Angel Falls - Planning and Preparing for Your Trip

Planning and Preparing for your trip to Angel Falls?

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This page covers the following topics:

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VISA REQUIREMENTS
Angel Falls lies within Canaima National Park, which itself lies within La Gran Sabana in the Guyana Highlands of southeast Venezuela (Bolívar State). Thus, you'll have to abide by Venezuela's rules for entry and conduct.

For most countries (at least US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, UK, and most of Western and Scandinavian Europe), a Visa is not required for entry, which was certainly the case for us on our November 2007 trip. You only need to bring your passport (must be valid for at least 6 months after your departure date from Venezuela) and possess a Tourist Card (DEX-2) or Tarjeta de Ingreso (usually issued on the plane ride into the country). However in our situation, I remembered having to fill out two different forms (maybe one of them was that tourist visa card), but I really don't recall having to hang on to that card and surrender it on the way out of Venezuela as might be stated in the literature. In fact, I remembered having to fill out another form (similar to one of the forms we filled out on the way in) while getting ready to depart the country.

You'll also need to have sufficient funds during your travels in the country to sustain yourself and to leave the country. This also includes airport taxes, which are charged for every airport within the country that you're departing from. Some airlines include the departure and/or airport tax in the airfare (such was the case in our international flight out of the country).

For the latest information about Venezuela's Entry/Exit Requirements, check this site from the US State Department. Note that this link is geared towards US Citizens. I couldn't find the official Venezuelan website for entry/exit requirements, and it's too much of a Herculean effort to put specific requirements for all countries. So if you're a foreigner from another country, I'm afraid I'll have to refer you to a google search for entry/exit requirements for your particular country.



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VACCINATIONS
I'm not aware of any vaccination requirements for entry into the country, and we certainly didn't have any such requirements on our trip in 2007. However, we did bring our International Certification of Vaccination or ICV (a yellow booklet with records of all your recent vaccinations). We figured that it's always a good idea to bring this wherever we travel. Just to be safe, we made it a habit to put this together with our passports so we don't forget it nor do we lose it. Such a booklet is said to be mandatory for countries requiring proof of yellow fever vaccinations prior to entry.

Regardless of vaccination requirements, mosquito-born diseases and water-born illnesses are a real threat in Venezuela. Thus, getting vaccinated is like your insurance policy protecting your long term health after this trip.

The big caveat is that most insurances will not cover vaccinations. We tend to get lots of mosquito bites (even though we generously apply DEET) so we didn't want to take any chances. Thus, for our battery of injections and pills, we paid over $600/person. Among the diseases we were treated for were...
  • Yellow Fever
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid Fever
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella)
  • Malaria
Keep in mind that Dengue Fever (definitely present in South America) currently has neither a preventative vaccine nor cure. Your best bet at minimizing your exposure is to apply DEET and wear long sleeves and long pants (even though it's hot and humid over there).

For the official list of health threats, you can visit the websites for the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the World Health Organization.



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WHAT TO BRING
In order to ensure a relatively safe trip (especially for this fairly intense and adventurous trip), here are a few things you might want to consider packing in addition to your basic toiletries and clothes.

Jungle hiking the Angel Falls trail
  • Hiking Boots and socks - Due to the ruggedness of Sendero Salto Ángel (Angel Falls trail), it's wise to wear this. But do realize that there is a river crossing near the start of the hike so you might have to remove the boots and socks then cross the river before putting them back on. In addition to handling the rough jungle terrain on the hiking portion, it's also another layer of protection from the unlikely event of a venemous snake bite.
  • River Shoes or Sandals - As stated just above, you will get your feet wet on the trail, and you might also get wet feet during the river boat part of the trip (especially when embarking or disembarking). We used Keens and I thought this might've eliminated the need for the heavy hiking boots (not to mention to simplify packing for air travel), but such shoes won't guard you against snake bites on the feet.
  • Small flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries - Since electricity is limited, you'll want to carry these around when it gets dark and you need to move around (like going to the toilet in the middle of the night or fumbling through your belongings when in search of something). The spare batteries will help ensure your light sources won't be useless.
  • Small Backpack (Daypack) - You'll want to carry this around to pack your daily essentials as well as other incidentals during the trip.
  • Rain Protection - This can be anything from gore-tex jackets to a rain poncho. Personally, I prefer the larger poncho so it covers both you and your pack. The only drawback to these however, is that they can easily snag and cause you to lose balance or slow you down.
  • Hat - given the intense tropical heat and sun, this will at least keep your scalp from getting severely burned. If you're wearing a broad-rimmed hiking hat, it could also help protect your neck, ears, and face.
  • Sunscreen - again, given the intense sun, it's a good idea to protect other exposed parts of your skin from sunburn.
  • Insect Repellant (preferably with DEET) - since mosquitoes are present here (many of which carry diseases), this will help prevent them from biting you and passing their diseases to you. This is especially the case with Dengue Fever. This might also work with jejenes (sandflies).
  • Quick-drying Clothing - this will at least help keep you relatively comfortable especially given the likelihood of getting wet from rain, river, humidity, and sweat. Such clothing will make your experience a bit more comfortable and more sanitary (less fungal and mold buildup). At the same time, they'll protect you from UV and mosquitoes as well as maintain common social decorum. Long sleeve and long pants also serve as an additional protection against both sunburn and mosquito bites. Having at least a pair of trousers, shorts, tee-shirts, and long-sleeved shirts are recommended.
  • Sunglasses - prevents cataracts or other harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays on your eyes
  • Plastic Bags - you'll want these to pack your wet clothes (and isolate them from your dry ones) as well as for additional layers of waterproofing your equipment (like your valuable camera)
  • First-Aid Kit - always good to keep this around especially if you get injured or cut (they easily get infected in the tropics). You certainly wouldn't want an annoying circumstance to become life threatening and these kits help keep that from unnecessarily happening.


