Established in 1923 by Venezuelan gold-hunter Lucas Fernández Peña, Santa Elena de Uairén sits near Venezuela’s borders with Brazil and Guyana, about 1400 kms by road from Caracas. It is located at a height of 907 m, with an agreeable climate and temperatures ranging between 22 – 28 °C all year round. With a population of around 30,000 people, it is a small, safe and friendly community. The town itself is not particularly beautiful. But there are plenty of shops, restaurants, Internet cafes, telephone services, pharmacies, pool halls and a few places where you can enjoy an evening beer.
There is also a small airport for light aircraft and tourist-chartered helicopters flying across the Gran Sabana. There are future plans to offer commercial flights between here and Ciudad Bolívar, Puerto Ordaz and Caracas. At the moment these destinations can only be reached by bus, with services offered by companies such as Expresos Los Llanos and Eucatur.
At the weekends the town becomes livelier, with many Brazilians crossing the nearby border to fill up their cars with Venezuela’s heavily government-subsidised gasoline (currently about US$0.03 per litre).
Santa Elena is the base camp for the Roraima hike and trips to the Gran Sabana, so there is a range of hotels and posadas where you will probably be spending a night before or after Roraima. Many Pemon Amerindians live here, mostly gathered in an entirely indigenous community called Manak Krü, where schools teach in both Spanish and Pemon languages. There is also an opportunity to volunteer to work with the Pemons in the International Peace Village (Aldeas de Paz).