Gran SabanaLa Gran Sabana also known as Guianan savanna, is a region in southeastern Venezuela.
The savanna spreads into the regions of the Guiana Highlands and south-east into Bolívar State, extending further to the borders with Brazil and Guyana. The Gran Sabana has 10,820 km2 (4,180 sq mi) and is part of the second largest National Park in Venezuela, the Canaima National Park. Only Parima Tapirapecó National Park is larger than Canaima. The average temperature is around 20 °C, but at night can drop to 13 °C and in some of the more elevated sites, depending on weather, may fall a bit more.
The location offers one of the most unusual landscapes in the world, with rivers, waterfalls and gorges, deep and vast valleys, impenetrable jungles and savannahs that host large numbers and varieties of plant species, a diverse fauna and the plateaus better known as tepuis.s.
GeographyAs mentioned above, the Gran Sabana is a park with unique characteristics. The beauty of the landscape is accentuated in the Guiana Shield, the oldest geological formation on earth. It consists of two main geological formations, an igneous metamorphic age of approximately 2,000 million years and a layer of sedimentary rocks, sandstones of the Roraima formation, deposited about 1,700 million years. These sandstones sedimented in a lake or ocean, reaching thicknesses of several kilometers. The rocks were originally united in one or more plates with some linearity, but were fractured and eroded over hundreds of millions of years. During these eras were alternated humid and warm climates. This region was subjected to several periods of uplift and subsidence tectonics, and because of this, certain areas of the shield were more prone to erosion than others. This determined the presence of large sandstone beds are isolated, called "tepuis" in the language of the indigenous inhabitants of the region. The relief of the region is slightly wavy. The average height is about 300 meters (980 ft), but it can vary considerably over short distances: the road of El Dorado to Santa Elena de Uairén goes from an elevation of 200 to 1,500 meters (660 to 4,900 ft) in less than 30 kilometres (19 mi), in a place called "La Escalera", a raise with a paved street. Its condition of savanna is not due to climate (which is enough rain to support a forest vegetation), but the formation of rocky and sandy soils, although parts of the jungle can be seen in some depressions and, above all, forests gallery along the rivers.
HydrographyLa Gran Sabana, and the rest of Venezuela in general, is rich in river networks. The main drainage sub-basins are formed by the rivers Yuruaní, Aponwao, Kukenán, Suruku, Ikabarú, Karuay, Urimán and Antabare.
Note that the Caroní River, of 925 kilometres (575 mi) in length, and flow rate equal to 5,000 m3/s (180,000 cu ft/s), from which Venezuela gets most of its electricity by hydropower exploitation, originates from several tributaries coming from tepuis and mountains of the Gran Sabana, as the Aponwao, the Yuruaní and the Kukenan. The vast majority of rivers and streams in the region are of dark waters, with coloration similar to that of tea. The waters are very poor in dissolved nutrients and rich in humic acids and tannins, which give them its characteristic brown color. The acidity is quite high, reaching PH3-4, and although this may cause acidity in visitors that taste first these waters, it can say that these are among the least polluted waters in the world. As to tourist interest, the rivers are of great importance, as visitors who travel the roads of the Gran Sabana usually use for recreation, swimming, and camping. These are usually easily accessible and that the entries are found throughout the main road, and many are arranged with steps for easy access. At several points, the Pemones offer guidebooks and/or ask for contributions of money in exchange for keeping clean areas.
ClimateDue to the elevation of Gran Sabana, about 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) on average, the weather is quite pleasant, mild with average annual temperature of 20 °C (68 °F), similar to the valley of Caracas.
However, due to rainfall, which abounds throughout the year, and therefore its cloud cover, the average annual temperature is lower, with daily temperature variations. Minimum temperatures rarely drop below 8–10 °C (46–50 °F) (unless it is on top of the tepuis, which are exposed, such as Roraima, overnight). Usually, the maximum temperature does not exceed 32–35 °C (90–95 °F).
PrecipitationThe rainy season prevails about 10 months, with a period of relative drought between January and March with annual average between 1,600 and 2,200 mm (63 and 87 in) of rain (twice what is observed in the Venezuelan capital). This measure varies along the savanna area, in the south the average drops to between 1,600 and 1,900 mm (63 and 75 in) of rain, in the north it varies between 1,600 and 2,500 millimetres (63 and 98 in), and in the south-east it is above 3,000 mm (120 in).
