Canaima and Angel Falls with Children
Our family values taking our children on adventures, the same way we value responsibility. It is 50 percent child development and 50 percent parental selfishness. We like to go-go-go and we want our children to enjoy these experiences with us. That is why we decided to take our two preschooler daughters to Canaima, Venezuela to see Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world.
The trip has multiple options that should be chosen based on ability. This is a summary of how we did it and lessons learned.
Flights. We scheduled a four-night trip from Caracas to Canaima via Puerto Ordaz, but added an additional night at Euro Hotel near the airport on the out-bound trip due to an early departure time. Two flights later, we arrived in Canaima by mid-morning, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the day.
On the home-bound trip, we left Canaima mid-morning. If we didn’t have our kids and so much stuff to repack, we could have used this free morning for a bike ride or hike around town before boarding our plane home, but, honestly, we were pretty spent by the last day. Unfortunately, we also had a long layover in Puerto Ordaz. We grabbed a dayroom at Mara Inn instead of waiting all day in the airport. In total, our trip was 5 nights, returning to Caracas at midnight on Day 6.
Where to stay. The Waku Lodge in Canaima is the obvious choice in terms of quality of rooms, garden views of the river and falls, and coordination of all excursions. Any down time at the lodge was enjoyed by everyone in our family.
A stay at Waku Lodge includes three meals a day and a snack of cake and coffee every afternoon at 5pm. Friday night even included a song and dance performance by a group of indigenous kids. Cocktails are served all day but are not included in the room rate. We brought plenty of granola bars and individually wrapped treats to sustain us on trips or between meals — a must with or without tots in tow.
All excursions involve water, water, and more water, so be prepared to get wet. We brought our own life-vests for the kids (adult-vests are provided), a waterproof bag, rain coats and slickers, camping towels, and Teva-like sandals for all the water-related activities. However, we dried out pretty quickly and didn’t stay cold for long. Even in the rainy season (allowing us to see an even more impressive Angel Falls), there’s plenty of intermittent sunshine.
Good treaded hiking shoes and a hiking stick (available on-sight) were lifesavers on the hiking portion of the trip. We over-packed cold weather gear, such as hats and gloves, but better safe than sorry. Insect repellent is a must — the mosquitos weren’t too bad, but the sandflies got me more than the kids.
Sapo Falls. I would recommend that the first afternoon in Canaima be spent visiting the Salto El Sapo (Toad Falls). We had a traditionally clad and barefoot guide lead us around and under a large and force-full waterfall, through a waist-deep cove, and then along a half forest/half savanna hike to/from El Sapo. The trip lasted a few hours, including about 1 hour of moderate walking. We saw lots of tadpoles but no toads!
We wore dry-fit/sports clothes over our swimsuits, stripped them off for the wet portions, dried off with our camping towels, and put raincoats on our girls for extra warmth during the hike. Afternoons can be rainy, but we lucked out. Sapo Falls has a beautiful “mirador” overlooking a savannah and indigenous huts in the distance. The kids enjoyed soaking up some warm rays before getting wet for a final time.
Angel Falls. The boat trip to the world-renown Salto Angel (Angel Falls) is long and can be done in 1 or 2 days. We opted for the overnight to break up the time of just sitting in the boat (the river portion alone is 4 hours out and 3 hours back!). Try to get on an early morning boat, particularly if you are doing the day-trip, but if possible, leave by 7–8am for the overnight trip. That will give you more time at the mirador. We left around 11am and ended up with very little time on the look-out and ended up hiking in the dark — not advised! There’s a hiking portion along the boat-trip, about 30–45 minutes across a flat savannah, then back in the boat for a long and wet ride.
Ponchos came in handy since they protected our kids from the rain and spray of the boat. We ate a simple lunch on the boat and each kid slept about an hour or so. If there are no or light clouds, you can see more than a few waterfalls along the way, including glimpses of Angel Falls. When you get to the camp, hikers are let out on one side of the river and non-hikers go to the camp on the other side. Our guide said it was 1 hour each way, but it ended up taking 3.5 hours total for our group. I’m glad to have worn hiking boots and used a walking stick.
We carried our kids in hiking packs, which slowed us down, but others in the group weren’t going much faster. Plus, our guide said “hurry up” more than enough times to make me nervous for having my kids out there. If you can’t hike rough, slippery trails for 1.5 hours each way, I recommend staying back at the desolate camp or not going on this excursion. We only had 30 minutes at the waterfall overlook, but the skies were clear and the view was breathtaking. If we would have left on an earlier boat, we would have had more time at the mirador and could have possibly ventured about 30 minutes further to a swimming spot under the falls.
Because our tour left late, we also ended up hiking the last hour in the dark with headlamps (that we luckily brought with us), arriving to camp starved and tired. Showers, healthy portions of dinner, and hot chocolate were ready when we arrived. Our guide strung up hammocks with mosquito nets and blankets under the shed-like structure.
We slept soundly and comfortably, but were awoken at 5:30am for breakfast and a 7am departure. Three plus hours back on the river and we were back at Waku around 10:30 for a day of rest (Salto El Sapo or a bike/hike around Canaima village could be tagged on to this day).
There are a lot of risks of taking kids on the infamous Angel Falls trip — rain, slippery trails, long hours in a boat, and a cloudy “view” of the waterfall are just a few, so consider leaving them back at Waku or skipping this portion all together. Carrying small kids without packs would be nearly impossible, so honestly judging your kids’ abilities is a must. If you are going to take your kids along, definitely do the overnight and take your time.
Flightseeing to Kavac. While seeing the world’s tallest waterfall at 3,212 feet is the reason that most people visit Canaima, you don’t have to schlep by boat and foot to see and enjoy Angel Falls — consider the prop-plane option.
The combined prop-plane/Kavac village visit was our favorite part of the trip. Our pilot did not skimp on the views and excitement. We flew in and around the tepuys (flat mountains), circled around Angel Falls a few times from several angles, and traversed the skies over the forests, wetlands, and savannahs to the dirt runway of Kavac.
From this tourist village, we then took a short walk along and through the river to a magnificent waterfall deep into a canyon. You get fully submerged on this hike, but it was well worth it.
Again, we were prepared with dry clothes, camping towels, and jackets for the shivering kiddos. We splashed around under the falls for a while, before returning to the village for a tasty, hot lunch. We would have loved to stay an extra night in this area for more hiking, which is great alternative to the four-day itinerary if you opt out of the overnight boat trip and if you don’t mind more rustic accommodations. Our flightseeing trip back to Canaima was just as, if not more, exciting. With clearer skies on our return, our amazing pilot showed us a great time and the best views of the area.
We are already planning another trip to Canaima, next time “sin bebes.” We’ll definitely skip the boat ride and spend an extra night or two in the wilderness on an overnight hike to explore a tepuy or two. But we are glad we gave this experience to our children — they had a great time, even though neither girl wants to be dunked into another waterfall in the foreseeable future.