The Gran Sabana is a land of romantic and spectacular table mountains. Some of the oldest land forms on earth, they were created long before the continents drifted apart. Now they stand as sentinels -- witnesses of the world's beginnings -- islands lost in time.
Wide sweeps of open savannah, scattered with elegant stands of moriche palms, are typical of the Gran Sabana's higher areas. Immense skies give the feeling of being on the roof of the world. Dramatic views of the scattered table mountains add to the sense of great distance and of separateness from ordinary realities.
Mount Roraima and the 'Lost World'
To see these mountains at dawn or in the evening casts a special spell: the changes of light and the movement of mists around their summits accentuate their remoteness and their age. The tallest is Mount Roraima, whose massive summit is another world again -- one of weirdly eroded rock formations, strange plants, valleys carpeted with crystals, and endless labyrinths. Its walls are so sheer and high that repeated Victorian expeditions claimed it was unscalable. Reports of its first ascent inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's adventure yarn 'The Lost World' -- a name that has since been applied to the Gran Sabana as a whole, as well as to Roraima itself. It is a fitting description of this ancient and surreal landscape.
Rivers spilling over the edges of escarpments and table mountains create dramatic waterfalls. The most famous is Angel Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world. There are many other waterfalls of every imaginable type, from wide thundering falls like Chinak-Merú and Kamá Falls to gentle cascades like Jaspé Falls -- where sheets of clear water tumble over the rich reds and bright oranges of a river bed made from solid jasper, a semiprecious stone.
This land is the home of the Pemón people, who are farmers, hunters and fishermen. They live in small communities, notable for their practical egalitarianism and tolerance. Their word for mountain is tepui, by which the Gran Sabana's table mountains are commonly known.
Wildlife of the Gran Sabana
The summits of the tepuis contain many endemic species that have evolved in isolation and are found on perhaps one mountain only. In the grasslands animals are sparse: there are giant anteaters and other mammals but they avoid being seen. Much of the rest of the region is covered by primary rainforest, a secret world where vision is restricted to a few tens of feet and where the lives of thousands of different species are interleaved in complex ecological webs.
Visiting the Gran Sabana
Most people come to the Gran Sabana just to see Angel Falls and the nearby tourist village of Canaima. Angel Falls is a truly spectacular sight, and Canaima has a very beautiful setting, but these are just tastes of the region. To the south and east there are places where table mountains surround you on all horizons, where pristine rivers meander through gentle valleys between dramatic escarpments, where huge waterfalls roar and tumble into empty chasms.
The Gran Sabana is a special region for us and it is where our love of Venezuela began, over fifteen years ago. We are able to offer some very special trips throughout the area. These include on- and off-road tours by 4WD vehicles, river journeys to the foot of Angel Falls or along the remote rivers that wind through the biggest concentrations of tepuis, short day walks, longer treks to the summit of Mount Roraima, and mini-adventures in seldom visited areas.
When to visit the Gran Sabana
The essential character of the Gran Sabana remains the same throughout the year. Its weather is not predictable: there can be long dry spells in the supposedly wetter May-August period, and the mountains can create local rain at any time. The drier season usually starts by October, by March the land is often parched and dusty. When the chance of rain increases in April or May, the grasslands revive and the rivers rise again to feed the waterfalls.
The Gran Sabana is so far from Venezuela's cities that there are few visitors for most of the year. The exceptions are at Christmas, Carnival and Easter, when most Venezuelans flock to the beach but some take advantage of the public holidays to explore a part of their country that most of their neighbours will never have experienced -- though even at those times very few venture far from the only black-top road that runs through the area.
Mount Roraima is starting to become known among the trekking cognoscenti (justifiably so), and one will usually find one or two small groups on the mountain, with more at Christmas and Easter.
National Park status
Since 1962 almost the whole area of the Gran Sabana has been protected as a national park, covering nearly 12,000 square miles. It is an important area of endemism, with over 300 endemic species of plant identified so far. Beyond the boundaries of the park there are areas of forest under threat from gold and diamond mining, and there is some wildcat mining by garimperos within the park itself. The few visitors who venture into the heart of the region bring an alternative source of income for hard-pressed villagers, and can play a greater role in helping to support the protection of this delicate and enchanted land.
Jasper Falls, Gran Sabana
"a magical, extraordinary place that has haunted me for 50 years"
Sir David Attenborough