Thermal Baths of Villavicencio in Argentina

Thermal Baths of Villavicencio are a set of mineral hot springs located northwest of Mendoza, Argentina, known for their therapeutic properties. While the site has been known to the locals for centuries, the rumors of the baths’ healing powers were first introduced in 1902.

Villavicencio Hotel Near Thermal Baths in Argentina, Photo: Vocoder, Wikipedia
Villavicencio Hotel Near Thermal Baths in Argentina, Photo: Vocoder, Wikipedia

Villavicencio is not a tourism hot spot. Even in its home country of Argentina, the name of Villavicencio only rings the bells because the bottled water bearing the same name is distributed throughout the country. If it weren’t for the thermal baths (Termas Villavicencio Spa), there would be nothing in Villavicencio to attract tourists. Though to make the site more feasible, a hotel was built in the area in 1941.

The Thermal Baths of Villavicencio are tucked high in the mountains which makes access to them challenging to say the least. Small interpretive center can be found a few kilometers before the pools but perhaps the only real reason to pay it a visit would be the center’s pet llama. Despite its remoteness (or perhaps because of it), the Thermal Baths of Villavicencio are an interesting vacation spot for those looking to unwind and recharge. As an interesting fact, the Termas Villavicencio Spa was visited by Charles Darwin during his world tour on March 30, 1835.

Short video below was filmed by a group of Spanish speaking people in the Thermal Baths of Villavicencio:

Witches Market of La Paz, Bolivia

Are you into witchcraft, dark magic and all things from beyond? Do you have troubles buying essential ingredients necessary to perform the rites or brew potions? Have I got a vacation spot for you… Located on an intersection of Calle Jiminez and Linares in Bolivian town of La Paz, tucked between Santa Cruz and Sagarnaga is a popular tourist area known for its Witches Market. It’s the place where old women wearing pointy witch hats sell artefacts, amulets, charms, and other items of general use for practitioners of witchcraft. And if you fancy having your fortune foretold, just use the services of one of many witch doctors. They can be seen roaming through the witches market dressed in distinct dark robes.

Dried Baby Llamas Sold at the Witch Market in La Paz, Bolivia, Photo: Jungle_Boy, Flickr
Dried Baby Llamas Sold at the Witch Market in La Paz, Bolivia, Photo: Jungle_Boy, Flickr

The Witches Market of La Paz is in a popular tourist area so vendors are plentiful and so are the items for sale. You can buy many things that would normally get classified as “strange” or “bizarre” yet even if you’re not into witchcraft, the variety and uniqueness of available items is sure to leave you in awe. Anything from traditional folk remedies, through herbs and formulas to brew your own aphrodisiacs, all the way to dried snakes and turtles, owl feathers, bat wings, soapstone figurines, and dried frogs (used for Ayamara rituals) can be found at the La Paz’ Witch Market.

Street in Bolivian La Paz Where Witches Market is Held, Photo: jacsonquerubin, Flickr
Street in Bolivian La Paz Where Witches Market is Held, Photo: jacsonquerubin, Flickr

One of the coolest items offered for sale at the Witches Market of La Paz are dried llama foetuses. These are highly valued among the practitioners of witchcraft for their ability to bring upon good fortune and prosperity. Llamas are large animals used throughout Bolivia and are believed by many Bolivians (witches or not) to be the bearers of good luck. Bolivian construction workers use llama foetuses as offerings to the goddess Pachamama to protect them from workplace accidents. Wealthy Bolivians, on the other hand, make their offerings to Pachamama more poshy and use a living llama which they sacrifice. This is part of the Bolivian tradition that’s centuries old.

Check out the video of the Witches Market in La Paz, Bolivia below:

Ilha da Queimada Grande

Ilha da Queimada Grande is a very unique feature for the pages of Vacation Ideas. While it perfectly fits the requirement of being a noteworthy and unique place to visit, most travellers would wisely choose to put it on their “never to visit list of places around the world”. The rest of us, the really adventurous types would on the other hand have a hard time trying to get to Ilha da Queimada Grande. The reason? The Grand Burnt Island, as its name translates to English from native Brazilian Portuguese is one of the most dangerous places in the world. It is so dangerous that up until Brazilian military restricted access to the island, the only person who dared to stay there was the lighthouse keeper. So what makes Ilha da Queimada Grande so unique and dangerous? Read on to find out.

Ilha da Queimada Grande aka Snake Island, Photo Source: itanhaem.sp.gov.br
Ilha da Queimada Grande aka Snake Island, Photo Source: itanhaem.sp.gov.br

Ilha da Queimada Grande Location

Ilha da Queimada Grande is located off the coast of Brazil, not far from nation’s largest city of Sao Paulo and the state bearing the same name. It is a 430,000 square meter (430 hectare or 110 acre) island that hasn’t been touched by civilization for more than 100,000 years.

Snake Island

As stated earlier, the name of the island translates as The Grand Burnt Island, but this is not what it’s known as. Its better suited and most commonly used nickname is Snake Island. Having “Burnt” in its name implies the desolate nature of the place, but it is the island’s snakes that make Ilha da Queimada Grande so deserted.

Ilha da Queimada Grande is home to Golden Lancehead (Bothrops Insularis), a highly venomous pitviper species known for their extremely potent venom and aggressive nature. Lanceheads are widely considered to be the most venomous snakes in the world and are responsible for more deaths than any other snake species in the Americas.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Brazilian legends have it that there are as many as 5 (five) Golden Lanceheads per square meter on Ilha da Queimada Grande. While some scientists tend to agree with the estimate, the Discovery Channel documentary of Snake Island estimated that there could be only as many as one Golden Lanceheads per square meter.

