The “Lost World” (El Mundo Perdido) of towering table mountains (”tepuis”) stretches across southeastern Venezuela’s rolling Gran Sabana (Grand Savanna), 35,000 square miles of grassy plains crisscrossed with rivers and dotted by rainforests and waterfalls. An estimated 1.8 billion years old, it is the oldest such plateau in the world. Home to the savanna is the Canaima National Park, a World Heritage site the size of Belgium, and, at 7.4 million acres, the world’s sixth largest park. Guyana borders the Lost World to the east; Brazil to the south.
With a population of 20,000, Santa Elena de Uairén, capital of the Gran Sabana, is the Lost World’s big city. Indian villages Wonken (in the Gran Sabana’s heartland) and Kavanayen (near Aponwao) make for spectacular viewing of the tepuis and boast airports. Parai-Tepuy (not far from Mt. Roraima) and the postcard-worthy tourist camp of Kavac (within range of the waterfall and canyon of the same name) are other popular urban highlights. At the northern tip of La Escalera en route to the historical Venezuelan town of Ciudad Bolivar, the desolate mining town of Kilometro-88 (yes, that’s Kilometer-88) is reportedly handy for supplies for the Lost World, but little else.
Waterfalls abound here — some seasonal, some not. Angel Falls, the world’s highest, has a free fall of 2,640 feet. Aponwao, also known as Chinak-Merú, stands at more than 328 feet. You can swim through a four-foot-wide canyon to the base of the Kavac waterfalls. To the south of the Lost World, Jaspé Falls (La Quebrada de Jaspé), a series of small waterfalls along a wooded stream, run over a bed of red, yellow and orange jasper. Its name in Pemón, Kako Paru, means “fire creek.”
Once on site, your travel options are usually to walk, fly, or hop a dugout river canoe piloted by local Pemón Indians. When navigable, one of the Lost World’s many rivers is often the best bet for reaching your tepui of choice. The hard bit is making that choice.
Angel Falls, Venezuela’s top tourist attraction, is located on the pinnacle of Auyantepui (”Devil Mountain” in Pemón). At 8,530 feet tall and with an area of 270 square miles, it is the largest of the Lost World’s tepuis. At 9,000 feet, Mount Roraima ranks as the Lost World’s highest tepui — only 44 square miles of it have been explored. Next to Roraima looms Kukeyan, the perfect pick for panoramic views of the Sabana. Another 97 tepuis, some explored, some not, remain.
Prefer to trek in a car? Good luck. In the Gran Sabana, you can find:
23 paved roads
10 paved roads
3 paved roads
1 paved road
The Lost World’s Canaima National Park is only about a two-hour flight from Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, but trekking among the tepuis is not for those who like their vacations on the soft side. The Park asks visitors not to try and climb the tepuis without at least one guide and one porter. Though accessible to relatively fit visitors, Mount Roraima is described by tour companies as a “vigorous” climb. Auyantepui, home to Angel Falls, is sometimes termed as better left to experienced hikers. Whatever your mission, be prepared for adventurous living. En route to Mount Roraima — a three-day trek on average — you might stay in palm-thatched huts on the savanna (”churuatas”) and sleep in hammocks or tents on the slopes. Bathing facilities usually come in the form of rivers.