Dense rainforests fill most of Venezuela south of the Orinoco and west of the Gran Sabana.
Viewed from above, the forest possesses a benign and powerful force. At dawn its breath rises in delicate ribbons of mist. Down amid the tangled darkness and humidity of the forest floor the jungle seems confusing and hard to comprehend, but all around you there are opportunities to learn about the patterns that make this most complex ecosystem work: bringing sense to the apparent chaos.
Most forest creatures will be aware of your presence and will keep well out of sight or high in the canopy. It is more likely to be the small things -- the tree frogs, deep iridescent blue morphos butterflies, columns of leaf-cutter ants and plants' often cunning and intricate defence mechanisms -- which will keep you spellbound.
Where to get into the forest
The most convenient opportunities to gain some insight into this remarkable habitat are from the TransAmazonica highway en route from Puerto Ordaz to the Gran Sabana, an area also partly subjected to the predations of gold and diamond mining.
Another option is the Caura river, which rises in the deep south and runs through the centre of the forests to join the Orinoco upriver from Ciudad Bolívar. It flows through the homelands of the Ye'kwana people who fish and farm shifting plots along the river banks, and it is an important communication route between them and their cousins further south. You can make the same journey as far as Pará Falls, a powerful horseshoe of thundering waterfalls deep in the forest.
In the upper Orinoco, near Puerto Ayacucho, narrow rivers are overhung with trees and lianas reflecting in the glassy waters. A scattering of tepuis (table mountains mostly found in the Gran Sabana) stand above the forest. The Cuao and Autana rivers pass either side of Cerro Autana, a tall stump-like tepui that represents the Tree of Life to the Piaroa. Travel in this border region is frequently subject to restrictions.