One way or another, Ilha da Queimada Grande is infested with highly venomous pitvipers to a point that it is widely recognized as the most dangerous place on the planet. Pitvipers dominate Ilha da Queimada Grande so fiercely, no species of mammals exist on the island.

On the other hand, though – Ilha da Queimada Grande aka Snake Island is the only place in the world where Bothrops Insularis snakes can be found. The island is their world. They own it, they control it and remain so impetuous about it, no human or other mammal dares to enter their reign. Migratory birds that use the Snake Island as their resting point serve as a big enough supply of food to keep the population of pit vipers remarkably high.

Ilha da Queimada Grande – Too Dangerous for Humans

Golden Lanceheads contain fast acting venom that melts the flesh around the bite site with unrivalled speed and efficiency. They are so dangerous, that for the longest time, the only inhabitants of Ilha da Queimada Grande ware the lighthouse keeper and his family. According to the tales by the locals from the coastal areas of mainland Brazil opposite Ilha da Queimada Grande, the family of the last lighthouse keeper was attacked by a handful of snakes who entered their bedroom through a window at night. The keeper, his wife and their three children attempted to escape the island but were bitten by more snakes on the way to the boat and died in a pool of blood.

Following their deaths, the lighthouse was decommissioned and Snake Island placed off limits to general public. The Brazilian Navy protects Ilha da Queimada Grande and only affords access to scientists bearing special permit and suitable protective outfits.

A Trip to Ilha da Queimada Grande

The premise of a vacation on Ilha da Queimada Grande would seem almost too perfect at first. A tropical island surrounded by blue ocean waters and no tourist overpopulation so you have the whole paradise for yourself – how could you possibly go wrong, right?

But then if you consider even the most liberal estimate of there being only one snake per square meter, no matter where on Ilha da Queimada Grande you are, you are never more than 3 feet away from almost certain death.

There would be no sitting on the ground to take a breather, no leaning on trees to pull new camera battery out of the bag and no taking of pictures unless you have someone watching what’s around you while that someone has someone watching to make sure nothing creeps dangerously close to them. Even a foot long Golden Lancehead could deliver a bite that would end your life in agonizing pain within minutes. Their ubiquity and total domination of the island make it the most dangerous place in the world. If Brazilian Navy withdrew to quit protecting people from certain death by trying to access Ilha da Queimada Grande, would you risk the rush of such proximity to death for a visit to one of the most exclusive pieces of land on Earth?

You have never heard me to say that, but if the article really intrigued you and you would like to pay Ilha da Queimada Grande a visit no matter what, you could make your way to the coastal towns of Itanhaém or Peruíbe and ask local boatmen to take you to the Snake Island. It’s slightly illegal, but illegal is the name of the game in Brazil so arguing a boatman into doing something that’s not particularly allowed is not such a big deal. Venturing onto Ilha da Queimada Grande is a whole new ballgame and once you dare, you should understand that one wrong move could be your last. You have been warned!

Snake Island Video

Below is the video from the Discovery Channel documentary about Ilha da Queimada Grande. It’s a nice introduction to the Snake Island and contains some very nice footage.

Atitlan Butterfly Sanctuary

The Atitlan Butterfly Sanctuary contains in excess of thirty five different species of butterfly, and offers an ideal education center for adults and children alike in learning and understanding the life cycle of the butterfly. Located just outside of the town of Panajachel near Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, this ecological center offers a unique insight into these species of insects.

Butterfly Enclosure at Atitlan Sanctuary in Guatemala, Photo: t-dawg, Flickr
Butterfly Enclosure at Atitlan Sanctuary in Guatemala, Photo: t-dawg, Flickr

Surrounding the area of the Atitlan butterfly sanctuary is a backdrop of natural woodlands, coffee plantations and some of the lakeside beaches (some of the beaches are private, though). The actual Atitlan butterfly sanctuary is located in a nature reserve known as Reserva Natural and is based upon an old coffee plantation and processing plant, complete with an old German stone built mill, built around the mid 1800s.

The quetzal, which is Guatemala’s national bird may also be seen here, which is certainly a treat for nature lovers in viewing this splendid and colorful inhabitant, together with a number of species of monkeys and cotamundis, indigenous to the area. The nearby waterfall makes for an ideal stroll, whilst walking across hanging bridges. For a little more adventure, the local authorities have established a zip line facility, where you will be able to view the forest and vegetation canopies from above. All equipment is well maintained, with local guides, and no less than 8 different zip lines to explore this nature reserve.

Mariposa Libre Specimen at Atitlan Butterfly Sanctuary near Panajachel, Photo: t-dawg, Flickr
Mariposa Libre Specimen at Atitlan Butterfly Sanctuary near Panajachel, Photo: t-dawg, Flickr

Eco tourism within this region has taken off quite substantially and offers the nature lover a variety of choices, beyond that of the Lake Atitlan butterfly sanctuary, such as climbing one of the three volcanoes within close proximity. Although some of these climbs are quite rigorous, the views from the various vantage points of the greater lake region are well worth it. Water lovers can access the many kayaking and scuba diving options available at the lake, as well as the chance to enjoy some jet skiing.

The opportunity to explore remote reaches of the lake, or appreciate some of the wilder areas of the lake’s shores are best done so by boat tour. The boats can be hired for up to eight people, allowing for a nice cruise on the lake to whichever part you wish to go.

