Santa Elena de Uairen
Santa Elena de Uairén is the municipality of the Gran
Sabana's capital. At the last count, its population was around 20,000.
Although not the most attractive town, it has its frontier charm,
and plenty of facilities for travellers in the region. Interestingly,
it also has one of the highest numbers of places of worship of any
town in South America. Perhaps a reflection of the region's spiritual
attraction. There are plenty of interesting walks to do around the
town which often include waterfalls. The hill to the southeast,
known as La Colina de Yakoo usually, affords excellent views on
clear days of the Roraima Chain and there are some posadas up there.
There are numerous places to stay in Santa Elena.
New ones are popping up all the time. These are listed in most guidebooks.
The most popular backpacker haunt is La Casa de Gladys,
followed by La Posada de Michelle, on the same road.
There are also plenty of tour operators offering tours of the region's
attractions. They are all much the same in price and what they offer.
Guides obviously vary in quality however. The problem in my experience
is they keep on changing companies! I can however recommend Roberto
Marrero as the authority on the Gran Sabana and an amiable guy to
boot. There are also good English-speaking guides who work with
New Frontiers and Kamadac. Ruta Salvaje is the only tour operator
to run rafting trips. Most tours start at $20-25 a day. See Roraima
section for more on climbing that mountain.
Ask around for Roberto and/or Rodrigo who are two slightly crazy
locals who have a posada up by Yakoo and a jeep for tours.
You can now, thank God, get cash advances at the Banco
del Orinoco. The best place to change money is on the street corner
called Las Cuatro Esquinas. The men there offer decent rates if
you haggle for a while. The Banco del Orinoco also changes travellers'
cheques (Amex only).
Santa Elena has a laundry, several cafes, telephones,
fax services, garages, an army base, health clinic, supermarkets,
arts & crafts shops and an airport. It doesn't however unbelievably,
have a tourist office. You will have to seek out information from
tour operators themselves. Roberto Marrero's guide (La Gran Sabana,
Guia Turistico) is a good overview of what you'll see, and should
now be in English. He also sells useful, if confusing, maps of the
region. You can now get decent email and Internet connections in
Interesting people to meet would be Roberto Marrero
(easy on the UFOs!), the artist Santiago Ramos who lives southwest
and is also a maverick guide, Jerrick Andre a Pemon from the Waramasen
community who can fill you in on them. There is a Pemon artesania
shop to the east in the Pemon side of town, but it keeps very odd
hours, and is usually closed when I go there. It's worth the walk
just to see the other side of town though.
Santa Elena's inhabitants are worth getting to know
since they come from all corners of the country and continent. Many
of them settled in the region having come to visit for a holiday,
just like you and me...