Tepuys, a Venezuelan curiosity

tepuy Venezuela

Tepuys (or tepuis) are flat-topped mountains overlooking the tropical jungle.

Tepuys are high plateaus or flat mountains found in South America’s Guiana Shield, particularly in Venezuela. In the language of the Pemón people who live in the Gran Sabana (Great Savannah), « Tepui » means « House of the Gods » because of their height.

The tepuys are generally isolated from each other, unlike conventional mountain ranges, resulting in a concentration of hundreds ofendemic plant and animal species, some of which are only found on a single tepuy. The isolation of these reliefs and their strong climatic contrasts explain this. Rising above the surrounding forest, the tepuys have almost sheer vertical flanks, and many rise up to 1,000 metres above the surrounding jungle. The largest are over 3,000 metres high. The near-vertical escarpments and dense rainforest bed on which these tepuys sit make them inaccessible on foot. Only three of the Gran Sab ana mountains can be reached on foot, of which Mount Roraima, at 2180 m, is the most accessible.

Tepuy Venezuela

Tepuys are the remains of a great sandstone plateau that once covered the entire granite floor between the northern border of the Amazon basin and the Orinoco, and between the Atlantic coast and the Rio Negro, during the Precambrian period. Over millions of years, the plateaus were eroded away, and all that remained were the isolated tepuys, or « flat-headed » mountains (or table mountains, mesas and tafelbergs, as they are also known). Although the tepuys may seem rather barren, their summits are teeming with life.

tepuy Venezuela

The high altitude of the tepuys gives them a different climate from the forest below. The summit is often cooler, with frequent rainfall, while the base enjoys a warm, humid tropical climate. Many extraordinary plants (endemics) have adapted to the environment to form unique species specific to the tepui.

Some 9400 species of higher plants have been recorded in Venezuelan Guiana, 2322 of them from the tepuys. This means that around a third of all species exist nowhere else in the world other than on the tepuys.

There are 115 such mountains in the Gran Sabana region of southeastern Venezuela, which has the highest concentration of tepuys. The most famous of these is Mount Roraima. It remained unexplored until 1884. Today, the tepuy is a popular destination for backpackers and home to a number of small waterfalls, quartz-lined natural pools and the Punto Triple, the point where the borders of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana meet. It was explored by Robert Schomburgk, whose expedition inspired Scottish writer Arthur Conan Doyle to write his novel The Lost World.

The other famous tepui is Auyantepui, from which falls Salto Angel, the world’s highest waterfall. Auyantepui is also the largest of the tepuys, covering an area of 700 km².

Here are photos of tepuys, must-see attractions on a trip to Venezuela :

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Photo credits: Amusing Planet