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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 Santa Elena.

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...


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