Hike Mt Roraima in Venezuela

Mt Roraima rose to fame when Sir Walter Raleigh described it during his search for the legendary golden city of El Dorado and Arthur Conan wrote of it in his novel “The Lost World”. Despite its fame it is not on the path so well-traveled. This is largely to do with it being located in the notoriously politically unstable country, Venezuela. It does indeed have the feeling of a lost world and it is unlike any landscape on earth. Although being located out of the way, in the far eastern corner of Venezuela, the hike itself is not too challenging.

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When you arrive at the top you realize what all the fuss is about. 

Why Roraima

Roraima is a moderate hike yet has the feel of true adventure as you enter a world unlike any other. It has a rich history with a dash of mystery. Each of the 3 days hiking to the top traverses completely different landscapes. The first day is grassy plains punctuated with termite hills. The tepui seems so close as you walk across the savannah. Roraima is invitingly in sight for most of the day. The first camp is beside a creek which offers a fresh swim to wash off the dust. Beer and snacks are available from a few rough sawn shacks. Remember good insect repellent as there are some nasty bities also ready to cash in on hikers.

Hike into the first campsite

Day 2 is about a 6 hour moderately easy walk up to the base of the tepui, camping once again close to a creek. The here vegetation is more lush and the elevation offers a great view across the plain towards the village of Pareitepuy, where you set out from the previous day.

The 3rd day is the most challenging as you scale up a ridge, under a flowing waterfall to the summit. The cloud forest is a feast for the senses as you pass through gardens of orchids, palms, bromeliads and ferns. It is a complete contrast to the dry savanna you left the previous day.

The "hotels" - pockets of caves and overhangs etched into the formations on the mountain.

At the top hikers stay in the “hotels” or caves nestled into the rocky formations. There is nothing luxurious about these “hotels” only that they are dry and sheltered perched on the side of the mountain with views for miles. There are tons of day hikes to do across the 31km² plateau at the top exploring a variety of landscapes including the valley of the crystals and river caves. It is easy to get lost and guides are an absolute essential here. Plan to stay at least 2 days at the top.

Facts and figures 

  • Rainfall - 1900 mm annually
  • Area - 34km² 
  • Elevation - Triple Point is 2,723 metres above sea level. The shear vertical drops off the edge are as much as 500 metres
  • Location - It is at the point where Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil meet 
  • Located in the Canaima National Park. The same park as Angel Falls, the highest waterfall on earth. Although to travel from one to the other takes about 1½ days journey.
  • Roraima is 2 billion years old which makes it one of the oldest geological formations on earth 

Safety

There has been a lot of media attention on the unrest in Venezuela and safety is a very real concern there. I don’t normally go on package holidays but for safety reasons I chose to have Hike Venezuela organise the trip. The only time we were in a group was when we hiked up the mountain and journeyed by boat up to Angel Falls. Both trips can only be done with a guide anyway. Every precaution was taken on every leg of the journey to ensure we did not fall prey to bandits.

Your guides are English speaking Pemon locals with a wealth of information on the area and its natural wonders. It is very easy to get lost up there and to hike without a guide would be ill advised. 


stunning views from our tent pitched in one of the many "hotels" (caves)

Orchids are everywhere on the hike up

Once you are in Santa Elena de Urainen you are quite safe. We walked the town without fear or concern. The hike offers no threat either. The greatest care is taken by the government to preserve this fragile area with its very rare species of plants and animals. EVERYTHING trekked in is trekked out including your own solid waste. There is NO litter, NO graffiti and NO fires. It is a credit to the Venezuelans that this area is so well cared for. 

In a nutshell

  • Distance – 25km each way
  • Duration – 3 days trek in and 2 days back
  • Temperature – 10° on the plateau 30° at the base
  • When to go – dry season is December to April
  • Cost –less than US$300 for the 6 day hike with Hike Venezuela plus travel costs from wherever you start out. This is THE cheapest country I’ve been to.

