The Salto Ángel

A huge column of water that erupts furiously from the imposing rock wall of the Tepuy Auyantepuy falls with a deafening roar and disappears into a dense mist of water spray before reaching the Churún River. This is Angel Falls – in some guides it also appears as Angel Falls or Angel Falls in English -, the highest waterfall in the world with its 979 meters of altitude, of which only 807 are continuous fall, while the rest are small equally impressive waterfalls.

The waterfall Angel Falls is located in the Canaima National Park, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. A whim of nature full of rivers, rainforests and 115 tepuys, high rocky plateaus of Precambrian origin, with almost geometric edges Chiseled by erosion for millions of years. The geologists agree in dating this place as prior to the irruption of life on the planet, but there is not much unanimity about who discovered the Angel Falls. Venezuelans attribute it to explorer Ernesto Sánchez, who in 1910 notified the discovery to the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons in Caracas. The story, however, has wanted to leave as its discoverer the American pilot Jimmy Angel, who in 1937 accidentally landed on the top of the tepuy becoming officially the first human being who put his foot on the Auyantepuy, data more than enough to baptize the waterfall as Angel Falls in his honor.

The Mountain of Hell

This huge waterfall has always lived wrapped in a halo of magic. The Pemon Indians, natives of the land and who in our days combine their ancestral traditions with their tasks as tour guides, already knew her before the Jimmy Angel air incident. They called it kerepakupai will see or kerepakupai merú, which means “jump from the deepest place”, but they did it from terror. Because the Auyantepuy, for them Mountain of Hell, harbored the mawariton or “evil spirits”, and especially Tramán-Chita, the supreme being of evil. Today we know that the rage of this cataract is not due to any devil but to the force of the water of the intense tropical rains that are concentrated and unloaded only on the tepuy itself. That is why there is no river proper, but improvised streams that meander over the plain until they converge on the hillside. The rain that gives life to the Angel Falls can also be a hindrance for the traveler: the higher the rainfall, the more chances of encountering clouds that make their sight impossible. On the other hand, in the dry season (between December and March) the sky is usually flat although the cataract also falls more squalid. The virulence of the torrent, together with the steepness of the tepuy walls, hinders the growth of plant life, as well as animal migrations. Hence, endemic flora and fauna species have been found at the top, such as certain carnivorous plants that only inhabit the peaks of these plateaus.

Adventure upriver

Access to Angel Falls is quite an adventure, because access to the national park is only possible by plane and, depending on the vagaries of the weather, rain and fog can turn the flight into a hazardous journey. A swim in the cold waters of Lake Canaima, surrounded by a dense vegetation of tropical trees and palm trees, will be a good baptism of emotions. First because there is enough current in the lake: the water enters with force by the Hacha, Golondrina and Ucaima jumps and leaves by the Ara Jump, a slope where the river runs its course. But, in addition, the white sand beaches contrast with the reddish waters and even full of foam. There is nothing to fear: it is not pollution but the effect of tannins and saponin from the vegetation. In Canaima you can hire a flight of about 45 minutes by plane to fly over the Devil Canyon formed by the waters of the Churún River to the Angel Falls. The most intense option involves going upstream on board a curiara (a type of indigenous canoe with outboard motor) and ending the journey with a one-hour walk to the viewpoint in front of Angel Falls.

The crossing to Angel Falls

Along the way, almost certainly we will visit some capricious rain and we can aspire the aroma of wet forest, discover how the lack of nutrients in the soil leads the trees to unfold the roots on the surface in search of decaying organic matter, contemplate the colorful plumage of the macaws, feel at the mercy of the river in Mayupa rapids and listen to the deafening roar of the falls that fall from the tepuys. Because, although the waterfall Angel Falls is the most famous, along the entire cutting of the Auyantepuy there are magnificent waterfalls -like the Churún-Merú- that plunge into the void surrounded by enigmatic clouds of steam.

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