The Gran Sabana of Venezuela

words + photos by Katherine Braun Mankin



I stared out into the empty plain of the Gran Sabana and thought about my husband, Don. I was glad that I wasn’t with him. He was at that moment climbing a tepui, a rocky, table top mountain.  I didn’t want to climb the tepui.  I don’t like walking uphill.  I don’t like cold or wet places, and I especially don’t like cold and wet together.  Sleeping on the ground hurts my back, and I prefer indoor plumbing to more rustic alternatives.  And I’m a wilderness wimp.  So, instead of hiking a tepui, I went to the middle of nowhere. 

Photo Slide Show by Katherine Braun Mankin

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The Gran Sabana in the southeastern corner of Venezuela, bordering Brazil, is a high plateau of wide savannah interrupted only by clumps of jungle, shadowy outlines of distant tepuis and many waterfalls. My husband and I were in Venezuela at the invitation of Venezuela Elite, a tour operator offering trekking, biking and cultural trips in the region and elsewhere ( While my husband climbed the tepui, I spent a week in the Gran Sabana with a guide and a driver, staying at eco-camps or small hotels (indoor plumbing !), going on relatively easy hikes and visiting the indigenous people of this area. For a week I had the pleasure of looking out at landscapes that stretched endlessly into an uncluttered vista of land, sky and water. 

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The Lost World of Venezuela

words and photos by Don Mankin


The wet, slanted face of the boulder looks treacherous. To make matters worse, the bottom edge hangs over a precipitous drop-off with nothing below but air. I’m not sure how I am going to work my way up its slippery surface.  As Alejandro reaches his hand out to help me, my boots slip and I slide out of sight. For what seems like an eternity, I am in free fall, not sure how far I will fall or what I will land on when I hit bottom.

Photo Slide Show by Don Mankin

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It was the third day of an 8 day trek up, on and down Auyan Tepui, the largest of the table top mountains of Venezuela (tepui means “house of the gods” in the language of the indigenous Pemon people). There are over 100 tepuis in SE Venezuela, ancient sandstone mesas that jut thousands of feet straight up from the jungle and savannahs below. The most famous tepui is Mt. Roraima, supposedly the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World,” as well as for the hit animated movie, “Up.” Auyan Tepui is larger, more difficult to climb and receives far fewer visitors. It is also the source of Angel Falls (“Paradise Falls” in the movie, “Up”), the world’s highest waterfall at over 3000 feet. Since the tepuis are very old, the flora and fauna that have evolved on the tops of the tepuis are very different than those in the jungles and savannahs below. In fact, the tepuis are like islands in the sky, so each one has plants and animals unique to itself. One of the things they all have in common, though, is that there are no dinosaurs despite the fanciful speculations of Sir Arthur.

My wife Katherine and I were invited here by the owners of Venezuela Elite – a tour company offering trekking, mountain biking, yoga and other trips in the region – to “show Americans that there is more to Venezuela than Hugo Chavez and Miss World” ( We only visited one region in our 16 day trip, Canaima National Park, and only Auyan Tepui (the focus of this story), the Gran Sabana and Angel Falls, but from what we saw in those 16 days, their claim is well justified.

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