Mount Roraima is the highest of the Pakaraima mountain chain in South America and one of the world’s most extraordinary natural geological formations. The 31 square kilometer summit area of Mount Roraima is defined by 400 meter tall cliffs on all sides and includes the borders of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana.
Considered as one of the oldest mountain formations on earth, the place is set to give you a mystified hiking experience with all its breathtaking landscapes and sceneries. It is also called Roraima Tepui or Cerro Roraima.
This site is about unconventional traveling ideas, a place where people can find unworldly landscapes and a new way of seeing things. Mount Roraima is surrounded by three different countries (Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana) whose borderlines intersect on the massive shelf, with all four sides being sheer 400-meter high cliffs.
While its cliff walls are only scalable by the most experienced of climbers, there is a path up the mountain’s natural ramp-like path (usually a two-day hike). The cliffs are too impressive you should really visit the place.
The tabletop mountains of the park are considered some of the oldest geological formations on Earth, dating back to some two billion years ago in the Precambrian.
Mount Roraima, part of Venezuela’s 30000-square-kilometer Canaima National Park, is the site of the highest peak of the country of Guyana’s Highland Range.
The mountains of this range, including Roraima, are considered to be some of the oldest geological formations known, some dating back to two billion years ago.
Its near daily rains have also created a unique ecosystem which includes several endemic species, such as a unique carnivorous pitcher plant, and some of the highest waterfalls in the world.
Culturally, the mountain has long held significance to the indigenous people of the area and features prominently in their myths and folklore.
This remote landscape of jungle and cliffs has inspired the dinosaur infested landscapes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World, and the dramatic waterfalls dubbed “Paradise Falls” in the 2009 Pixar film Up.
Many of the species found on Roraima are unique to the plateau. On top of the mountain grow various types of forests with a wide variety of orchid, bromeliad, and carnivorous plant species. The animal diversity consists of insects, birds, toads and also small reptiles and mammals like mice.
The rocky terrain of Roraima’s summit is home to endemic animal species that exist nowhere else on earth, including seed-eating and nectar-feeding birds that have adapted to the harsh environment.
The most peculiar species here are undoubtedly tiny black pebble toads that are believed to predate dinosaurs. They are closely related to an African species, and were likely trapped here when the continents separated, adapting over time to their new habitat.
The Guiana Highlands is a very unusual mountain range covering parts of Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. The highlands are made of ancient sedimentary rock that is over two billion years old and are some of the oldest sedimentary rocks on the planet.
The mountain is known as a Tepui, which describes a flat-topped mountain with vertical sides. Many waterfalls spill off Roraima, and the other Tepuis; nearly everyone has heard of Angel Falls, which spills off another nearby Tepui.
There are many interesting plants that grow on the summit, including many carnivorous plants, i.e., ones that eat insects. There is little soil on top because the constant rains wash it away.
With heavy rainfall year round, the top of this bleak windswept plateau is one of the wettest places on earth, and, like much of the area, home to extraordinary endemic flora and fauna.
Over time, dozens of species of plants have adapted to the semi-sterile soil of Mount Roraima’s plateau by supplementing their diet with the flesh of insects.
The pretty red leaves of the carnivorous sundew attract insects that soon become trapped by the plant’s sticky tentacles, which wrap themselves around the little creatures before greedily digesting them.
Spectacular sites found in Mount Roraima
- The Crystal Valley – pretty, but not the expected 6ft shards of crystal we’d seen in films like The Lost World or Journey to The Centre Of The Earth
- The Rivers and Lakes – being way above the clouds the water reflected the clear blue sky
- The Jacuzzis – bath shaped holes in the river bed, filled with crystals. We stopped here to wash in near freezing water and dry off in the sun.
- Carnivorous Pitcher Plants – these trap insects in their wells and slowly digest them for food
- Tiny black frogs – in such isolation these have evolved away from frogs and now run about on all four legs rather than hop.
- The Window – more of a ledge than a window, this spectacular spot made the whole climb worthwhile. From here it was possible to lay on the edge and look down a 2000m drop to the jungle below. Ledges on both sides of the outcrop let you feel you were hovering over the jungles of either Brazil or Guyana, all the while providing views above the clouds of the next three tepuys.
Hiking to the top of Mount Roraima
Hiking here is not hard and you can also get help from the indigenous population, as they organize tour guides in exchange for a small sum of money. If you are on your own however, try to reserve at least four days for this fantastic journey, as there are plenty of things to see and enjoy up there.
