Canaima National Park, Venezuela

Photo: WakuLodge
Photo: WakuLodge

You’ve traveled to Venezuela to see the—not one of, but the—highest waterfall in the world. You flew to Caracas, quickly transferred to historic Ciudad Bolívar, and boarded a four-seater to fly into Canaima National Park. You flew over the vast, seemingly endless, jungle and caught glimpses of other stunning waterfalls along the way. You landed, surprisingly smoothly, on a dirt runway. Now you’re being welcomed to a remote lodge with a shell necklace and freshly squeezed juice. The anticipation is building.

The Waku Lodge sits on the Carrao River along the northwestern edge of Canaima National Park. The small lodge has open-air buildings with palm-thatched roofs. Simple rooms are decorated with wooden beams, trees painted on the walls, and hammocks hanging on the patio. Colorful macaws and huge toucans hang out in groups around the property. A squeaky tapir seems to have made his home here. You follow him beyond the chairs, scattered around the lawn, toward the beach. It turns out to be pink. From there, you can see Sapo Falls in the Canaima Lagoon.

Sapo Falls and nearby Sapito Falls recently became powerful waterfalls again. During the dry season, smaller Sapito Falls stops running, and Sapo Falls is reduced to a comparative dribble. But with the wet season officially beginning in June, the water flow has started to increase. Spray from the falls practically blinds and chokes you as you follow the trail behind the waterfall. When you can finally see the gushing water, it looks reddish in color, due to its high iron content, you’re later told. Since you’re already soaked, you jump into a calm pool to cool off. Sapo Falls is a perfect up-close introduction to Canaima National Park’s waterfalls.

Photo: Luis Carillo, Venezuela [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Luis Carillo, Venezuela [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Canaima National Park covers 12,000 square miles along the Guyana and Brazil borders in southeastern Venezuela. It’s the second-largest national park in the country (after Parima Tapirapecó National Park) and the sixth-largest national park in the whole world. The remote park, established in 1962 and later named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, is filled with sandstone tepuis (table-top mountains), sheer cliffs, and hundreds of waterfalls. With few roads and just a handful of missionary-built airstrips, the national park is largely unexplored. At least by outsiders. The Pemon people, who believe the tepuis are home to spirits, know the land well. Animals, from cougars and jaguars to armadillos and sloths, surely do, too.

After spending a few days hiking around the lagoon, riding boats close enough to get sprayed by waterfalls, finding rare orchids, and sipping mojitos in a hammock at the lodge, it’s finally time for the grand finale: an Angel Falls flyover. The more than 3,000-foot waterfall drops over the edge of Auyán-tepui, the largest tepui in not only this national park, but the entire Guiana Highlands that cover much of northeastern South America.

Long before you can actually see the massive waterfall, you start to hear it. At first, it sounds like thunder or a building collapsing in the distance. The noise becomes deafening as you get closer. But the waterfall is more beautiful than you ever expected. The water tumbling over the rocks, the surrounding green jungle, and the rainbows that keep popping up are absolutely breathtaking. And it’s only going to get better. Your helicopter is about to land near the falls.

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