Average rainfall is just under 2 metres each year so there are pools waterfalls and bogs dotted across Roraima

To get the the summit you must hike under that waterfall. 

The lazy way

The longest day of walking is across the plain for 15km. That’s pretty easy going for most people. It takes 3 days to cover the 25km to the top of the tepui. The final 5kms to the summit is pretty steep, slippery in some places and takes you right through a waterfall. We felt that it should have been a 2 day walk in total even with the tricky final ascent. My knees are in very poor shape and I had little trouble with the following:-

Porters can be hired to carry your pack the whole journey for about US$50. Tip generously as it is very inexpensive.

Pack your hiking poles. They are a Godsend on the final ascent to the top. The steps from the second base camp leads up some clay steps through the cloud forest. Poles can make all the difference on this stretch particularly, but hiking poles make the hike easier the entire trek. 

Hiking poles made the difference for me between making this hike and not. 

The vertical shear tepuis of Mt Roraima looms as you hike into its base. 

Getting there

Although many airlines no longer go to Caracas there are some exceptions and it is possible to fly there still. I highly recommend Hike Venezuela to arrange transport within Venezuela by both air and road. They are all about getting you around in the safest and most time effective manner. It is so inexpensive; take the personal taxis as it is much safer than the buses. There are bandits and they are more likely to target the tourist buses than individual cars. The cost is so cheap and it is much safer and more comfortable.

The stop off point to hike Roraima is Santa Elena de Urainen in the south eastern corner of Venezuela right on the border of Brazil and a stones throw from Guyana.

You can also get to Santa Elena de Urainen from Boa Vista, Brazil as it is 150km south. Buses go from Boa Vista each day and then a taxi can take you to Santa Elena de Urainen.  With limited flights to Caracas recently, this has become a more popular means of entry.


Image courtesy of Hike Venezuela

Highlights

  • Cloud forests on the ascent
  • Weird and wonderful animal and plant life, including the pebble toads and carnivorous plants unique to this area
  • Exploring the river caves at the summit 
  • Valley of the crystals including a dip in the chilly stream 
  • Hiking around the weird moon-like landscape
  • Valley of the crystals including a dip in the chilly "Jacuzzis"
  • Camaraderie with the local guides and fellow hikers from all over the globe 

Giant Anteater. We encountered one of these extraordinary creatures on the savanna when we were leaving Paratepui. Giant Anteaters live on the termites whose mounds dot the landscape.

These tiny we toads the size of your thumb roll themselves into a ball and bounce off down the hill when threatened by predators. They are found only on these tepuis in this region. 

The Jacuzzies - Pools in the Valley of Crystals. One of the wondrous and varied "regions" on the summit. 

What to take

  • Wet weather gear. It rains a lot up there not to mention traversing under a waterfall to get there
  • Insect repellent. Strong as the bugs at the 1st camp are nasty
  • Warm clothing. It gets cold up there and shorts and tank tops as the savanna gets hot
  • Wet wipes and toilet paper. Venezuela has a toilet paper shortage. Note that everything including your solid excretions are brought down off the mountain. Not fun but important in preserving this extraordinary and fragile place
  • Hire or take a good hike mattress. You’ll be glad you did when bunking down on a rocky cave floor
  • Headlamp for inside the caves
  • Good hiking boots and the usual quick dry hiking clothing. There are no hiking stores if you leave something behind.
  • Snack bars. There is a shortage of food in Venezuela. The food they offer is plentiful but basic. Take enough to share with the guides as well.
  • Cash including US dollars in small denominations. Shop for a good deal on exchanging your home currency with Bolivars. The exchange rate varies hugely. No ATMs so have US dollars ready to exchange. US$150 for sundry items and generous tips is plenty for 2 weeks including a porter. 
  • A sense of humour,a sense of adventure and an open mind to all the media hype about this amazing country 

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