South America
South America Destination Guide

Angel Falls

Angel Falls

Angel Falls Angel Falls (Salto Angel), La Gran Sabana region of Bolivar state, Venezuela.G. De Steinheil/Shostal Associates Waterfall, southeastern Venezuela. It lies on the Churun River, a tributary of the Caroni, southeast of Ciudad Bolivar. The highest waterfall in the world, the cataract drops 3,212 ft (979 m) and is 500 ft (150 m) wide at its base. It was named for James Angel, an American who crash-landed his plane nearby in 1937.

Although first sighted in the early 20th century by the explorer Ernesto de Santa Cruz, the waterfall was not known to the world until its official discovery by the American aviator, James Crawford Angel, on a flight whilst searching for gold. Angel was born in Springfield, Missouri in 1899. The falls are currently named "Angel Falls" after him; interestingly enough, the indigenous name for the falls was "Devil's Mouth".

The official height was determined by a National Geographic Society survey in 1949 (see Jungle Journey to the World's Highest Waterfall by Ruth Robertson). David Mott's book, Angels Four, chronicles the first successful climb up the face of Auyan Tepui (Devil's Mountain) to the top of the falls. The falls are one of Venezuela's top tourist attractions.

Angel Falls is located in the wilderness of Venezuela, and a trip to the falls is not easy or cheap. An air flight is required. Trips are sold in a package for two people. The package includes a jet flight from Caracas to a wilderness retreat where meals and boarding for the night is provided. The next day a DC 3 plane takes visitors to see the falls. The falls cannot be seen on clouded days, and there is no guarantee a visitor will see them. During the winter there is very little water and the sight is not at all as spectacular as those seen in most photos. The entire trip usually takes 24 hours.You can only travel by dugout up the Río Churún in the rainy season, which runs from April-May to late November. Avensa (Venezuela Airlines) flies daily into Canaima over the spectacular falls; these are package tours with one or two nights accommodation at Canaima camp, where most tourists stay to enjoy the swimming in the red lagoon fed by seven waterfalls of the Carrao River. It is wise to book ahead as accommodation is limited, especially during the holiday seasons.

Angel Falls plunges from the top of a mesa, or what the natives call a Tepuyi. Named "Auyantepui", the Angel Falls mesa is one of over a hundred of its kind which are scattered about the Guiana Highlands of southeast Venezuela. Like so many slumbering giants, what characterizes these mesas (Tepuys) is their massive heights soaring up towards the sky, each with a flat top and totally vertical sides (check out the picture at left). Also called "table mountains" (which accurately describes their shapes) these Tepuys were formed out of sandstone billions of years ago. Their vertical sides are continually being eroded by the action of water from the heavy rainfall the Guiana Highlands gets.

The local Kamara Cota Indians speak of Angel Falls as Tulume Bena in Spanish, or Churun Meru in their language. For them, this is a dangerous sacred place; the falls are angry, and the Indians avoid speaking the name of the nearby mountain as this could cause harmful rains and thunderstorms . One elderly man reported that the Inca gods are still present here, as evidenced by the sounds of night in the jungle.

The sheer height of Angel Falls is unrivaled, and the transcendent feeling of being here in the rainy season when the flow of water is at its peak is almost beyond description. It was definitely worth the pain and severe danger endured to get here, although this would not be recommended for everyone. Many people in our group wisely refused to walk over slippery logs across raging torrents, or through dripping jungle vines threatening to snag or permanently soak our equipment, to half a mile from the base of the deluge where the spray inundating us from all sides made it almost impossible to see. It was purely amazing that Courtney was able to take photographs with a dry lens!

The glory of this jungle labyrinth is further exalted in the downstream waters of the Carrao and the Charun rivers. Seven cascades converge into a lagoon of an incredible sherry-red color, produced by the interaction of minerals with the decomposition of plant roots along the shore. These unique sites are certainly some of the most beautiful of nature's creations in South America.

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Angel Falls
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