Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 14, 2017
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Heading for a Fall

Southern Venezuela's Canaimo National Park offers some of the world's most distinctive mountains and waterfalls

The best way to get to southern Venezuela's Hacha Falls in Canaima National Park is by airplane. Although there are flights from the capital, Caracas, and popular beach resort of Margarita Island, the closest airport is in Cuidad Bolívar, an old and crumbling city situated on the banks of the Orinoco River.

We headed out at daybreak to find the falls in a specially equipped DC-3 cargo plane. We followed the path of the meandering Orinoco before turning toward Canaima National park, part of the Gran Sabana, a region in Venezuela near the Brazilian border. The distinctive flat-top mountains, or tepuis, appeared on the horizon, jutting straight up for hundreds of metres from the grasslands that dominate this part of the country. The highest tepui is Roraima, which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle credited as inspiration for The Lost World.

At the top of a tepui, the Río Carrao originates and tumbles spectacularly through seven cataracts that form Hacha Falls. After a long hike through the hot jungle in the midday sun we took a swim below the falls. High levels of tannin from Brommetia tree leaves have tinted the water tea-colour.

Neighbouring Auyántepui (Mountain of the God of Evil) is the site of the famous Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world, with a drop of 979 metres into Cañón del Diablo (Devil's Canyon) below. Although the region's indigenous people have known about the falls for millennia, it was named after American bush pilot Jimmy Angel, who was initially hired by a prospector to find a river of gold mentioned in legends. In 1937, his airplane got stuck on the surface of Auyçntepui and remained there until 1970 (it is now on display at Ciudad Bolívar's airport).

Despite its magnitude, Angel Falls becomes a thin ribbon of water in the dry season. Come rainy season, it produces enough water for trips upstream by dugout canoe.

The rural community of Canaima is within the National Park. Populated by the Pemón Indians, the community relies heavily on the tourist trade for subsistence. Most of the accommodations are simple but Camp Canaima has a fantastic view of Hacha Falls. Local guides offer group tours and custom treks along the area's tannin-stained rivers and jungles.

Visits to Canaima, Hacha and Angel Falls can be arranged through travel agencies in Venezuela and at tour desks at the Caracas airport. A typical Canaima package includes three days and two nights at Camp Canaima, meals and airfare, and costs approximately $1000 per person.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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