Mount Roraima is said to have some of the most fascinating hiking trails in the world. The mountain’s highest point is Maverick Rock, 2810 m, and its 31 km² summit area is defended by 400-metre-tall cliffs on all sides.
The landscape on the high table is a rock labyrinth with many gorges that are sometimes several hundred feet deep and no flat plateau, as was previously thought.
The climate is humid and tropical at the bottom (~30°C), while on top of the plateau it is rather moderate (~10°C) with different weather conditions. It rains almost every day of the year.
Although the path to reach the plateau is well marked and popularly traveled, it is easy to get lost on top of the mountain, as there are few distinct trails and the near constant cloud cover on top and the uncanny rock formations make visual references problematic.
About 200 million years ago, at the time of the supercontinent Gondwanaland when South America and West Africa were joined, the summits of the tepuis were connected. When the continents eventually drifted apart disruptions broke up a gargantuan massif, forming individual tepuis that over time grew smaller, some crumbling away.
It is the remnants of these sandstone plateaus that can be seen today in the Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that occupies over 30,000 square kilometres and is home to over half of the area’s tepuis.
Long before the European conquistadors took over these lands, Mount Roraima was considered a symbol of these regions, an “axis mundi”, an enormous tree within which all the vegetables and fruits of the world grow.
This mountain, surrounded by 400 meter (1,300 ft) tall cliffs was a place of mystery, myths and legends for the indigenous people that used to live here centuries ago.
Mount Roraima (in the Pemón language Roraima tepui, Roroi means “blue-green” and ma means “great”, tepui means “house of spirits”) is one of the 115 tepuis in the Gran Sabana.
In Pemon language, the flat-topped mountains across south-eastern Venezuela are known as “tepuis”, which means “houses of the gods”. Standing majestically next to Roraima is Kukenan, another tepui, infamous among the Pemons for ancestors who jumped off and committed suicide there.
The Pemón and Kapon natives of the Gran Sabana see Mount Roraima as the stump of a mighty tree that once held all the fruits and tuberous vegetables in the world. Felled by Makunaima, their mythical trickster, the tree crashed to the ground, unleashing a terrible flood.
The local Indians never attempted to climb the Roraima tepui. Before the arrival of European explorers, the mountain has held a special significance for the indigenous people of the region, and it is central to many of their myths and legends.
In 1884, Sir Everard im Thurn and his expedition team discovered a forested ramp up to the plateau. Scaling the natural staircase, at the summit they found no pterodactyls or apemen.
Instead, they discovered a rocky landscape covered with scrubby vegetation interspersed by small patches of sandy marshland as well as many plants and animals unique to the plateau.
In fact, around 35 per cent of the species on Mt Roraima are endemic, such as the Roraima bush toad. And 70 per cent of those found on South America’s tepuis exist only on these plateaus.
Other species are like living fossils, almost identical to plants and animals that are now extinct in the rest of the world. For millions of years, life has been existing completely independently on these mist-shrouded mountaintops, away from the prying eyes of civilization.
Reports of the famous South American explorer Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk inspired the English country doctor Arthur Conan Doyle a novel, The Lost World (1912) about the discovery of a living prehistoric world of dinosaurs and prehistoric plants.
In 2006, Mount Roraima was the terminus for the grant winning Griffin Preparations two-hour TV narrative The Genuine Lost World. The project was demonstrated on Creature Planet, Revelation HD Theater and OLN (Canada).
Controlled by Subside von Puttkamer, this travel/escapade narrative emphasized an advanced group of pilgrims Rick West, Dr. Hazel Barton, Seth Heald, Senior member Harrison and Dwindle Sprouse who followed in the strides of British voyagers Im Thurn and Harry Perkins who looked for the widely varied vegetation of Roraima in the mid-nineteenth century.
The exploits of those pilgrims may have propelled Arthur Conan Doyle’s fundamental book about individuals and dinosaurs, The Lost World, distributed in 1912.
In 2006, The Genuine Lost World group were the first investigative group to investigate the hollows of Roraima, just as of late found. Inside they discovered charming “carrot” developments developing in the 2 billion year old hollows.
Dr. Hazel Barton returned in 2007 on a NASA financed undertaking to research the gimmicks developing on the hole dividers and roof: confirmation of extremophile hollow microorganisms consuming the silica-based dividers of the cavern and leaving dusty stores on aged spiderwebs, framing these exceptional stalactite sort shapes.