Additional attractions in the immediate area include the Mayan Archaeological Museum, the Los Encuentros Cultural Center, the Spanish Colonial Church and the indigenous market all within an approximate five kilometre and less radius of each other. This makes for an ideal cultural walk around the town of Panajachel. Local artists have a number their works on display within the local galleries there too, so if you want to get something unique from the region be sure to look around there.

This Way to Atitlan Butterfly Sanctuary, Photo: t-dawg, Flickr
This Way to Atitlan Butterfly Sanctuary, Photo: t-dawg, Flickr

After visiting the various natural attractions immediately surrounding Panajachel, such as the Atitlan Butterfly Sanctuary and nature reserve, there are a variety of bars and restaurants in the town that stay open quite late. Alternatively the other towns around the lake offer a more peaceful and restful experience where not much nightlife exists.

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

Otherwise known as Laguna de Aitlan, Lake Atitlan is a volcanic lake situated in the highlands of Guatemala. So far as tourism infrastructure and access are concerned, the Lake Atitlan area is well developed. There are a number of towns and villages that surround the Lake Atitlan, the most popular being that of Panajachel, which is also recommended as the easiest and most accessible entry point into the region. Lake Atitlan has formed in the crater of a volcano, also known as an endorheic lake.

Panoramic View of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala Taken from Tzam Poc Hotel in Santa Catarina Polopo, Photo: Emilio Piovesan, Wikipedia
Panoramic View of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala Taken from Tzam Poc Hotel in Santa Catarina Polopo, Photo: Emilio Piovesan, Wikipedia

This region is predominantly inhabited by Cachikel Mayans, and offers the visitor a glimpse into the centuries old Mayan traditions and culture. The name of Lake Atitlan is obtained from the Mayan language and means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors”. The villages surrounding the lake offer a hospitable, albeit shy people that will host you in this environment.

Lake Aitilan has never been completely and thoroughly sounded, in terms of measuring the true depth of the entire lake. Some estimates of the depth are at around 340m deep. Activities range from hiking around the lake, which is possible via the lakeside path, whilst the water sport enthusiast can enjoy the kayaking, jet skiing and boating experiences of Lake Atitlan.

Hotel Atitlan Swimming Pool with Lake Atitlan in the Background, Photo: Abe K, Flickr
Hotel Atitlan Swimming Pool with Lake Atitlan in the Background, Photo: Abe K, Flickr

The three supporting volcanoes, offer the climbing and hiking type a great opportunity to hike and climb to a variety of points on these slopes, the volcanoes are named Atitlan, Toliman and San Pedro, with the latter being the oldest of the three. San Pedro is also said to be the best for climbing and hiking, and one can climb or hike these slopes by themselves or with a guide.

In so far as nightlife is concerned, the best locale would be Panajachel, which has several bars that operate into the late hours, however the remainder of the area is more suited for a serene and relaxing experience.

Considered One of the Most Beautiful Lakes in the World - Lake Atitlan in Panajachel, Guatemala, Photo: 5imon, Flickr
Considered One of the Most Beautiful Lakes in the World - Lake Atitlan in Panajachel, Guatemala, Photo: 5imon, Flickr

Accommodation around Lake Atitlan varies, and has a number of backpacker options, as well as a couple of higher end luxury options. Although Panajachel is one of the most popular places to stay, other towns include that of Santa Cruz de Laguna. This locale offers one the opportunity to dive in the lake, with equipment rental available. Although the area is best suited for walking and enjoying the natural scenery and beauty, the lake front spa facilities are a superb way to revitalize the mind and body.

The nearby Lake Atitlan nature reserve will offer the opportunity to spot the well known Quetzel, which is Guatemala’s national bird, as well as the variety of fauna and flora native to the region. A more cultural approach to the region will enable one to view the ancient ruins at Iximche, Panajachel. These ruins were the capital of the Cachikel Maya kingdom, during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Cross in Santa Catarine Palopo Overlooking Lake Atitlan, Photo: auntjojo, Flickr
Cross in Santa Catarine Palopo Overlooking Lake Atitlan, Photo: auntjojo, Flickr

The transport around Lake Atitlan that is accessible includes buses and taxis, with the former running as per their schedules. Whilst transport on the lake itself is normally via informal boat taxis that are available for hire.

Traveling the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is a narrow strip of the driest land on earth. You might not expect to find much to do or see in a place where centuries can go by without a drop of rain, but this small Chilean desert nestled near the peaks of the Andes Mountains actually has quite a bit to offer to a traveler.

Atacama Desert in Chile at Sunset with Andes in the Background, Photo: plαdys, Flickr
Atacama Desert in Chile at Sunset with Andes in the Background, Photo: plαdys, Flickr

Most travel in the Atacama Desert begins in the small oasis of San Pedro de Atacama, nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. San Pedro boasts a church built by the Spanish in 1577, and one of the best archaeological and anthropological museums in the region – R.P. Gustavo le Paige Museum. The town’s marketplace showcases the handicrafts and materials passed down from generation to generation – fabrics woven from the wool of the local herds of llama, alpaca, and sheep, figurines carved from volcanic rock, and musical instruments and baskets made from cactus wood.

From San Pedro, tourists have quite a few options. The Valle de la Muerte (Valley of the Dead) is a sand dune-filled valley that offers the adventurous a chance to try sandboarding. The geothermic fields of El Tatio boast geysers and hot springs for visitors in search of relaxation. For the inner archaeologist, the ruins of the Pukará de Quitor, an ancient fortress built by the original inhabitants of the Atacama Desert, the Atacameños, provides a glimpse into the past of 700 years ago. And anyone interested in bird watching should visit the altiplanic lagoons that can be found all over the region, showcasing one of the most vibrant birds in nature – the flamingo.

