Angel Falls, Venezuela
As they are known in Spanish, Salto Angel, is the largest single drop waterfall in the world, plunging almost a kilometer from the Auyantepuy plateau in the south eastern Venezuelan province of Bolívar. It’s scenic location and wonderful surroundings lead it to be a finalist as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
The name, however, doesn’t have any religious overtones. It’s said that one of the first European explorers to reach the area was Felix Cardona, whose maps and drawings inspired an American Aviator by the name of Jimmy Angel to visit the area. Its remote location meant that it was completely inaccessible by foot, and so Angel flew over the as yet officially unnamed falls. The natural splendor of the location inspired him to land his plane on the Auyantepuy, whereupon he promptly crashed. No one was injured, but the accident gave the name to the place: Angel Falls. (In Spanish, salto means “jump”; where Angel jumped from his plane before it crashed.)
Despite being one of the major tourist attractions in Venezuela, it’s still very hard to get to the actual falls. This is because the rainforest surrounding the remote location has remained largely undisturbed. The only way to access the area is either by air (which is still dangerous) or boat. Most visitors prefer the more natural transportation, and opt for tours organized in either Ciudad Guyana or Santa Elena. Most excursions travel along an ancient footpath from Canaima, after a canoe trip down the abundant rivers. Access is only possible during the rainy months when the rivers are deep enough to accommodate the canoes.
The Falls are just one of the myriad of attractions in the Canaima National Park. The pristine nature surrounding the area remains untouched, with tall trees, parrots, macaws, and some more terrifying beasts such as jaguars. The idyllic setting was the inspiration for the fictional world Pandora, in James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar. Another film that was inspired by the location is the “heaven” scenes in What Dreams May Come, which actually featured the falls.
Excursions to the falls go through the park, and allow you to see most of the wildlife diversity that it contains. The trek, however, is not for the faint of heart. While there is no strenuous climbing, it is a tropical jungle with the accompanying heat and threat of exhaustion. The journey to the falls itself is about 13 hours, most of which is walking. Still, if you have the stamina, it’s well worth a visit.