In 2009, Mount Roraima served as persuasion for an area in the Disney/Pixar vivified film Up. The Blu-beam adaptation of the motion picture circle reward footage offers a short film (got Escapade Is Out There) about a percentage of the Pixar creation group going to Mount Roraima and climbing it for motivation and thoughts for the making of Up.
Did you know?
- It rains almost every day on the plateau of Mt Roraima, creating the gushing waterfalls.
- Tabletop mountains like Mt Roraima are also known as ‘mesa’, which is Spanish for “table”.
How to get to Mount Roraima
Getting to Mount Roraima is possible by taking a plane to Santa Elena de Uairén airport. This is a town in Brazil, very close to the border. From here on, you will see there are buses or shuttles that can get you close to the ascending point- the village of Paraitepui.
The ascend starts in the Pemón village of Paraitepui which can be reached via the town of Santa Elena.
Mt Roraima cannot be hiked independently (you need to join a tour group or go solo with a local guide) and there is a limited number of people allowed on the tepui (flat-top mountain) at one time.
The only route to the summit is an arduous six-day trek from the Venezuelan side. Fly or catch a bus to the border town of Santa Elena de Uairén, where you can organise a guided tour.
Almost all who go up the mountain approach it from the Venezuelan side. Most hikers hire a Pemón Indian guide in the village of Paraitepui, which is reached by dirt road from the main Gran Sabana road between kilometre 88 and Santa Elena de Uairén. Paraitepui can be reached easily by four-wheel-drive vehicle, with great difficulty by car if the unpaved road conditions are unusually fine, or by foot in about a day.
From Paraitepui, most hikers take one day to reach the base of the mountain, and then another day to follow “La Rampa” a natural staircase-like path, up to the top.
Another two days are typically needed for the return, and many people spend one day and night on top of the mountain, making five days in total.
Longer treks can reach the northern portion of the tepui, mostly in Guyana, with less explored and more intriguing sites such as Lake Gladys, although this offers more dangers than its more popular southern part and should only be attempted by well-supplied groups.
The less adventurous can also reach the mountain, weather permitting, by helicopter tours available from the nearby Venezuelan city of Santa Elena de Uairén.
To reach the trailhead, you must make your way to San Francisco de Yurani. San Francisco de Yurani can be reached by bus. Most people ride the bus all the way there from Caracas, Ciudad Bolivar, or Ciudad Guyana.
Others fly to Santa Elena which is only a few hours south of San Francisco de Yarani, and take the bus up from there.
There are some rather grubby hotels in the town, and a few restaurants. We were allowed to camp in the futbol (that’s soccer for gringos!) field.
There is a small selection of food in some stores, but I would recommend bringing most items from a larger city. (Hotels have probably improved in recent years).
The actual trailhead is in Paratepui, which is 22kms (14 miles) east of SF de Yurani. Most hire a vehicle in San Francisco de Yurani, but it can be walked in a day for those who wish to save a few bucks (not recommended).
A vehicle cost $100 in 1996 and can hold 6 people with gear. The cost is probably quite a bit higher higher now.
The Paratepui Route, is by far the most popular route on the mountain is is probably use by at least 99.999% of the people climbing the peak. This is also the only non-technical route available for climbing the mountain.
The route crosses the Gran Sabana and climbes a rugged and slippery route to the summit. There are several river crossings, which you must do on foot (no bridges).
The Rio Tex and Rio Kukenan crossings can be problematic after rains. The trek out to the base of the peak can be hot, sunny, and shadeless across the Gran Sabana.
It usually takes 1 to 1 1/2 days to reach the base of the peak. The trek to the top and back usually takes four days, plus any days you may spend on top.
Other routes other than the one described are very seldom attempted. Rock climbers could probably find several “first” all over the sides of this peak.
The mountain has been climbed from the Guyana and Brazilian sides, but I don’t have any information on the routes, other than they are technical big-wall climbs and only for expert climbers.
Most people take two days to summit and two days to return, making the trip four days if just reaching the summit and back. At least five days is recommended so that you can spend at least one day on the summit plateau.
When you gazed up at the fortress of stone from the base of the mountain, you didn’t know what to expect from this plateau floating high above the Amazon jungle. Now that you’re on the summit, it feels as if you’ve stepped into some archaic land.
A world untouched by humankind. A forgotten world.