Valle de la Muerte aka Valley of the Death in the Atacama Desert, Chile, Photo: Historias de Cronopios, Flickr
Valle de la Muerte aka Valley of tthe Death in the Atacama Desert, Chile, Photo: Historias de Cronopios, Flickr

The Atacama Desert holds a special place in the hearts of astronomers and stargazers, however. Because of its climate and alien appearance, parts of the Atacama have been used to simulate space missions to Mars and the Moon. In fact, El Valle de la Luna (the Valley of the Moon) is so named because of its resemblance to the Moon – it has served as a setting for film crews looking to shoot lunar and Martian landscapes. Additionally, because of its lack of cloud-cover, the high altitude, and its isolation, the Atacama desert is a prime location for astronomical observatories. At 8,645 feet above sea level, the Paranal Observatory boasts the Very Large Telescope and La Residencia, a hotel for staff and visitors. La Residencia has also played a distinguished role as a setting for the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Valle de la Luna aka Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert, Chile, Photo: Zootalures, Wikipedia
Valle de la Luna aka Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert, Chile, Photo: Zootalures, Wikipedia

Perhaps the best part about visiting the Atacama Desert is the weather – sunny, but not too hot or too cold. With winter temperatures averaging 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and summer temperatures around 80 degrees, visitors will find this desert pretty agreeable. It’s perfect for driving out to the Atacama coast and laying on the beach, or hiking the Andes in search of glaciers. Just be sure to always carry sunscreen with you!

Atacama Desert - The Driest Place on Earth, Photo: Ti.mo, Flickr
Atacama Desert - The Driest Place on Earth, Photo: Ti.mo, Flickr

Many surprises await the intrepid traveler in the Atacama. With such a variety of landscapes and impressive sights and activities, the Atacama Desert is sure to be a memorable place to visit. Afterall, it’s the driest place on Earth and who wouldn’t want to visit a place that holds a prime.

Mount Roraima in Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil

Mount Roraima is a tepui tabletop mountain that stands right on the junction of three South American countries: Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil. The borders of all these countries meet right on top of Mount Roraima. Flat, tabletop like summit of Mount Roraima is 31 kilometres square in size (huge). The vertical sides of Mount Roraima are 400 meters tall. Thanks to its super old age and prehistoric feel, Mount Roraima served as an inspiration for “The Lost World” – the 1912 novel by Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about interactions between dinosaurs and people. Jurassic Park movie which was based on The Lost World novel is not the only Hollywood production inspired by Mount Roraima. The 2009 Pixar animated feature titled “Up” also took ideas from this prehistoric formation. Mount Roraima is also known by its Portuguese name Monte Roraima (used in Brazil), or Spanish mane Cerro Roraima (used in Venezuela). English is the official language of Guyana so they call it Mount Roraima there. Because Mount Roraima is a tabletop mountain natively known as tepui, there is yet another name used for this formation – Roraima Tepui.

Mount Roraima in Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil, Photo: Yosemite, Wikipedia
Mount Roraima in Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil, Photo: Yosemite, Wikipedia

Mount Roraima Location on a Map

As it was mentioned above, Mount Roraima is located right on the junction of three borders – Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil. That means that once you have climbed on top of Mount Roraima, you will be able to stand in three countries at the same time. The exact coordinates of the triple border are: 5°12’08N, 60°44’07W.

Mount Roraima is part of The Guiana Shield the highlands of which are known for being the home to some of world’s most spectacular waterfalls, including Kaieteur Falls in Guyana and Angel Falls in Venezuela which both have been previously described on Vacation Ideas website, because I believe they are some of world’s finest spots that should be on everyone’s “must visit before I die list”.

You can see the location of Mount Roraima on an interactive, navigable map below:

Mount Roraima Weather

As you can see from the map above, when satellite pictures of Mount Roraima were taken, it was engulfed in clouds. This is not unusual by any means as the weather patterns follow the same trends on almost daily basis. Mount Roraima is surrounded by thick rainforest. Tropical heat of this part of the world causes the moisture from the rainforest to raise and condense over the mountain as heavy clouds. As a result, Mount Roraima is almost always in clouds and it rains there pretty much every day. This creates some visual spectacles as water from the flat top of Mount Roraima makes its way down in spectacular, single drop waterfalls that count as some of the tallest in the world.

Eroded Surface of the Oldest Rock Formation in the World with Water Puddles, Photo: antonioperezrio.com, Flickr
Eroded Surface of the Oldest Rock Formation in the World with Water Puddles, Photo: antonioperezrio.com, Flickr

How to Get to Mount Roraima

The best starting point for tours to Mount Roraima is Venezuelan town of Santa Elena de Uairén. The town is right by the border with Brazil and several tour companies organize tours to Mount Roraima from there. You can get to Santa Elena de Uairén by plane from Caracas. Helicopter tours for those who are not fit enough to climb the natural staircase for a day are also available from Santa Elena de Uairén.

Another option is to get to Paraitepui village where Pemon Indians can be hired as guides.

On Top of Monte Roraima, Photo: Simon Booth, Flickr
On Top of Monte Roraima, Photo: Simon Booth, Flickr

Tepui Tabletop Mountains

Tepui are fascinating formations that are more than just mountains. Tepuis are the king of the plateau. Geologists have been maintaining that Tepui Tabletop Mountains such as Mount Roraima are the oldest geological formations on Earth, dating back to Precambrian era, more than 2 billion years ago.

