We used Francisco Alvarez to organise our hike. He seemed to be the cheapest we could find and offers different options too, to make it even cheaper. He has an office at the bus terminal but is often found in and around Hostel Michelle and he will come and meet you if you contact him. He also has a website: www.saltoangelrsta.com. There are many other agencies around town with more deluxe tours, and one even offers a UFO tour. We didn’t have to wait as there were already enough people (minimum four) but we heard others had to wait for over a week, so if you’re on a time schedule get in contact before.
With Francisco, we opted for the all inclusive option where you have a guide, which is compulsory anyway, and your tents and food are carried up by porters. They will also set up your tents and cook you three meals a day. You have to carry your sleeping bag and mat, which are given to you the night before, along with various plastic bags to keep your stuff dry, and a map of Roraima. You also obviously need to carry anything else you need for the trip such as clothes, toiletries and snacks. This option cost 4700 Bolívares each.
There are another two options that Francisco offers. The cheapest is where you only pay for the guide and have to organise all your camping equipment and food beforehand and carry it yourself. This costs 2300 Bolívares each. The other option costs somewhere in between and consists of being provided with all food and equipment, but with no porters. You have to carry everything up yourselves but your guide will still cook for you.
In our group we had four people doing the all inclusive option and two doing the completely stripped down option, so it’s possible to have a combination within the same group.
What to bring:
We were pretty happy with what we took, we used everything and our packs weren’t too heavy. Here’s our kit list, including what we were wearing when we left:
Lucy’s clothes – leggings, baggy trousers, shorts, t-shirt, 3 vest tops, bikini, 4 knickers, 4 socks, trainers, flip flops, fleece, rain jacket
Wout’s clothes – hiking trousers, shorts, swimming shorts, 3 boxers, 3 t-shirts, 4 socks, trainers, flip flops, fleece
Food – lots of small chocolate bars, nuts and raisins, boiled sweets, biscuits, 3 litres of water
Miscellaneous – towels, toilet paper, pack of cards, flashlights, passports, small amount of cash, basic first aid kit with lots of plasters
Sleeping bags and mats – these were provided but we had to carry them, so make sure you have space, or can tie them on to your pack
About the hike:
We walked every day for about five or six hours including breaks. It was hard work but you have enough time to take it slowly. The trail is very rocky and includes wading through, or jumping from rock to rock over, several rivers. From the first day the terrain is very undulating but the third day up to the peak is the steepest and in some points is more scrambling and climbing than hiking. At the summit it’s not as flat as you might think considering it’s called a table mountain! There is another exhausting day of hiking to be done here, but this is optional as you camp in the same place that night. It’s definitely worth it though if you have the energy. The last two days were the hardest as you’re already really tired and the steep descents turn your legs to jelly, and it seems so incredibly much farther than on the way there! It’s a tough hike but anyone with a bit of determination and basic fitness levels should be fine to attempt it.
At the summit the conditions are very changeable, one minute blazing sunshine and then next cloudy, misty and rainy. At night it gets really really cold so take enough warm clothes to sleep in. This is where we were so glad of going for the all inclusive option with hot food provided, as when you’re tired and freezing, tins of cold beans and tuna really doesn’t seem appealing!
On the way up and especially near water, there are a lot of small black flies called puri-puri which bite and leave a pinprick of blood and then itch terribly. Take lots of insect repellent and wear long sleeves in the evenings.
There are no proper facilities during the whole hike. Sometimes there is a toilet tent set up to use, otherwise it’s behind a bush. Number twos need to be buried, or preferably taken down the mountain in a plastic bag. As we opted for the all inclusive version of the tour luckily it was our porter’s responsibility to carry down the poo; another big plus point for going with this option!
The river bathing spots at the first camps are really pleasant so take advantage, because the one at base camp is freezing and only for the very brave, as are the ‘jacuzzis’ at the summit. Which means by the time you reach the first camp again on the fifth night you’re desperate for a wash!
Your guide will point out suitable streams to fill your water bottle which are found frequently along the way. We started off sterilising this water but stopped bothering after the first couple of times. It was clear and tasted good and nearing the summit was also ice cold which was really refreshing.