WindsVisitors to the Gran Sabana may notice strong winds to finish up the area of La Escalera and see for first time large areas of savannah. Compared to the average weather of Venezuela, the site moved relatively favorable and cool winds, creating a comfortable feeling. Climate variation is determined by altitude and winds, as the latitude (between 4 ° and 8 ° latitude north) of the site falls within the equatorial belt. The area further north in its lower part is subject to the influence of winds from the east and northeast, resulting in a rainy season and drought season. The south by contrast, is affected by wet winds from the Amazon depression and Southeast, which condense when in contact with elevations, producing heavy rains.
Flora and vegetationThe savannas occupy undisputed first place in the diverse range of ecosystems that developed in the region. But the Gran Sabana includes a variety of scenarios. These are subject to a complex mix of climatic and ecological conditions ranging from hot lowlands to the high cold mountains. Because of this, it have developed a considerable number of plant species adapted to its ecosystems. The vegetation is characterized by be particular in the region and builds on very acid soils, derived from the decomposition of the sandstones.
The savannas and gallery forests, are situated along the courses of rivers and streams that traverse the savannahs. These forests have a very varied vegetation where there are trees, shrubs, guacos, epiphytes and the Moriche Palm. Shrubs rarely exceed 2–3 meters (6 ft 7 in–9 ft 10 in) high. Its leaves are mostly thick, probably due to lack of nutrients in the soil, and its acidity. La Gran Sabana has variety of grasses. Because the ground has many rocks and is sandy, means that the grasses are not suitable to feed any livestock, whether goat, sheep or bovine. The most important plant families are Theaceae, Humiriaceae, Ericaceae, Compositae, Aquifoliaceae, Burseraceae, Sapotaceae. Among the most high, it should be emphasized Rutaceae the Spathelia fruticosa with unbranched stems up to 4 meters (13 ft), and a tuft of compound leafs at the apex.
On the summits of the tepuis, despite the hostile environment (especially on Mount Roraima), there is a wide variety of plants, ranging from 20–30 centimeters (7.9–12 in) to 4 meters (13 ft) high. In the turbulent rivers and in the many waterfalls, plants grow on the rocks peculiar carpets that are green or tan. These are Spermatophyte plants of the family Podostemaceae. From 600–1,200 meters (2,000–3,900 ft) above sea level one begins to observe the submontane evergreen forests ombrophilous, upper-middle-high (20–30 meters [66–98 ft]) thick and well developed understory. From the 1,200–2,000 meters (3,900–6,600 ft) at the foot of the cliffs within large tepui grow ombrophilous montane forests evergreens, including low tepui forests above 1,700 m. These form dense communities of medium to high altitudes, with undergrowth closed, sometimes with many epiphytes. At the summit of the Auyantepui and the Massif Chimantá there are several kinds of plants do not grow anywhere else in the world, such as gender Ayensua (family Bromeliaceae), Tepuia (Ericaceae), Mallophyton (Melastomataceae), Coryphothamnus and Aphanocarpus (Rubiaceae), and finally Arimantaea and Achnopogon (Asteraceae). Many of the rarest species are found on exposed sandstone formations open. Furthermore, in shady and protected beneath the rocks and small cavities, are achieved endemic ferns of the genus Hymenophyllopsis and Pterozonium. The flora has been one of the most important attractions for botanical studies, found insectivorous plant communities belonging to the genera Heliamphora, Drosera and Utricularia. These live in the thin layer of soil resting directly on the bedrock.
FaunaDespite the enormous variety of species living in the Gran Sabana, is not common for visitors to find animals on the road to El Dorado to Santa Elena de Uairén, because there prevails the open forest, and these animals prefer the islands forest, riparian forests, and jungles that are in the mountains at the foot of the tepuis.
Savanaian wildlife species include endangered species like the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), the giant Amazon otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), the paca Agouti paca, or the marsupial endemic of the tepui summits (Marmosa tyleriana). It also has its habitat in this region of the Orinoco capuchin monkey (Chiropotes satanas), the howler (Alouatta seniculus) and the widow monkey (Pithecia pithecia). The avifauna is varied, especially the cock of the rock (Rupicola rupicola) and the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja). Among the reptiles are: the Boa constrictor, the anaconda (Eunectes murinus) and the pineapple cuaima (Lachesis muta muta). Many species of amphibians live in wet areas, including mining frog (Dendrobates leucomelas).
Other common species include the armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), the small cuspa (Cabassous unicinctus), or capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), the higher rodent of the world. It can also find very rare event, jaguars (Panthera onca), pumas (Felis concolor), ocelots (Leopardus wiedii) and Tigritos. They have been porcupines (Sphiggurus insidiosus), cuchicuchis (Potos flavus) and weasels (Mustela nivalis), which are creatures of habit, and generally arboreal. Another interesting mammal from zoological point of view is the bush dog (Speothos venaticus), seldom sighted and only in forests of this region.