In the language of the Pemon, people native to La Gran Sabana, Tepui means “house of the gods”. While there are several Tepui Tabletop Mountains individually scattered across Pakaraima – tepui plateau in South America, Mount Roraima is the highest, the most famous and the most notable one. Venezuela can boast with the largest number of Tepui Tabletop Mountains, but since Mount Roraima reaches into Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil, each of these three countries can brag about being a home to world’s most famous tepui.

Steep Cliffs of Mount Roraima, Photo: Jeff Johnson, Wikipedia
Steep Cliffs of Mount Roraima, Photo: Jeff Johnson, Wikipedia

Mount Roraima Myths and Legends

First written mention about Mount Roraima was made in 1596 by English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, but native Pemon Indians knew about the mountain for centuries prior. According to their myths and legends, what we now know as Mount Roraima was once a giant tree that once held all the fruits and vegetables in the world. At some point, one of Pemon ancestors knocked the tree down the crashing of which caused immense flood. Mount Roraima as we know it today is the stump of that gianormous tree.

Mount Roraima Height

To talk about Mount Roraima height, we have to consider two factors. One is the height of the mountain above sea level. In this case, the Mount Roraima height is 2810 meters or 9219 feet. The height range fluctuate from one point to another between 2810 to 2851 meters above sea level. This is quite high altitude so no matter what time of year, when you are on top of the mountain, it is going to be fairly cold up there. The highest peak of Mount Roraima which reaches the height of 2810m is on Venezuelan part of the tabletop and is called Maverick Rock. When it comes to height of Mount Roraima from the bottom of the plateau, it averages to about 400 meters.

Mount Roraima is the highest point in Guyana. Brazil and Venezuela both have peaks that are higher than that elsewhere in the country.

View of Monte Roraima from Basecamp at Canaima National Park, Estado Bolivar, Venezuela, Photo: Nicholas Laughlin, Flickr
View of Monte Roraima from Basecamp at Canaima National Park, Estado Bolivar, Venezuela, Photo: Nicholas Laughlin, Flickr

Mount Roraima Treks

The first person to take a trek up on top of Mount Roraima was Sir Everard im Thurn in December of 1884. To climb up on top of Mount Roraima is near impossible because of its endless and steep sides, but Sir Everard im Thurn found slightly sloped area covered with trees which allowed him to trek the mountain all the way to its massive top. Trekkers taking tours to Mount Roraima use the same route Sir Everard im Thurn took more than a hundred years ago. This hike is on Gran Sabana side of the mountain in Venezuela.

Once you make it on top, you should try to get to the junction of all three borders. This point is marked by a concrete cairn, but keep in mind that the top of Mount Roraima is 31 square kilometres in size (5 miles across). Depending on where you are, you could be several kilometres away from it, which means it could take you hours to get to the point.

This is the Strip on the Side of Monte Roraima that Creates a Natural Staircase and the Only Way Up, Photo: One Off Man Mental, Flickr
This is the Strip on the Side of Monte Roraima that Creates a Natural Staircase and the Only Way Up, Photo: One Off Man Mental, Flickr

Mount Roraima Tours

There are several companies offering tours to Mount Roraima, mostly in Brazil and Venezuela as impenetrable jungle on Guyana’s side makes for challenging access from this country. As it goes with any tour company, enquire with other tourists before you make a booking and try to agree on written contract before you pay the money. Mount Roraima is a large mountain. It’s massive. It takes 2.5 days to get on top.

Most companies organize 6 day tours. After 2.5 day ascend, you would spend 1.5 days camping on top of the mountain and then take 2 days to descend the mountain. Because it’s quite an adventure, it is essential to make sure you are going to good tour company. Tents must be of decent quality and reasonably reliable. all other equipment, such as stoves should also be operational and clean. It’s also essential to enquire about food supplies so you don’t spend your 6 day tour hungry. At the time of this post, Backpackers Tours was a recommended company, but things change quickly. Try to track down backpackers who took tours and ask them about their experience. This is the best way to avoid shady tour companies and pick a good in at this given time.

Sunset at Monte Roraima, Photo: slash__, Flickr
Sunset at Monte Roraima, Photo: slash__, Flickr

Mount Roraima Video

The video below is form the BBC series about plants surviving in extreme conditions. It features nice aerial photography of Mount Roraima, even though it mostly focuses on incredible flora found on the hostile mountain. In order for the plants to adapt to the life on the mountain that is continuously being washed off by flowing water which takes away all nutrients, the plants turned carnivorous and feel themselves by eating insects. This video us a nice documentary of all this.

The intriguing nature of the world’s oldest geological formation which is Mount Roraima makes all visitors feel as if they’d stepped back in time a few million years. 2 billion year old caves have been recently discovered on the Roraima formation. All of this truly make for an unforgettable adventure that would be savoured by any tourist. There are some of world’s most spectacular spots on the Guiana Shield that every avid explorer should look deeply into. I have yet to meet one person who would not have been completely blown away after visiting this area. Yet it is often missed by many. It’s truly ironic how biggest gems are left for few to discover.

El Camino de la Muerte – Road of Death in Bolivia (Yungas Road)

Aside from having world’s largest deposits of lithium and being home to world’s largest salt flat, Bolivia boast another prime that attracts adventurers and adrenaline junkies from across the globe – The Most Dangerous Road in the World. The Road of Death or as it goes in Bolivia’s native Spanish: El Camino de la Muerte is well deserving of the “most dangerous road in the world” title and upon seeing the photos or experiencing the Road to Death in person, you will wholeheartedly agree.

