“ City: Canaima / Destination International / Country: Venezuela / World Region: South America „
For those of you who read my Angel Falls review you will remember that I mentioned the town of Canaima as being the launch point for our trip up the Rio Carrao to the Falls and for the vast majority of people visiting the town that is the primary reason for visiting however it is worth setting aside a few days to enjoy the delights of the town as it is a wonderful place to both relax and also see some beautiful falls that will not have you enduring a bum numbing four hour boat ride in a motorised dugout.
The only realistic way into Canaima is by air and it is a three hour flight in small six seater planes (we had a group pre booking but prices are between $80-100) however the views along the way are excellent as you see the jungle and lake strewn grass lands as well as some pretty amazing table top mountains as well. The airfield runway is at least tarmac however if there are lots of flights coming in at the same time the rather gung-ho pilots have been known to use the dirt strips alongside the runway to land as these guys tend to only have a passing regard for aviation guidance from what I could see, certainly our pilot ignored the recommended flight ceiling for our plane. There is a $4 park entry fee to be paid upon arrival and at the airport there is a large building around which locals come to sell tourist souvenirs and you can buy some food as well from a couple of cafes.
The main centre piece of Canaima is the Laguna de Canaima which is stunningly beautiful with a set of water falls at one end and golden white sandy beaches running adjacent to the falls. The other two sides are only reachable by boat and here the jungle runs up to the shore. Just off shore from the beach you have three or four palm trees standing proud in the water. The water falls are a solid body of water and they do create a current within the lagoon however it is safe to swim in providing you stay away from a small, rather unobtrusive hydro electric plant which provides the energy for the town however it does not really impact on the overall view. I loved to sit and watch the falls in action, it has a sort of hypnotic effect and one of the others in our group got an excellent bit of video when whilst recording the falls and lagoon a plane flew at low level right over the top of the falls and across the lagoon, it was a stunning shot.
At the moment after a knee op I'm sitting here with an iodine coloured leg and this brings back unique memories of the fresh water lagoon as minerals in the water means that when you look down at your skin it is a rust colour while in the water, it is caused by the tannins in the water, it is a strange effect and for someone who is rather pale and the sun is not my friend it was cool to look tanned for a while even if the colour does not transfer to your skin it is just the tint in the water. The beach was very empty while we were there with our group of 17 dominating and only couples and groups of four meaning that there were never more than 30 people on the whole expanse. Fringing the lagoon there are some buildings including what looked like a more up market resort for accommodation with separate chalets and a restaurant building, not exactly five star, far from it, but signs that the indigenous villagers are gearing up for increasing numbers of tourists.
The locals are friendly enough but do keep their own company to the most part, there are a number of Posadas to stay in and a few places to grab food including a general store however remember that as everything is flown in prices will be on the high side. Most of the accommodation is geared up to tour groups and in the busy times it can be hard to arrange accommodation if not on a tour so it is best to book something before you arrive however I did meet a couple of Germans who were camping for free on the beach. We were staying in accommodation that was a large open sided building with a palm leaf roof with hammocks suspended from the wooden structure and my much disliked mosquito nets providing cover from the night critters. We had a large kitchen area to prepare the food we bought in with us and a communal dining area to consume it.
All around you there is village life going on with chickens running about and kids chasing them, there are signs of development with a sort of open air theatre built which looked like it had never been used and a couple of dirt football pitches that the locals used all the time, so sport wins over art I guess in Canaima. Needless to say there was soon a locals against school team match in full swing on one of the pitches.
One of the highlights of a stay in Canaima is to visit Salto El Sapo which area set of magnificent falls. To get there you cross the lagoon in motorised canoes getting a great view of the falls in the lagoon, then it is about a forty minute walk up an incline before descending a rather more steep bit of jungle to the hugely impressive falls which have a roped walk way that allows you to walk behind the falls and appreciate the sheer mass of water that cascades over the 30 metre drop. It is an awe inspiring sight and personally being this close to such an impressive body of water was more exciting for me than our actual view of Angel Falls. You will get wet so protective bags for your cameras and you do need trainers as the rocks are very slippy. Once out the other side you can climb up to the top of the falls to get some stunning views out across the jungle and to go stone hopping to get right to the waters edge before it drops away. This for me was one of the highlights of my five week trip to Venezuela.
At night Canaima is rather quiet with little in the way of street lights but there is the light from the buildings themselves, still a head torch is always useful, unable to sleep one night I did find a locals bar and got a few funny looks when I waltzed in but was soon having a stilted conversation with a couple of locals. There are a couple of excellent craft shops on the island where surprisingly the prices for things like blow guns (big favourite with the 16 and 17 year old males in our group) and Indian jewellery were very reasonable and most of us stocked up on souvenirs with little regard as to whether we would get them past customs into the UK.
For me Canaima is another must see place when in Venezuela and if on a tour to Angel Falls it is ideal to plan a couple of extra nights there to enjoy the beach and especially Salto El Sapo Falls.
Thanks for reading and rating my review.