THE GRAN SABANA
A unique landscape of incomparable scenic beauty, the Gran Sabana is an upland plateau of extensive open savannah, surrounded on all sides by forest. It is drained by the Caroni River system to the west, the Cuyuni and Mazaruni Rivers to the north east and east, and to the south by the Uraricoera River. The main part of the Gran Sabana covers an area of approximately 18,000 square kilometres and lies between 750 and 1,450 metres above sea level. It extends from the Sierra de Lema in the north to the Sierra Pakaraima in the south, and from the highlands of the Testigos tepuis and the Karuai and Uaiparu rivers in the west to the upper basin of the Kamoiran and Mazaruni rivers in the east. It comprises the montane savannahs of the south-eastern sector of the upper reaches of the Caroni and Kamoiran river systems.
The Gran Sabana plateau slopes gently downwards from 1,500 metres above sea level on the Sierra de Lema in the north, to some 700 metres at Santa Elena de Uairen in the south. Gently undulating, the plateau is dissected by the courses of streams and rivers that flow generally southwards along gulleys filled with riverine forest. Scattered across the plateau are many impressive, steeply sloping mountain massifs, the majority of which are crowned by spectacular mesetas or tablelands. These striking mesetas, which are so characteristic of this region, are generally surrounded by high vertical cliffs and are locally called ‘tepuis’. Visible from the road that runs southwards to Santa Elena, is the eastern chain of tepuis, which includes the legendary Mount Roraima (2,723 metres), its twin Mount Kukenan (2,650 metres), and the Ilu-tepui massif with its striking isolated tower, Tramen-tepui (2,650 metres). At Kilometre 147 along the road, a branch route runs 66 kilometres to the west towards the Capuchin mission at Kavanayen. Here is another series of impressive tepuis, including the rectangular Ptari-tepui (2,400 metres). Further to the south west, not reachable by road, is another mission called Wonken that sits in a beautiful position dominated by the spectacular massif of Chimantatepui. Wonken can only be reached by air or a long journey on foot.