El Camino de la Muerte Winding Up in the Slopes of The Andes in Bolivia, Photo by Twaize, Flickr
El Camino de la Muerte Winding Up in the Slopes of The Andes in Bolivia, Photo by Twaize, Flickr

El Camino de la Muerte stretches for almost 69 kilometers as a single lane road in poor condition and with no guardrails along the eastern slopes of The Andes which are notorious for extremely steep and endless drop-offs. To top it all up, the area gets often engulfed in fog with zero visibility and the road gets covered in mud with zero traction during rainy season. But that’s not it yet. Even if you are the safest driver in the world and can handle bad road condition with ease, you are still looking at possibilities of being his and knocked off the road and down into the canyon by loose rocks from the hillside. Excited yet? Well, there’s one more thing – I have already mentioned that El Camino de la Muerte is a single lane road. What I didn’t mention is that it stretches for miles upon miles without any turnoffs or rest areas. If you happen upon on oncoming vehicle, you have no option but to try to squeeze next to each other with one of you taking on the birdseye view along the vertical crack. At times you however meet with an oncoming car on a stretch that’s simply way too narrow so the vehicle coming down needs to reverse and start backing uphill towards a wider stretch to let the other vehicle pass. That backing up along narrow, windy road with the chasm of death just centimeters from your wheels is the most dangerous part of the journey. The smallest of errors can send you 800 meters down in near free fall. Imagine the impact!

Yungas Road Location

The Yungas Road is the official name of the Road of Death which was assigned to it because it stretches along the Yungas, a forested area on the eastern slopes of Bolivian Andes. There are two parts of Yungas Road: North Yungas Road and South Yungas Road, with Bolivian capital city La Paz serving as a divider. North Yungas Road (connecting La Paz with Coroico) is the more dangerous of the two, but South Yungas Road (connecting La Paz with Chulumani), even though less dangerous is still no where near safe and also claims many lives. You can navigate through the satellite view of the location of Bolivian Road of Death by using the interactive map below:


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Yungas Road Deaths

There is no knowing what the death count of Yungas Road aka El Camino de la Muerte is, but if you conduct just a little search on the internet, you will find thousands of horror stories about countless people who plunged to their deaths as they tried to cross this South American road. But even though the dangers of El Camino de la Muerte are well know to both locals and visitors, people have to take it because there is no other road across this part of The Andes. It is estimated that Road of Death in Bolivia claims the lives of about 300 people each year (about one vehicle full of passengers every two weeks). As you drive along El Camino de la Muerte, you will see the side of the road lined with crosses. These crosses were put in a place where someone died by their relatives or friends.

Riding Down and Up Yungas Road in Bolivia, Photo by saf2285, Flickr
Riding Down and Up Yungas Road in Bolivia, Photo by saf2285, Flickr

History of Bolivian Road of Death

El Camino de la Muerte was built in the 1930’s – during Chaco War by the prisoners of war from by Paraguay as the only road connecting Bolivian capital La Paz with Amazon reainforest in North Bolivia. Given its location on steep slopes of The Andes, El Camino de la Muerte has been claiming lives ever since it was open for use. Due to its legendary dangers, El Camino de la Muerte was given a label of “the world’s most dangerous road” by the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995.

As the death toll kept rising, Bolivian government with aid from international sources initiated the construction of replacement route in late 1980’s. At present time there is a replacement route in place for one of the most dangerous parts of the 56 km (35 miles) long North Yungas Road (the one connecting La Paz with Coroico). The section between Chusquipata and Yolosa now contains a re-route to the north, which is paved according to international standards and meets safety requirements (quality asphalt, drains to keep water off the surface, solid bridges, guardrails along the plunges and multiple lanes for safer navigation).

The Andes and The Most Dangerous Road in the World, Photo by thekjkev, Flickr
The Andes and The Most Dangerous Road in the World, Photo by thekjkev, Flickr

Road of Death for Thrill-Seekers

Being as dangerous and notorious for countless deaths as El Camino de la Muerte, the Road of Death in Bolivia attracts thrill seekers from all across the globe who would risk their lives for the thrill of plowing it down the most dangerous road in the world on a mountain bike. The demand for this type of adrenaline adventure was so high, local businesses started to pop up offering equipment rentals and information/guide services for crazies with oversized balls.

Road of Death in Bolivia Attracts Thrill Seekers Who Descend it on Mountain Bikes, Photo by Señor Hans , Flickr
Road of Death in Bolivia Attracts Thrill Seekers Who Descend it on Mountain Bikes, Photo by Señor Hans , Flickr

The thrill of mountain biking down Road of Death is simple – you are going down the road in poor condition with deadly slopes that claimed many lives along its side and you’re getting 64 kilometers (40 miles) of almost nonstop downhill slope. That’s one hell of a long ride downhill at high speed while the abyss of death is constantly on your side.

Road of Death Video

Bolivian capital city Lapaz is the highest capital city in the world. El Camino de la Muerte is one of the main roads out of La Paz and as if cities altitude was not enough, when leaving the city by El Camino de la Muerte, you will be going higher and higher. Once you get to the altitude of almost 5 km above sea level, that’s when El Camino de la Muerte begins to descend in a series of narrow curves and half mile long drop-off near-misses until you are 3,600 meters lower than you were when you reached the top of the road of death. While Yungas Road is an exciting and adventurous destination for avid travellers, the reputation of the world’s most dangerous road needs to be taken well in the account. Many a life have been lost and remain lost inside wrecked piles of smashed-up cars, trucks and buses laying unreachable at the bottom of the ravine. Make wise traveling decisions so there is no need for one more cross to be erect alongside the road of death.

