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January 02nd, 2014

The Real Paradise Falls

Tour leader for over 25 years, Etienne Frans has visited some of Latin America's most remote corners. Recently he led our Coq of the Rock Journey to Venezuela and Guyana and discovered two of the region's most beautiful and remote waterfalls, including the inspiration for Disney/Pixar's 'Up'.

The Iguazú Falls near the delta of the Iguazú river on the border between Brazil and Argentina are certainly the most spectacular waterfalls on the continent if not in the whole world and are therefore an absolute must to see if you happen to be anywhere near them in South America. Maybe your family or friends have never heard of them but just last year alone they were visited by 1.4 million people so it's not exactly off-the-beaten-track which is probably fine for most of us. However for those people who are looking for something less crowded and something more unique there are some great alternatives on this continent.

With a drop of about 1,000m the Angel Falls in Southern Venezuela are the highest waterfalls in the world. They were accidentally discovered by Jimmie Angel who crashed nearby them with his airplane in 1933. Nowadays you don’t have to crash your aircraft to see them but access to this natural wonder is still restricted to small aircraft meaning only a lucky few get to see it. The gateway to get there is Canaima. The only way to get to this Amerindian village is by a one hour flight from either Ciudad Bolivar or Ciudad Guyana in very small Cessna’s with fabulous views on route of the Tepuys (table mountains) in the savannas below. I went twice to Canaima and I never saw any plane that took more than 4 passengers. From Canaima it's a 5 hour (motorised) canoe ride to get to the base camp which is near the bottom of the falls. When fully loaded the canoe, which takes about 12 passengers, can’t always take all the rapids on the Carrao and Churin rivers so some parts have to be done on foot either walking along the river bank or through the river itself.  At the moment there are four base camps, all right next to each other and very similar. These are more or less just a shelter from the rain with hammocks hanging beneath for you to sleep in. There are a couple toilets and showers too, but no hot water. The generator supplies electricity for a couple of hours during dinner which is served at long tables. Both times it was delicious fresh chicken from the barbeque and the night under the stars in the hammock is an unforgettable experience.

From the base camp it's still about a 1.5 hour hike along a trail through the forest to get near the bottom of the falls. Here there's a natural swimming pool with great views of the falls where if you want you can enjoy a quick dip - which is reall nice and refreshing after the walk. The return journey in the canoe from base camp to Canaima is faster as it's all down stream. Very near Canaima itself are several other falls including Hacha and ‘Salto de Sapo’ - these are especially great fun because you can actually walk behind them. Not for the faint-hearted, Hacha is particularly exciting and at a certain moment you’ll find yourself behind the fall in a kind of narrow tunnel formed on one side by the rock itself and on the other side by a curtain of thousands of litres of falling water. The only suitable outfit for this is your swim suit and footwear with a very decent grip - forget about flip flops!

Another waterfall which has to be mentioned here is Kaieteur Fall, found in British Guyana. If you've ever been impressed by a waterfall before then Kaieteur will blow you away. This is the highest single drop waterfall in the world, located on the Potaro river in the western jungles of  Guyana, accessible by two different means of getting there. You can travel there by a combination of walking, canoeing and camping, which takes a total of about six days. Or you can travel in a specially chartered light-aircraft from the capital, Georgetown. The aircraft we took had 13 seats, one for our guide and 12 of us passengers. A minimum of 8 passengers is required for the flight to go there. I asked the pilot how often they go and the answer was amazing; On average twice a week but very often just once. So those people who are looking for a waterfall all to themselves, here is your solution. The location is absolutely stunning, the aeroplane landed on an airstrip near the falls where there is the caretaker's house - pretty much the only man-made construction in the whole area. From here it's an easy hike of about 10 minutes to the view points at the top of the falls. There are no souvenir shops, no restaurants, no bars, no fences and no other tourists blocking your views when you take your pictures of the 740 feet drop and the Potaro river below finding its way through the pristine jungle before disappearing towards the east. The whole experience is just overwhelming.

Only twenty minutes flying from Kaieteur fall on the border with the Brazilian state of Roraima are the Orinduik falls, often included as an extension of the Kayeteur package. The main attraction here is to bathe in the water and enjoy a natural body massage. It feels like relaxing in an enormous Jakuzzi. Again, the only man-made constructions were the air strip and its caretaker's home. Similar to the Kaieteur Falls, these are equally as exclusive and get very few visitors lucky enough ever to witness them, giving the journey a real sense of discovery - like finding a treasure all of your own. 
 
On a visit to Latin America, if you're looking for remote and off-the-beaten-track destinations of amazing natural beauty - don’t miss out on these highlights.

>> Read more about Coq of the Rock Journey: Trail-blazing Through the Guyanas.
 
 


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