It's home to several indigenous groups, and children are educated not only in Spanish but also Pemon, an indigenous language. Its proximity to the border with Brazil makes it a busy trade town... mostly importing products from Brazil, and exporting oil from Venezuela.
Flights to and from the airport are operated with small Cessna aircraft. Schedules change frequently.
There are very few flights to Santa Elena de Uairén. Rutaca 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 in Brazil. There is one day bus Puerto Ordaz and Ciudad Bolivar. A few buses travel to/from Caracas (Oriente Terminal) stopping in Cuidad Bolivar. These are semi-cama buses, and take 22 hours to make the journey. Bus companies that do the route are Expresos Los Llanos, Expreso Occidente, and a state owned company with red buses.
If you take a bus please understand that 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 - just one bus leaving from the bus terminal at 07:00. Co-taxis leave from a second bus terminal to Pacaraima (Sep 2013).
Carritos por puesto (co-taxi) from/to the Brazilian border (Pacaraima/"la linea") (Sep 2013).
If you need a stamp for your passport, consider that the Venezuelan Authority is closed from about 12:00-14:00
Taxis are very cheap. Taxi to the bus station (about half an hour walk): (Sep 2013).
- Breakfast: Panaderia Gran Sabana Deli, good sandwiches.
There are many choices around town:
- Venezuelan Primero (Calle Perimetral)- atmosphere as in an exclusive Italian restaurant in Europe, good Venezuelan dishes apart from Pollo asado; by far not the cheapest option in town, but absolutely worth it. The nice waiter is a plus!
Brazilian comida a kilo - not far from the church (Calle Zea). Opens just for lunch at 11:00, so don't be too late.
- La Frontera (Calle Ikabaru, at Hotel Caribaldi). Combine with a fresh natural juice.
Excellent coffee in the bakery (Panaderia Gran Sabana Deli, Calle Bolivar), good drinks (longdrinks/juices) in the bar "Goldwasser" (Posada Backpackers).
Hotel Michelle, Calle Urdaneta, ☏ . Check-out: 12:00. Same prices as Backpackers - bedrooms slightly different. Also doubles as a travel agency. Good advice for Venezuela (other cities or areas, tours, trips, safety, etc.) in the library, provided by other travellers.
[dead link] Posada Backpackers (next door to Hotel Michelle). Rooms slightly nicer than at Hotel Michelle. The German owner, Eric, and his team are extremely helpful. This hotel/hostel also organizes trekking tours and has a restaurant with great food and drinks - live music at weekends.
- Mount Roraima – tepuy six (or five) days hiking tour. In case you do not want to go with a tour operator, buy your food and kerosine in Santa Elena and rent/hire the equipment (consisting of tent, kitchen stove, sleeping bag and sleeping mat) and guide (porter) in Paraitepui.
- Angel Falls – the highest single-drop waterfall in the world (807m)
- Canaima National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for it's tepuis, or "table-top" mountains. It's the second largest park in Venezuela.
- Brazil – the border is about 12 km away, and this is the last place that you can obtain a Brazilian visa, which usually takes 1-3 days. Update: the visa system is now going electronic. Unfortunately they have stopped the manual visa process before the new system is up and running. Until that happens, the only place to get a Brazil visa in Venezuela is in Caracas.
- Cantarana is a small hamlet about 100 km west of Santa Elena. There are several 4WD collective taxi-jeeps going there every day on an unpaved track (3 hr). You can stay at: Campamento Cantarana, firstname.lastname@example.org. Very nice camp owned by a German-Venezuelan family, with a big park close to a waterfall and natural pool. Meals are made with fresh food and mostly home production. Nice hikes around in Gran Sabana. Possibility to work there as well. full board accommodation.