Some other things worth bringing to enhance your experience include...

  • Spare Camera Battery - you'll definitely want to carry at least one around since there are no electrical outlets to recharge your camera battery. It certainly would suck if you couldn't take any more pictures after coming all the way out here!
  • Lots of Memory or Film or Portable Hard Drive - the first and third items are for digital photographers. In any case, you'll be taking heaps of photos and you'll want to make sure you can bring all your photos home
  • 2 Bathing Suits and a towel - this is necessary if you intend to cool off and go swimming as there are plenty of opportunities to do so. The towel will help you dry off, of course.
  • Wide Angle Lens - useful for expansive landscape photos, especially for a waterfall as tall as Angel Falls
  • Telephoto Lens - if you're a wildlife (especially birding) buff, you'll want these to take photos of them. This lets you get decent photos without getting dangerous close to animals or bringing far-reaching birds or other wildlife closer to view via magnification.




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SAFETY
Military guard walking away from a small, scary-looking Cessna Here are some more things to think about with regard to safety on a trip to Angel Falls.

Crime is definitely something you need to be aware of upon a visit to Venezuela. The US State Department has issued travel warnings regarding muggings, carjackings, imprisonment, and petty theft. However, if you're smart about how you go about your business (especially in Caracas), you will minimize the chances of being a victim.

In case you're wondering what is meant by "being smart about how you go about your business," you should be vigilant about trying not to call attention to yourself as much as possible. This means you'll want to conceal your money in a body pouch beneath your clothes to minimize your chances of being a target. Also, be careful about using your credit card as credit card fraud is not unusual...

Fortunately, measures have been taken to curb criminal activities at the airports (namely in Maiquetia Airport in Caracas). You'll notice checked baggage tends to be plastic wrapped (perhaps as an extra deterrent for quick baggage thefts) and armed guards will check your luggage claim ticket against that tagged on your luggage itself. Some airports also have military guards wielding AK-47s patrolling the facilities.

Even with that said, Julie and I felt reasonably safe and most Venezuelans we encountered were both helpful and friendly (especially in the more rural regions).

In addition to crime, here are some other things to consider regarding your safety...

  • Bottled Water - If you don't trust their tap water, you can go for bottled water. We had been advised to drink carbonated water (agua con gas), which is less likely to harbor bacteria. However, agua con gas seems harder to come by in Venezuela. Flat bottled water (agua sin gas) is not considered as safe, but it's better than unbottled water since pathogens can exist in freshwater streams in the rainforests of South America
  • Venemous Snakes - there are snakes in the jungle, which is why you'll want to stay close to your guide and your group.
  • Diseases - As stated earlier, mosquito-born illnesses are rampant in the tropical regions (Venezuela is no exception). So you can fork out for vaccinations prior to your trip, wear long sleeves (despite the heat and humidity), wear DEET, or a combination of all of the above.
  • Fast Rivers - if you're swimming, you definitely want to stay away from fast moving water. Again, follow the advice of your guide so as to not be swept away for a drowning.




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CURRENCY
As of our visit in November 2007, the currency was the Venezuelan Bolívar (VEB). It's been said that most people also take the United States dollar, but the exchange rate equivalents for direct usage of the greenback were said to be unfavorable. As of the original writing of this page, it was around 2500 VEBs per US dollar, but there was also a thriving (albeit illegal) black market fetching over 4000 VEBs or more per US dollar.

Much to our chagrin (we'll explain why shortly), in January 1, 2008, the government switched the currency to the Bolívar Fuerte (i.e. the "strong" Bolívar). It was basically 1000 VEBs was equivalent to 1 Bolívar Fuerte. The government allowed a grace period of six months to change the old money to the new one.

So given this circumstance, we encountered a rather unpleasant surprise regarding the VEB when we tried to exchange our remaining VEBs back to the US dollar at the Maiquetía Airport in Caracas. You see, the Casa de Cambio (Italcambio in the airport) wouldn't take back the VEBs in exchange for US dollars! Since we weren't about to go on a risky goosechase into Caracas in search of a bank to exchange VEBs for dollars, we basically held onto useless paper money (at least it would be useless by the time we anticipated coming back to the country). Even to this day, I'm still trying to make sense of all this since Venezuelans come to America from time to time so how do they exchange their money to dollars?

I suspect there currently isn't much faith in the Venezuelan Bolívar, which is why the airport bank wouldn't buy them back. Still, something about this doesn't add up. In any case, I made a critical error by not spending the rest of our foreign currency given the circumstances. So in the end, we lost some $75 USD of Venezuela currency, which was a real bummer.

If you have had any success in exchanging VEBs back to US dollars (besides risking it on the black market), please let us know what you did by leaving us a comment on this page or through the contact us button!



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LENGTH OF VISIT
How much time should you allocate for a trip to Angel Falls?

We addressed this in the how to get there page. Nonetheless, we'll say here that you'll want to allocate a minimum of 6 days (which was the amount of time we allocated on our own trip in 2007). This would at least account for the intensive travel and tour to the falls. This is quite a short trip, but in America, we hardly get enough vacation time to meaningfully travel so you take your breaks when you can. Obviously, you'll feel less rushed and you'll get to see other parts of beautiful Venezuela if you allocate at least another week or so.



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