Salar de Uyuni Lithium Salt Flats in Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni in South American Bolivia is referred to by many as the World’s Largest Mirror. Given that it spreads over an area of 4,085 square miles (10,582 square kilometres), it truly is a vast reflective surface but the most amazing part is that this large mirror is all natural. This is no man made glass… Salar de Uyuni is a salt flat. It is the largest salt flat in the world. The above mentioned two are not the only primes of Salar de Uyuni, though. This salt flat is also the richest reservoir of lithium in the world and contains up to an estimated 70% of all of world’s lithium. Impressed yet? Well guess what? There’s much more to Salar de Uyuni so let’s take a look at some of the facts and relish the pictures of one of the world’s finest natural marvels that’s also one of the world’s best kept secrets (which makes it an unprecedented vacation idea as none of your peers have been there, but they will all fume with envy when they see the pictures).

Salar de Uyuni aka Worlds Largest Mirror Lithium Salt Flats in Bolivia, Photo by Tati@, Flickr
Salar de Uyuni aka Worlds Largest Mirror Lithium Salt Flats in Bolivia, Photo by Tati@, Flickr

Salar de Uyuni on a Map

Salt Flats of Salar de Uyuni (sometimes also called Salar de Tunupa) are located in south-west Bolivia, in the Oruro and Potosí districts, right near the highest peaks of The Andes – South American mountain range. This places Salar de Uyuni at exceptionally high elevation of 3,656 meters. You can navigate through the location of Salar de Uyuni on an interactive map below:

Salar de Uyuni Lithium

Salar de Uyuni was once a salt lake similar to the Dead Sea. There still is a salt lake at Salar de Uyuni, however it’s at the bottom, underneath the tens of meters of salt flats. It’s that brine which is covered by salt flats that’s an exceptionally rich source of lithium, however at present time there is no lithium mined out of Salar de Uyuni.

Salar de Uyuni As Calibration Mirror for Earth Orbiting Satellites

Salar de Uyuni is exceptionally flat (hence the World’s Largest Mirror reference). Even though it spreads for miles upon miles, the altitude difference between the highest and the lowest point is less than one meter. During wet season, the salt flats get covered with a layer of water which turns Salar de Uyuni into a highly reflective surface. Given these reflective properties as well as the exceptional flatness, Salar de Uyuni is frequently used as calibration mirror by the satellites orbiting the Earth. From a perspective of a person who stands on the sand flats, the view is nothing short of extraordinary. From as far as you can see to as far as you can see it’s all this blue flatness which blends in the distance with the sky. Distant hills sometimes blend with the view, making it look as though they were floating atop the blue haze.

Salt Mining at Salar de Uyuni During Dry Season, Photo by Jessie Reeder, Flickr
Salt Mining at Salar de Uyuni During Dry Season, Photo by Jessie Reeder, Flickr

Salar de Uyuni Photos

Reading about Salar de Uyuni and seeing the photos is already enough to leave one at awe, but being there and seeing the spectacle with your own eyes is breathtaking. Abundance of pleasing blue and white colors will make for spectacular pictures whether you are an experienced photographer or not.

Salar de Uyuni Tours

Most tourists who don’t pass out on the opportunity to witness the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni take one of the organized tours that start from nearby town of Uyuni. Most tours to Salar de Uyuni last for 3 to four days, but custom tours can be arranged. They are considerably more expensive, but they are… well, custom so they meet your demands and expectation as to the camping, tour guides, translations, length of stay, etc.

Standard tours will take you and a few other tourists for a 4×4 SUV ride from Uyuni south-west along several lakes until you reach the salt flats. Driver will be your tour guide and a cook. Accommodation is an experience on its own. You will sleep in small sheds and depending on which time of your you go, it could be pretty cold (keep in mind that you’re on top of The Andes – very high elevation), so make sure you have warm clothes. Salar de Uyuni is a vast place with many amazing spots to explore. It will be up to the vote of the group to decide which spots the tours visits and how much time is spent at which spot.

Salt Hotel Provided Lodging at Salar de Uyuni for Tours, Photo by Tati@, Flickr
Salt Hotel Provided Lodging at Salar de Uyuni for Tours, Photo by Tati@, Flickr

It is advisable to enquire with travellers who have returned from the tour to find out how it was. Not all tours are equal and you have no means to know who you’re going with, so make sure you ask around before you pick. A lot will depend on the tour driver, so ask what the driver was like. Don’t go with anyone who you were told drives recklessly or drinks while driving. Ask what kind of food this tour comes with as some tours don’t leave equipped with enough food or water making it difficult during a four day trip. Ask about the condition of a car. Sitting in a noisy car in desperate need of repair will make for a lot of headache or worse – could get you stranded in the middle of nowhere. And also it is important to make sure the car is equipped with emergency supplies should things go wrong during the tour.

Once again, there is no means to recommend the tour you should go with. Discuss the options with travellers who have just returned from the tour and ask about the relevant matters before you pay for one. It is also important to consider the altitude sickness. Unless you have been in high altitudes for a while, give yourself a few days to acclimatize. That especially applies if you have come from coastal areas.

Normal cost for a tour is $80 and includes food and lodging. You will have to pay for the entrance to the Salar de Uyuni park area and may want to give a tip to the driver. Make sure you have clean and untorn bills as anything less than perfect could be rejected. Do not forget good sun screen and sun glasses. You will be at high elevation, close to the sun, surrounded by highly reflective surfaces. You’ll be glad if you don’t forget to take extra bottles of water with you.

