After our rocky start in Venezuela we decided to head straight out to Ciudad Bolivar, from where we could then hopefully arrange a trip into the Canaima National Park and see the Angel Falls, the highest free-falling waterfall in the world.
We took the overnight bus from Caracas and arrived in Ciudad Bolivar at 7am. The bus journey itself was ok and we had the luxury of fully reclining seats, however if you want to sleep don’t sit at the top of the bus. Every time the bus took a corner we’d go sliding off to one side and every speed bump sent us up in the air – I would say it’s not worth the novelty value for a night journey!
As soon as we got off the bus we were met by a rep from a travel agency who was based at the station. My first impulse was to simply ignore him and just find a hostel to stay in, as after a sleepless night the last thing I wanted to do was haggle on a tour. My partner though was too polite and struck up a chat, so after following us around as we sorted ourselves out he managed to escort us to his office, where he luckily plied us with strong coffee.
Feeling slightly more awake we started to go through the options and were at once startled when we worked out the exchange rate of doing Angel Falls. At the “normal” rate it would cost us around £450 each for a 3 day 2 night excursion!
After explaining that this was far too expensive and that, no we had not come with enough dollars as we did not know about the various exchange rates, we were offered a solution that seemed too good to be true.
He explained we could do a bank transfer in either dollars or euros to a Portuguese based account. Paying the tour this way would work out at around £500 for the both of us, saving us a substantial amount, and to be honest it would be the only way that we could afford to do it. To help sweeten the deal he also offered to include a night’s accommodation in Dona Carol’s Posada in town, plus he would allow us to transfer enough extra money to pay for the park entry too and airport fees, which are not included in the tour, at the euro exchange rate of 11 VEF to €1.
Normally I would have run a mile from something like this, but he showed us a few of his previous clients’ transaction who had paid the same way. This mixed with the fact that if we didn’t pay this way we simply couldn’t afford it made me pick up the phone and call my bank.
15 minutes later we were booked for the following day with a receipt in hand and in a taxi to the hostel. It had seemed far too easy and we couldn’t help thinking that there may be a catch.
However, when we arrived at the hostel we were shown a nice room and were simply asked if we were paying or if the agency was. The host couple was very nice and we were even able to have meals there as and when we liked for a small fee.
Ciudad Bolivar is mainly situated around the historical centre defined by its colourful facades and hilly streets. It seemed like an average town but we were told that everything closes around 5.30pm and that it is best not to walk around at night, so we decided to stay in after dark and have dinner at the hostel.
The next morning a taxi arrived to take us to the airport for our flight to Canaima, the agency owner also called to explain that the driver would give us the extra money we had transferred to pay for our entrance fees and departure taxes. Upon arrival at the airport the driver gave us the money and we checked in ready for Angel Falls. So far so good!