Roraima is the highest tepuy (Spanish for table mountain) on the triple border of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. It is around 2,800 m tall. Its name is derived from 'Roroi-ma,' which in Pemon means 'big blue-green.' The only way visitors can climb to the top is from the Gran Sabana side, in Venezuela.
The first recorded person to climb this tepuy was Sir Everard im Thurn in 1884.
This mountain also inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his classic novel The Lost World in 1912. He envisioned cavemen and prehistoric animals running amok atop the summit. Although far-fetched, the idea is a valid one: the tepuys are regarded as 'islands in time' by scientists since species have developed in complete isolation on top of them over millennia.
First described by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1596, its 31-km² summit area is surrounded by 400-m-tall cliffs on all sides.
The top of the tepuy consists of quartzite (hard) and sandstones (softer when weathered), they appear black due to added organic matter (moss, fungi) over millions of years. Erosion on the top has created ponds and pols with crystal clear and crystal rain water, there are some areas with pink sands, which gives it a truly other world landscape feeling.
Flora and fauna
Due to its remote location, one-third of the plants evolved to be endemic to the table. Most of them became carnivorous.
The tepuy's steep sides, surrounding rainforest, and altitude at summit create a unique climatic environment that is most notable for its changeability. Moist air rising off the surrounding rainforest in the tropical heat creates heavy rain clouds that billow up and across the summit of Roraima causing frequent showers and downpours. Due to the altitude, nights on the summit are cool. You may find yopurself having to ascend or descend the path up the cliff in heavy rain in which case there will be torrents of water rushing down the track and waterfalls in the upper areas that will hit you like a fire hose. You may also need to wait at river crossings until the river level goes down. Your guide will help you.
There are very few flights to Santa Elena de Uairén. Rutaca Airlines is the only airline that services the town with any regularity from Ciudad Bolívar and Puerto Ordaz. You should contact the airline at the Ciudad Bolívar Airport +58 285 632-4465 / 632-8426 to find out more information about the flights. They should direct you with information on how to book.
Night buses go to Santa Elena from Ciudad Bolivar, Puerto Ordaz, Maturin and Puerto la Cruz in Venezuela and from Boa Vista Boa Vista in Brazil. There are also buses that go direct from Caracas Terminal de Oriente (22-hour trip). Bus companies that do the route are Expresos Los Llanos, Expreso Occidente, and a state owned company with red buses.
The buses are cold and drivers refuse to raise the temperature. Bus temperatures average around 7ºC (45ºF).
The Boa Vista route is the best connection for those coming from anywhere in Brazil.
Fees and permits
To climb you need a permit from inparques. Joining a guided tour will handle this for you. It is possible to sneak up and down, if you are so inclined. Remember don't leave anything on top, but pee.
There are at least 4 operators:
- Backpacker Tours - run by a German-Venezuelan family
- Mystic Tours - Apparently the oldest one. Good and cheap
- Marcos - great cook, slightly more expensive
- Francisco - good and cheap too.
There are a lot of Europeans on the trail — mostly Germans, French and English tourists — and some Venezuelans with all companies. Consider that the more people walk the trail the more degraded it becomes, so try and reduce the amount of your kit and hence the number of porters needed or consider managing without porters.
There are 5 ways to do it:
- Fully ported, porters carry everything - check to see if everything includes sleeping bag, mattress personal effects, etc.
- Pay-to-be-a-porter, as above, but you carry 12 kg
- Self-equipped and -catered
- Get to paratepui by yourself and hire a guide there
- Going on your own, with or without permission from inparques. Risk of getting lost on the top.
The summit of Roraima has several natural attractions.
- Triple Point: a small concrete cairn marks the point at which the Brazilian, Venezuelan, and Guyanese borders meet. The point is long three hour hike from the entry point to the summit. The valley of the crystals is close by, an area of exposed quartz veins.
- El Foso: a large, 10-m diameter sink hole that extends into a small underground cave that has been hollowed out of Roraima's black rock by thousands of years of constant rain.
- The Labyrinth, near Triple Point.
- Lake Gladys on the far end.
- The cave near the entrance.
Most tours up Roraima go for 6 days: 2½ days up, 1½ on top, 2 down. If you and your guide are feeling fit enough, you can ascend in 2 days, stay 2 full days on top and then come back in another 2 days.
You can also do an 8-day extended trip with 2 more days on top.
It is possible to do it in 4 days with 1½ up, 1½ on top, and 1 down.
It gets cold and wet on Roraima. There are about 10 habitable caves on the plateau in which one camps. This is very welcome but in peak periods the caves are all occupied and there is plenty of evidence of tents being pitched on the flatter stone pavement with stones to secure guy ropes.
You must join a tour to climb to the summit of Roraima, but select your tour company carefully. Backpackers Tours comes well recommended by other travelers and offers good food, tents and guide. 'Aponwau Tours', on the other hand, may be the cheapest option but is reportedly a false economy: reports of broken stoves, shoddy equipment and a shortage of food.
Try to get a written contract from any company before paying.
Hygiene standards suffer in difficult conditions and the two camps before the base of the cliffs are not models of cleanliness. Be very careful as traveller's diarrhea can persist after it seems cured and is debilitating.