You can also take a Salar de Uyuni tour from La Paz or Tupiza. Same rules apply to these tours as above. Make sure you ask around and pay extra attention to items mentioned above for a safe tour. Some tours are arranged to go one way and take you all the way to Chile.

In Wet Season, Salar de Uyuni Becomes The Worlds Largest Mirror, Photo by vagabondaggie, Flickr
In Wet Season, Salar de Uyuni Becomes The Worlds Largest Mirror, Photo by vagabondaggie, Flickr

Salar de Uyuni – Best Time to Go

Salar de Uyuni is breath taking during any time of year, but looks way different in dry season than in wet season. If you want to see it with the reflective surface, then the best time to go is between December and March. However that’s also when salt flats are difficult on the eyes and footwear. Surface of Salar de Uyuni is dry between July and November making the visit significantly easier (hence potentially more enjoyable) on most travellers. If you opt for going in November, you may be able to see pink flamingos that use Salar de Uyuni as their feeding ground.

Pink Flamingos in Shallow Water Covering Salt Flats of Salar de Uyuni by Volcan Tunupa, Photo by Jessie Reeder, Flickr
Pink Flamingos in Shallow Water Covering Salt Flats of Salar de Uyuni by Volcan Tunupa, Photo by Jessie Reeder, Flickr

Salar de Uyuni Video

Visiting El Salar de Uyuni would be the highlight of any avid traveller. Due to its large, perfectly flat surface, Salar de Uyuni offers spectacular photo opportunities. Compared to Bonneville Salt flats in Utah, USA, Salar de Uyuni has 25 time as much salt – about 10 billion tonnes. Less than 25,000 tonnes of salt are extracted from the salt flats annually. Salar de Uyuni is also used as a road by cars (Bolivian Altiplano) offering perfectly flat surface across rugged mountainous terrain of the Andes. Whether it’s for breathtaking scenery, unrivalled photo opportunities, unique ecosystem or just out of inimitable adventure, Salar de Uyuni offers an experience that’s so unique and exhilarating you will never get tired of sharing the stories and pictures from salt flats. Get there before your friends find out and piss you off by going there before you.

Angel Falls in Venezuela

Angel Falls in Venezuela is considered to be one of New 7 Wonders of the World. Located along the border between Venezuela and Brazil, Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world. When water goes over the edge of Angel Falls, it doesn’t stop falling until it’s 1,002 m lower then it was before. That’s right, Angel Falls is more than 1 km high. Of the whole kilometer of descend, 807 m is an uninterrupted plunge. Angel Falls definitely is one of the marvels of the world and a spectacular sight for any visitor. Welcome to Venezuela.

Angel Falls in Venezuela, Photo by ENT108, Flickr
Angel Falls in Venezuela, Photo by ENT108, Flickr

Angel Falls Location

Salto Ángel, which is the name of Angel Falls in Venezuela’s native Spanish language is located in Venezuelan Parque Nacional Canaima (Canaima National Park). The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of main tourist attractions in Venezuela. The state in which Angel Falls is located is called Bolivar State, and the name of the region is La Gran Sabana. You can see the location of Angel Falls on an interactive map below:

Kerepakupai Merú

Angels Falls is sometimes referred to as Kerepakupai Merú, which is its name in the tongue of native Pemon people. In Pemon language, Kerepakupai Merú means “The Fall from the Highest Point” or “Waterfall of the Deepest Place”. Angel Falls is located on the Churun River. “Churun” means “Thunder” in Pemon.

Swimming in the Pond tt the Base of Angel Falls, Photo by César González (Destinos360), Flickr
Swimming in the Pond tt the Base of Angel Falls, Photo by César González (Destinos360), Flickr

Angel Falls Facts

The discovery of Angel Falls is attributed to American pilot Jimmy Angel who was flying over La Gran Sabana in search for a legendary Gold Ore. His Flamingo mono-plane got stuck during an attempt to land on top of Auyan Tepuy (the name means “Devils Moutain”), the sandstone, tabletop mountain that houses Angel Falls. The plane was not recovered until 33 years later and is now on display at the entrance to Ciudad Bolivar Airport.

While credit for discovery of Angel Falls was given to Jimmy Angel, he was not the first to discover it. There were in fact two non-indigenous people who visited Angel Falls prior to Jimmy Angel. Sir Walter Raleigh is believed to be the first and Venezuelan explorer Ernesto Sanchez La Cruz the second.

If it wasn’t for the adventurers who discovered the falls, Angel Falls would be unknown to Venezuelans. The Guiana Highlands are vastly inaccessible, full of steep slopes and impenetrable jungle making access to the falls difficult. Even today, it is only possible to get to Angel Falls either by a plane from Caracas or Ciudad Bolivar or on a boat.

Official height of Angel Falls is 979 m (3,212 ft) – as determined by The National Geographic Society, but there are additional 30 meters of downstream plunge so some publication list the height as 1,002 m. Either way, Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world.

People within 1 km radius from Angel Falls can still feel the spray of the mist created by the falls. The drop is so high, that by the time water reaches the bottom, it is broken down into atoms that create the mist.

In Rainy Season, Angel Falls Splits into Three Strands. Photo by antonioperezrio.com, Flickr
In Rainy Season, Angel Falls Splits into Three Strands. Photo by antonioperezrio.com, Flickr

Angel Falls in Venezuela Video

Check out this impressive video with some amazing camera work of Angel Falls in Venezuela. The video was put together by Planet Earth BBC and uses musical score by John Williams from Jurasic Park: