After reading that Mount Roraima is one of the world’s most fascinating hikes, and watching the Disney/Pixar movie “Up”, this hike has been on my bucket list for some time. But located in the southeast corner of Venezuela, with the country in turmoil, the logistic to accomplish it would take some detail planning and perseverance. Fortunately, I located a reliable local tour operator to organize the trip for myself and three other avid travelers from Toronto and New York.
Our group met up in Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela. The instability of Venezuela had already started in the summer of 2013 when Nicolás Maduro was narrowly elected as the new president after the death of Hugo Chávez.
We met our tour representative at the Caracas airport, who helped us exchanged our US dollars to the local currency at the black market rates, which was 10 times greater than the official rate (60 bolivars to 1 USD instead of 6 to 1). This was done discreetly inside a black SUV with dark windows. Then he took us to a hotel in Maiquetia, a suburb 20 minutes from Caracas.
Next morning, we boarded a short regional flight to Puerto Ordaz, where we had some free time to walk around our hotel, bought some beers at a liquor store, some water shoes at a modern shopping mall, and ate a nice dinner in one of the better restaurants in town at roughly $4 USD per meal at the black market exchange rate.
The following morning was a long drive south to Santa Elena, the starting point for treks to Mount Roraima, and several other natural attractions.
Our vehicle, a Toyota Hiaca 7-passenger van, was fairly comfortable, and we stopped by fruit stands, orange farms, and was stopped by many military check points along the way. We had a nice parilla lunch, a style of grill used for cooking asado (BBQ), commonly found in South America.
We arrived to the main office of our tour agency in Santa Elena in the afternoon, and while the trip leader was going through some trip logistics with us, his tour assistants loaded up our 4×4 with camping gear, luggage, and food in preparation for the short drive to the trail head early next morning.
After a quiet overnight in Santa Elena and hearty breakfast in the morning, the 4×4 drove us to the indigenous village of Puraitupu. We quickly unloaded our packs, and made final checks to ensure we have everything for this 50-km return trek to the top of Mount Roraima.
Our group consisted of 5 adventurers, four of us from North America and one from Japan. We had one guide, one assistant guide, and two porters to carried our tents, camping equipment, and food for 6 days. We were responsible to carry our own sleeping bag, foam pad, and all of our personal belongings in our backpacks.
This first day of trekking was fairly easy. Keeping a steady pace, we walked on rolling hill trails, taking in the amazing Gran Sabana mountains in the distance.
Along this lower level trail, we met various indigenous people along the trail. There are 3 different tribes in the immediate area (Puraitupu, Taurepanes, and Kamarakofo), and although they are harmonious, they do not socialize with each other. They are superstitious, and believe that tribe members are able to cast spells on other tribe members. Pagan rituals are also observed in addition to Christianity.
That day, we set up camp near a clean and clear river. We were able to replenish our water bottles without water purification tablets, as there are no animals in this area. We bathed in another nearby section of this river.
The guide and the assistants cooked us a very nice beef and spaghetti meal. We enjoyed the peaceful scenery, but retired to our tents early as the temperature dropped quickly after sunset.
We woke up bright and early for Day 2 of our trek. The trail was still fairly flat, but we could see our progress towards Mount Roraima. We passed by a small church used by the indigenous people, with carved columns as legends and myths of the Pemon people. The guide explained to us that all these carvings were made by the Mountain God of Roraima. There were carvings of little black frogs, which are endemic in this area, and we would be able to see them once we are on top of the mountain.
We crossed many more rivers, some crossing required water shoes and sure footing as the water level was quite high and fast flowing; which is the reason this trek is not possible during the wet season. We saw birds, lizards and grasshoppers along the trail.
We made it to the summit base camp shortly after lunch. At this spot we left behind personal items not required for the final trek up the mountain. At this vantage point, we could see what looked like a daunting trail going up the mountain, the trail that a British explorer used when he scaled the mountain back in 1884. This remains the route hikers use today.
