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Islands Above the Rainforest

By Jennifer Segelke

What: Angel Falls, Auyantepui
Guayana Highlands, Venezuela

One of the most remote—and extreme —locations in the world is the archipelago of isolated sandstone mesas in the Guayana Highlands of South America. Called tepuis, meaning “house of the gods” in the native tongue of the indigenous Pemon people, these ancient tabletop mountains soar majestically above the jungles and grasslands below. Having evolved in complete isolation, the tepuis are home to an impressive array of endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world, and are referred to as the Galápagos Islands of the mainland. The most visited and most famous tepui is Auyantepui, which boasts the world’s tallest waterfall, Angel Falls (Salto Ángel). Angel Falls is so tall—height of 3,212 feet and a plunge of 2,648 feet—that before reaching the ground, much of the water is dissipated as mist. Another notable tepui is Mount Roraima, which became the inspiration and backdrop for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel “The Lost World.” While the inaccessibility of both the high summits and steep slopes of these bizarre and breathtaking tepuis has kept much of the natural habitat intact, anthropogenic changes have been seen.

Photo by Emiliano Ricci