Famous Tourist Attractions
The Angel Falls
The highest waterfall in the world - is undoubtedly the most famous tourist attraction in Venezuela. The falls, 979m high, pour from the rainforest-covered Auyán-Tepui, which in Pémon means the 'mountain of the God of evil'. With waters falling for a clear 807m, it is also the world's longest drop. The water plunges into the Cañón del Diablo (the Devil's Canyon), a gigantic gorge which almost divides the Auyán-Tepui in two. The falls were named in honor of the American aviator and adventurer, Jimmy Angel, who managed to land on the surface of the Auyántepui in 1937 after having sighted the falls from his plane two years before. However, his plane stuck in the soggy ground and he could not take off again. Angel and his three companions were forced to descend the slippery rock-face on foot and trek through the jungle for eleven days until they finally came across a mission settlement in the Kamarata valley. Although the discovery of the falls is attributed to Jimmy Angel, the credit in fact belongs to Ernesto Sánchez, a retired Navy officer who visited and sketched the falls in 1910. The forested sides of the tepui are rich in flora; tree-trunks and branches are home to epiphytes such as bromeliads and orchids. The humid air and altitude creates perfect conditions for many species to flourish, including lianas, palms, heliconias, mosses, ferns, fungus and lichens.
The Wild Amazonas
Tropical rainforest covers most of Amazonas' western lowlands and is home to a variety of flora including lianas, strangler figs, bromeliads, tree ferns, orchids, lichens and mosses. The dense jungle landscape is interrupted only by swamps, waterways and flat-topped mountains known as tepuis, whose isolated surfaces are home to many rare and endemic plant species. Eastern Amazonas is dominated by the forested mountains of the Sierranía La Neblina. The waterways of the region are mainly the headwaters of the Orinoco, which flows northwest from its source in the Sierra Parima mountains on the Brazilian border. On the cusp of both the Orinoco basin and the Amazon basin lies the Río Brazo Casiquiare, the only waterway to feed both these great rivers. The luxuriant forests are home to an exotic array of fauna, including mammals such as manatee, fresh water dolphins, giant otters, capuchin, red howler and woolly monkeys, jaguar, puma, ocelot, tapir, brocket deer, agouti and armadillo. The forests are also teeming with bird species such as macaws, parrots, toucans, parakeets, tinamou, contingas and hummingbirds. A diversity of reptiles and amphibians also inhabit the region.
Puerto Ayacucho is the state capital. With a population of 74,000, it is home to nearly 93% of the region's population. Located about 70km south of the convergence of the Orinoco and the Meta, the town has the only overland link with Amazonas and is the commercial hub of the region. The capital, together with the town of Samariapo, was established in 1924 to provide a road bypass for the treacherous Maripure rapids on the Orinoco. This road, which marks the division between the upper and lower Orinoco, was an essential connection in the transport of goods up and down the river. The town, isolated bar a single dirt track running north, remained little more than a link in the chain. However, in 1980, the road was paved and river transport replaced with overland transport, bringing prosperity to the town and transforming it into the commercial center it is today.
Indigenous communities are scattered throughout the state, and more groups live here than anywhere else in Venezuela. Three large tribes, the Yanomani, Piaroa and Guajibo comprise more than 70% of the area's 40,000 Indian population. Until European explorers first penetrated the thick jungle in the 1800s, the tribes lived as they had done for thousands of years in complete isolation. Suddenly exposed to the conflict and diseases of the outside world, many Indians perished. Since the early 1900s, their numbers have decreased by 50%. Today, the remaining Yanomani Indians number 12,500. One of the few existing Neolithic tribes, the Yanomami live in large communities of up to 400 centered around a circular shelter or Yano, and have retained the traditions and ways of life of their ancestors more than any other Indian group. Though they were granted legal protection in 1988 and their homelands recognized in 1992, the existence and lands of the Yanomani continue to be threatened by illegal developers and gold diggers from Brazil.