The fauna of the tepuis is not numerous, due to the low amount of nutrients and harsh environmental conditions on the tops of the plateaus.
Ethnic groupsThe ethnicity of the Pemon is the largest group of indigenous people in the region. They are scattered throughout the Canaima National Park and are divided into three groups: Arekunas, Taurepanes and Kamarakotos. Most of them are friendly, quiet and hardworking. They are the native inhabitants of the Gran Sabana and today pervade the tourism industry, manage and administer inns and serve as guides on expeditions in the region. Some can also speak English. The number of native inhabitants of la Gran Sabana not known exactly. However, the population census carried out by INE in 2001, revealed the presence of a total of 42,600 indigenous people statewide in Bolívar, of which the vast majority live in the Gran Sabana.
The language of almost all the Indians of the area is the Pemon, a language of Carib family related to the extinct Caribs, and Tamanaco and Chaimas. Most of them also speak the Spanish. However, note that there is a large non indigenous population that speaks Spanish. In Santa Elena de Uairén, in the area near the Brazilian border, is common to find people who speak Portuguese.
TourismAccess and movement in la Gran Sabana
To reach the Gran Sabana is necessary to pass the paved road (called Troncal 10) passing through Ciudad Guayana and reaches the Brazilian border. Just before arriving at the Gran Sabana is to pass the said place called La Escalera, an uphill road with several curves and immersed in a typically rainy and foggy forest. Once past that section there is a paved road that runs through the Gran Sabana. There are other ways to access other sites, but are not paved.
Tourists can also take a plane to Santa Elena de Uairén. They can reach this town by paved road from Caracas, or from Brazil through Pacaraima, traveling along the highway BR174, which connects Manaus (some 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) away from Santa Helena) and Boa Vista[disambiguation needed] (approximately 225 kilometres (140 mi)) with the Venezuela–Brazil border. Currently bus service exists between Ciudad Guayana and Santa Elena de Uairén, but car travel is recommended to allow for frequent stops in interesting places. The journey from Caracas is usually done in two days.
Some of the most attractive places can be reached only by four wheel drive vehicles. Such is the case in places like Torón and Toroncito, Rapids Sakaika, Rapids Anaway, Rapids Käk, the town of Paraitepuy de Roraima, and several sites of interest in the way to Ikabarú.
To reach the town of Kavak, where the gorge of the river of that name, it is essential to travel by air. In the second half of 2011, however, vehicles were banned from some of the unpaved roads, such as at the River Torón. This measure was taken by the Government, because the soil condition was badly damaged by the passage of four wheel drive vehicles. The most important falls, and easier access on the main road, that can be reached without four wheel drive vehicles are the Falls Kama or "Kama-Merú" in Pemon language, Falls Pacheco or "Arapan-Merú" and Jasper Creek or "Kako Paru".
Another issue to consider traveling in the Gran Sabana is the supply of gasoline. There are few suppliers of fuel, and not every one is always open. Most likely to find gasoline is in Santa Elena has Uairén, however, the town is over 200 kilometres (120 mi) from the entrance to the Gran Sabana by La Escalera. For foreign tourists the fuel supply is not guaranteed, because the government guarantees gasoline only for Venezuelans. There is also differentiation of supply for Venezuelan tourists and locals, due to smuggling of gasoline in Brazil has a much higher value than in Venezuela. The same problem of illegal purchase and sale of gasoline is before the entrance to the Gran Sabana, the Venezuelan side, in the town of San Isidro, also known as "Km 88".
Visitors can lose hours to fill a vehicle fuel in high season. Because of these difficulties, it is recommended that tourists carry pimpinas or drums, properly identified with the red color for safety and security reasons.
Some tranches can be done in "curiaras", which are boats carved in wood, manned by local people. Despite being managed by pemones, these boats may have engines to reduce travel time. Such is the case of access to Falls Aponwao, one of the most renowned in the Gran Sabana, with a fall of about 110 meters (360 ft). To get to the falls, visitors must travel by car to the camp Liwöriwö by dirt roads, and then take the curiara guided by Indigenous (a journey of about 20 minutes) until the fall.
Another popular tourist activity, albeit at a price making it somewhat less accessible, is to fly by helicopter or plane. Visitors can take flights from many places, however, the most common is to take off from Santa Elena de Uairén, where there are local agencies. Some plans include tours on tepuis Roraima and Kukenan, visits to waterfalls, overlooking Auyantepuy with overflight of Angel Falls and camp visits of Canaima, to places which is not accessible by vehicle.
ReferencesInstituto Nacional de Parques - Official web site, in Spanish
http://www.inparques.gob.ve/ (in Spanish)