Sixteen times higher than Niagara, Angel Falls (Salto Angel) has an unibterrupted drop of 979 m (3212 ft), and are the highest in the world. Their exotic reputation is enhanced both by their remote location in southeastern Venezuela, and by the myths they have attracted. The Falls plunge over the rim of the largest of the region's sandstone mesas (sheer-sided mountains of dense jungle), called Auyantepui (home of god or evil) by the Pemon Indians who refused to venture onto it; and it was the direct inspiration for Conan Doyle's Lost World of mystery, darkness and dinossaurs.
You might take two, or six or even ten days to reach Angel Falls by boat. Starting southeast of Auyantepui, you can explore the orchid and bird-filled jungle paradise skirting the mesa, spending an adventurous week aboard a motorized curiara (dugout canoe) and sleeping in a hammock. you pause to swim through canyons (kavac) and frolic underneath waterfalls tumbling out of tangled flowers and foliage high in the riverbanks (toma de agua).
Eventually, you thread your passage through mild rapids on the Akanan River to the Carrao River, where you will meet other canoe parties heading for Angel Falls. Some will have flown direct to Canaima, intending to visit the Falls in two days: they will miss the pink and orange-coloured river beaches, the the cascades glowing gold in the sunset, the insights into their river and rainforest world you glean from talking to your Pemon guides and the villagers at campsites - the richness of other world experience that makes the breathtaking first sight of Angel Falls a culmation instead of a tick on a list. Every visitor follows the Churun River to Devil's Canyon, and Ratoncito Island. A short hike is rewarded by one of the world's genuinely awesome natural wonders - and just then, it's a pleasure to share it.
WHEN TO GO
June to November, when the rainy season has raised the river levels.
TIME IT TAKES
2 days (minimum from Canaia, the tourist base and air strip 50 km (31.5 mi northwest of Angel Falls); more usually 6-10 days to include exploration by river of the Canaima National Park.
The Churun river rapids, going through Devil's Canyon.
The spectacular foliage-festooned cliffs at sunrise and set, reflected against the multi-coloured sky in the river's soft ripples.
The irresistible moment, when your dugout canoe is alone on a jungle river, that you can dream of being Indiana Jones.
Talking to Pemon Indians about their traditions.
Walking behind, and diving out of, the beautiful waterfalls of El Sapo, on the return journey to Canaima.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Close to Angel Falls, even a few canoes can make the river feel like a traffic jam. But by restricting visitors to the Falls to defined routes and camp-sites, the rules also help preserve the flora and fauna of Canaima National Park - and permits to explore the hinterland are readily available to anyone interested.