Roraima is the highest tepuy (Spanish for table mountain) on the triple border of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. It is around 2,800 metres 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.
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 yourself 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 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. As of May 2016 all commercial service to Santa Elena was suspended - the runway is in very bad condition. The only flights in or out were charter services to mines.
Night buses go to Santa Elena from Ciudad Bolivar, Puerto Ordaz, Maturin and Puerto la Cruz in Venezuela. 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 busses. From Boa Vista in Brazil there is a daily 7am bus to Pacaraima, the Brazilian border town 12km south of Santa Elena. From the border (after getting your entry and exit stamps) a shared taxi should cost not much more than $0.50.
If you take a bus please understand that the buses are cold and drivers refuse to raise the temperature. Bus temperatures average around 7ºC (45ºF).
The Boa Vista route is the best connection for those coming from anywhere in Brazil. There are flights from Manaus and Brasilia, and overnight and day buses from Manaus that take 10-12hours.
To climb you need a permit from Inparques, joining a guided tour will handle this for you. It is possible to sneak up and down, if you are so inclined. Remember don't leave anything on top, but pee. Number 2's must be done into plastic bags filled with flour and carried down so as not to pollute the pristine top of the mountain and contaminate everyone's drinking water.
There are numerous operators. They started to try to offer all the same price of about 220$ per person (100$ guide & transport, 50$ food, 50$ carrier, 20$ equipment):
There are 5 ways to do it:
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 located close by, an area of exposed quartz veins.
El Foso: a large, 10m diameter sinkhole 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: 2.5 days up, 1.5 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 1.5 days.
You can also do an 8 day extended trip with 2 more days on top.
For experienced and fit hikers it is possible to do it in 4 days - 1.5 up, 1.5 on top, and 1 down. The more time spent on top the better, however, if possible allow multiple days to allow for bad weather and to explore the whole tepuy.
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'll need to 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 debiltating.