Waterfalls spilling down sheer cliff faces into clouds. Labyrinths of stone pinnacles. Valleys carpeted with crystals. Carnivorous pitcher plants. Exquisite rare orchids.
Sitting on the border of Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil, Mt Roraima is part of the Pacaraima chain of flat-topped mountains, known locally as tepui.
The word means “house of the gods” in the native tongue of the Pemon, the indigenous people who inhabit the Gran Sabana.
For centuries, no one ventured up onto the plateau for fear of reprisal by the gods, but also because of reports of bizarre creatures living up there.
Mt Roraima is believed to have inspired the setting for Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 classic The Lost World, where prehistoric creatures survived on a plateau. It certainly fits the bill.
Defended by seemingly impenetrable 400metre-high cliffs, the flat summit of Mt Roraima is home to many species found nowhere else on Earth. These endemic plants and animals have developed to be truly out of this world.
All sorts of legends and myths developed of flying pterodactyls and a vicious race of apemen called “Di-Dis”. Today’s travellers can see black frogs, dragonflies and tarantulas that are unique to Roraima, plus a range of endemic plants clinging to cracks and crevasses.
It is also an ornithologist’s paradise. While the nearby Andes formed relatively recently, around 25 million years ago, this chain of flat-topped mountains is far older.
More than two billion years ago, sand settled on the ocean floor. Gradually this sandstone uplifted, eventually becoming dry land.
Over time, some of the sandstone eroded away, leaving the tepuis towering over the surrounding lowlands around 70 million years ago. Mt Roraima has a base of igneous rock, with cemented sandstone layers on top.
What are tepuis
Tepuis are flat table-top mountains found in the Guayana Highlands of South America. They tend to appear as isolated entities rather than in connected ranges, which makes them host to hundreds of endemic plant and animal species, some of which are found only on one tepui.
Towering over the surrounding forest, the tepuis have almost sheer vertical flanks, and many rise as much as 1,000 meters above the surrounding jungle.
The tallest of them are over 3,000 meters tall. The nearly vertical escarpments and dense rainforest bed on which these tepuis or mesa lie make them inaccessible by foot.
Tepuis are the remains of a large sandstone plateau that once covered the granite basement complex between the north border of the Amazon Basin and the Orinoco, between the Atlantic coast and the Rio Negro, during the Precambrian period.
Over millions of years, the plateaus were eroded and all that were left were isolated flat-headed tepuis. Although the tepuis looks quite barren, the summit is teeming with life.
The high altitude of tepuis causes them to have a different climate from the ground forest.
The top is often cooler with frequent rainfall, while the bases of the mountains have a tropical, warm and humid climate. Many extraordinary plants have adapted to the environment to form species unique to the tepui.
Some 9,400 species of higher plants have been recorded from the Venezuelan Guayana, of which 2322 are registered from the tepuis. Approximately one-third of the species occur nowhere else in the world.
Best time to visit Mount Roraima
The only time to safely make this trek is December through March, which is the “dry” season. The river crossings would be very dangerous in any other season. There are several campsites along the way up to the peak.
There are a few campsites on top, but expect wet (!) conditions. A guide will come in very usefull, to point out the campsites on top.
Mount Roraima can be climbed at any time during the year, though most people prefer to visit during the dry season which runs from December to April. Please note that the dry season isn’t actually dry, but simply drier. The weather can change quickly, and rain, mist and fog are a constant.
What to do during the trip
You should not leave after 2 p.m. from the village as trekkers are no longer allowed after this hour. At the beginning of your climb, your baggages will be strictly checked and you can not take more than 15 kilos with you. So, be careful about how you organize things.
Being given that this is a national park , you are not permitted to take rocks or plants along the way. The top of the mountain measures 2,772 m, it offers amazing landscapes and establishing a tent around here is possible. However, you should know the weather changes suddenly in this area so be prepared.
The walk to the base of the mountain can be hot and shade-less, but anyone who has spent the night on the summit, can attest that this must be one of the wettest places on earth. Take a good rain suit, and a waterproof tent.
There are several river crossings as well, be prepared for that. Temperatures are usually near 10 degrees C (50F) on top, night or day, and its usually very windy and rainy. On top, clear weather is extremely rare even in the “dry” season.
As it was mentioned above, Mount Roraima is located right on the junction of three borders – Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil. That means that once you have climbed on top of Mount Roraima, you will be able to stand in three countries at the same time.
The exact coordinates of the triple border are: 5°12’08N, 60°44’07W.
Text and images adapted from