The assistant and porters set up everyone’s tents, and big tarps over resting benches and eating areas. After dinner, we bathed in a natural spring pool, enjoyed short walks around the vicinity, and generally admired the wonderful views all around us. We were so happy when bright stars appeared not so long after the awesome sunset.
Day 3 was to be the challenging day. As we trekked towards the base of the mountain, the path became a thick jungle with neo-tropical plants such as romeliads, tree ferns, and helicons. Then after the heavy vegetation, the trail up changed to a path right against the giant wall of the vertical mountain above. Luckily, the guide was patient and we had several rest stops along the climb up. In spite of the exertion, we managed to enjoy the views of the Gran Sabana valley below. Towards the end, there were some steep sections that required a bit of scrambling. We were tired and hungry but somehow managed to use the last of our will power to reach the top.
After a late lunch and a bit of rest, we kept walking to find a nice spot for our camp. We spotted a nice cave, but it was occupied by another group. We walked further towards the center of the plateau, passing some very interesting rock formations, such as the “flying turtle” and the “elephant guarding trail”, before finding a nice spot against a rock cliff for our 3rd night sleeping on Mount Roraima.
After setting up camp, we went to explore the mountain top. These tabletop mountains are considered to be some of the oldest geological formations on Earth, dating back some two billion years ago in the Precambrian age. We didn’t venture too far, as we were tired, and dinner was waiting back at our camp site. Standing at the cliff edge, we just savored the moment with yet another gorgeous sunset. The simple dinner prepared by the assistant guide was heavenly.
On Day 4, we had the whole day to explore the top of Mount Roraima. The summit area is over 31 square kilometers! If we had an extra day, we could have hiked to the famous triple point where Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana meet.
The entire surface of the summit was bare sandstone, with only a few bushes. Our first stop was the “Valley of the Crystals”. We saw many examples of unique fauna and rock formations. It was nice to walk without carrying our heavy backpacks. We came upon many small ponds of water, as it rains almost every day of the year at the summit.
The guide located the little black frogs, as well as a species of toad in the Bufonidae family, unique to the top of Roraima.
Then we hiked to a “natural jacuzzi”.
We hiked to the northwest corner of the tepuy, where there were two large boulders lodged together, with a straight drop of 800 meters below.
When we started to climb to the top of the knoll (highest point of the summit plateau), a blanket of fog roll in affecting our visibility. Luckily, after we reached the summit, the fog lifted, the sky opened up and we could once again see the valley below.
On Day 5, we started the return hike to the first night’s camp spot. We packed up after breakfast, and started to scale down the steep section. The waterfall along one section of the Roraima mountain was bigger and fuller than 2 days ago due to heavy rain overnight. It was so heavy that we had to put on our ponchos to avoid the spray reaching right onto the trail. We still got completely soaked in spite of the ponchos. It was also very slippery on this steep trail down.
When we finally descended out from the mountain and into the open, we looked back and was stunned by the view and our accomplishment. We could not believe the high wall that we had just climbed. As the mist roll through the tepui top again, we realized we were very fortunate with the weather during the difficult part of our climb.
We continued our journey back to the first camp, crossing now swollen rivers that rose up to our thighs. The guides and porters always crossed first, and would come back to assist us.
On Day 6, we woke up very tired, but we still had another 3.5 hours of walk back to the trail head. Nevertheless, we were all still in great spirit Half way into our hike , we came upon a small memorial right off the trail where apparently a young porter was struck by lightning and died some two years ago.
Finally we arrived back to the Paraitepuy village. We were greeted with a table of snacks and cold sodas. While enjoying our cold drinks and snacks, we quickly tidied up our packs and returned the sleeping bags and foam pad to the porters. Everyone had a big smile on their faces, reflecting on our good fortune of completing this experience of a lifetime.
Our last step was a drive to the small town San Francisco de Yuruani for a nice celebratory lunch. After the lunch, we returned to the tour office to bid farewell to our excellent guides and porters. We were amazed that during peak season, they would do back-to-back tours up the mountain without more than a few hours off.
We were then dropped us off at the bus station for our night bus to Ciudad Bolivar for our next adventure, a 3-days trip to see the Angel Falls.