Realm of waterfalls

Smaller waterfall near Kaieteur, Guyana
Smaller waterfall near Kaieteur - possibly this is Old Man's Beard / Stefan Krasowski , / CC BY 2.0

In eastern Venezuela, Guyana and very north of Brazil are located numerous spectacular waterfalls, including the tallest waterfall in the world - Angel Falls.

There is no other place in the world similar to this spectacular realm of waterfalls. This place has its own specific, unique fundament - Roraima Formation.

Roraima Formation

Very very long ago - 1.6 - 1.8 billion years ago (in fact no human can comprehend such span of time) - in the area of present day Guyana was deposited sand and silt. Such sedimentation takes place under the water - in seas and oceans.

Sedimentation lasted for very long time and several kilometres thick layer accumulated. Now this formation is up to 1,800 m thick, it takes some 160 000 - 200 000 km² large area. It has been compressed for many millions of years, forming a very solid, resistant sandstone and conglomerate rock.

Uplift

As the time went by, the former sea became a dry land. Area was uplifted to one height - and sea washed away part of Roraima Formation, forming larger and smaller islands. Then it was uplifted upwards again - and whole area was above the sea.

Layers of Roraima Formation are strictly horizontal and erosion here created spectacular vertical walls, which often are more than 1 km high.

Most likely the last uplift was in Oligocene - more than 20 million years ago. Since then the life on these isolated flatlands - tepuis - is developing without much contact with the outside world.

Rain and rivers

The climate of Guyana is very hot and very humid. As a result much of the land is covered with dense forest and everywhere are flowing powerful rivers. The name Guiana reportedly originates from indigenous people and means "land of waters".

Mountains and summits of tepuis are no exception to this. These highlands are large enough to have their own microclimate and their own rivers.

"Bridal veils" and rapids

Sooner or later each of these rivers reaches the rim of plateau and - down it goes! Often water falls down without touching the cliff and vaporises before hitting the ground.

Most plateaus are not big enough to form large rivers. Due to this from the sky-high sandstone walls are falling just small streams, forming waterfalls of "bridal veil" type. The number of such waterfalls increases multiple times after heavy rain.

Down, in the plains of Guyana, rivers become very large. The mighty Essequibo before its delta becomes 6 km wide!

On these wide rivers also have formed numerous waterfalls and rapids - but these falls are low - most frequently just a pair of meters high.

Guyana

The immense forest and mountains in Guyana
The immense forest and mountains in Guyana, near Kaieteur / Ian Mackenzie , / CC BY 2.0

In Guyana are located more than 300 major waterfalls and rapids as well as countless smaller falls.

Most tourists see just two of these falls - the breathtaking Kaieteur and much smaller Orinduik Falls.

Other Guyanese falls are well hidden from occasional traveller. Well - this is 21st century - but in Guyana the pristine forest still covers most of the country and countless waterfalls are not available to hasty tourists and quite a few most likely have not been visited by anyone at all.

Kaieteur

A waterfall which is both very tall and very wide, is a rarity even in Guyana.

An outstanding waterfall - one of the best in the world - is Kaieteur. This magnificent landmark is a lucky coincidence - it is 251 m tall (!!!), 113 m wide, has one single plunge over an cliff overhang. And last but not least - it is located in breathtaking, pristine setting.

Different kinds of catfish live above Kaieteur Falls and below the falls. Below the falls lives Lithogenes villosus but upstreams - two extremely rare endemic fishes Corymbophanes andersoni and Corymbophanes kaiei. Genetical analysis shows that these fishes are isolated since the Oligocene. (1) Thus we can make a vague assumption that Kaieteur exists for more than 20 million years!!!

Other giant waterfalls

Several more waterfalls in Guyana are very impressive. The 190 m tall and 60 m wide Kumerau Falls sometimes are dubbed "the other Kaieteur". King Edward VIII Falls represent a fantastic 256 m tall drop of an approximately 15 m wide stream. Oshi Falls (214 m tall and circa 30 m wide) and Kamarang Great Falls (160 m tall and circa 46 m wide) represent an unforgettable sight.

History and present time

Surprisingly little is known about the history of Guyana before the coming of Europeans. This land was (and still is) inhabited by Caribs and Arawaks. Caribs were fiercely resisting the invaders, thus making this part of South America far less attractive to outsiders.

Unfortunately the epidemics, which were brought by whites, killed many indigenous people. Huge amount of knowledge about this land is lost.

Royal place names

One of big losses is the lack of indigenous place names. In some places they have been preserved - Kaieteur is definitely a local name.

Europeans though started another trend in naming of local waterfalls. Several large falls in Guyana were named after the members of British Royal Family from 1920ies - 1930ies. These falls were discovered from airplanes - well, this also eliminates any possibility to ask locals for their names.

Today some of these names are just clumsy and cause much confusion - but here they are, a living part of Guyanese history.

Thus most people are confused to learn that there are King Edward VIII Falls and King George VII Falls - and both are very different and far from each other.

Gold, diamonds and energy

Eastern Kanuku Mountains near Rewa River
Eastern Kanuku Mountains near Rewa River - one of least explored areas in Guyana / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Nevertheless white people penetrated the jungle of Guyana step by step. Starting from 1960ies whites occasionally can be met almost everywhere. More adventurous and desperate ones are lured by diamonds and gold, which are found throughout major part of the country.

Since the 1970ies though another resource is eyed by large companies and government - the unharnessed hydropower. Elsewhere in the world this is done - Norway, United States and many other countries have exchanged their waterfalls against cheap and... well, clean energy. Guyana still hasn't done this. Amaila Falls might be the first victim in this thrend.

Wilderness

Happily most of Guyana has seen little or no influence of human activities. There still are thousands of square kilometers of intact rainforest and hundreds of untamed waterfalls. Experienced wanderers need weeks to get to distant places and - some places have not been reached yet.

Very few waterfalls have been measured in nature and there are possible significant changes in numbers if proper research would be done some day.

Other pretenders to Top-10 list?

It is well possible that there are many enormous waterfalls which had to be in the top-10 list - but are not there, because these are little known. See yourselves: in upper reaches of Karowrieng at 5.721058 N 60.110958 W could be located more than 300 m tall waterfall, in upper reaches of Purupuruni at 5.397516 N 59.705156 W - similar very tall waterfall. Very impressive gorge starts with enormous waterfall at 5.445346 N 59.752610 W. There are many, many more places like these.

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