A prehistoric island among the clouds
Standing between Brazil and Venezuela is Mount Roraima, a prehistoric plateau with natural ‘hotels’ and Jacuzzis from where you can peer over sheer cliffs that tower up to 400m high.
Mount Roraima is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Lost World’. His famous novel inspired the hit film ‘Jurassic Park’, and while there may be no dinosaurs living on this table-top mountain, its ecosystem is highly unusual indeed.
The unique habitat is not Jurassic, but Precambrian, the period of history spanning from the planet’s creation about 4.5 billion years ago until about 580 million years ago. According to calculations, the Roraima dates back almost 2 billion years. Standing 2,810m above sea level, its plateau is home to endemic species, like the Roraima black frog and certain types of orchids and carnivorous plants.
Tepuis are the oldest exposed formations on the planet. Plateaus more than a billion years old that tower over the rainforest, many of them over a thousand metres high, and usually made up of sheer vertical sides and flat tops. The Roraima, located in the La Gran Sabana, the eastern sector of Canaima National Park, is one of the few tepuis that can be reached on foot, and is the highest in this Venezuelan park. Thanks to its specific location, it’s one of the wettest regions on the planet, with rain falling almost every day of the year. The sides have been scarred by several rivers and dozens of waterfalls sprout from the vertiginous cliffs. A landmark on the summit of the mountain is the ‘triple point’, marking the border between Brazil, Venezuela and the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Spread out below is the plateau, a 31-square-kilometre platform of natural pools and rocky formations.
Expeditions to Roraima last between five and six days and start in Santa Elena de Uairén, a tiny city lying at the foot of the giant mountain, in the Venezuelan state of Bolívar. Thanks to the natural ramp that surrounds the mountain, the ascent is relatively simple but it is still necessary to hire a guide. The perpetual clouds that cover the summit and the maze-like paths formed by the rocks are confusing even for travellers blessed with a good sense of direction.
A van sets off in Santa Elena and takes you to the village of Paraitepul. From there, you can walk to one of the three base camps near the mountain (Tök Camp, Kukenan Camp and Base Camp). After reaching the plateau, the expeditions usually stay on the top for at least one day to allow you to enjoy the views, have a dip in the natural pools and visit the ‘monuments’. These pools are often called ‘Jacuzzis’ and when travellers reach the summit, there’s nothing better than relaxing in their waters. At night, accommodation is in tents that, with a bit of luck, are pitched under the ‘hotels’, rocks that jut out, offering shelter from the wind and rain.
The northern end of the tepui is known as the ‘Abyss’ or ‘Bow’, due to its triangular shape and abrupt angles. A natural observation point looking over the Gran Sabana, the drop is so steep that anyone going near the edge does so lying on their stomach while another person keeps hold of their ankles. This gives you an idea of how sharp the mountain’s edges are. The danger of this world, lost among the clouds, comes not from dinosaurs, but from the heights.