima.
Please note: I loved my time in Venezuela, made possible by a Venezuelan friend of mine. However, this was in January 2016, and the safety in Venezuela has deteriorated since then, especially in the capital, Caracas. This trip MAY be possible crossing the border from Brazil, but I do not recommend flying into Caracas. Before you travel get as much advice as you can from people there, join Couchsurfing groups to meet locals, and ask other travellers about their experiences. I want to share how magical Venezuela is, but at the same time I can’t recommend going there at the moment. I can only hope that the situation improves for the people of Venezuela soon, and that this amazing country becomes a safer place for everyone.
Have you been to Venezuela? Do you recommend it? I’d love to hear your comments below.
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