Even though I wasn’t planning on spending much time in Brazil, I knew that going to Sao Paolo first was my best choice for getting to the region that I wanted to visit in Venezuela. This was the town of Santa Elena de Uairen, located in the state of Bolivar along the Southeastern border with Brazil.
Venezuelas capital city is Caracas and the location of the countries only major airport. This airport has limited flight schedules and getting there isn’t cheap no matter where you are arriving from. In addition, finding a flight that had a flexible schedule and didn’t involve a lot of layovers was near impossible. This alone made Sao Paolo the best choice as there were a wide variety of flight options to fit my schedule throughout the trip. It also made sense from a budget standpoint as the volume of flights that go through Sao Paolo meant cheaper fares.
Had I flown to Caracas, there are no airlines that operate flights between Caracas and Santa Elena which was my final destination. My options would be to fly from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz and then take another flight to Santa Elena or fly from Caracas to Cuidad Bolivar(Bolivar City) and then take a 12 hour bus to Santa Elena.
The last option was to take a bus from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz or Cuidad Bolivar and then transfer onto another bus for Santa Elena. This would be almost 24 hours of riding the bus which is too long especially after initially having to fly so far to get to Caracas from Canada.
Santa Elena is also located right on the border with Brazil. Boa Vista is a nearby Brazilian city which has an airport easily accessible from Sao Paolo. From here I could easily cross over into Venezuela and quickly get to my final destination before I would start my two weeks of trekking and outdoor excursions this region is famous for.
Sao Paolo was also the best choice for flying in and out of Colombia once I started the next part of my trip after being in Venezuela. All these factors made the decision easy that I would fly in and out of Sao Paolo and plan my whole trip around doing so.
Sao Paolo to Santa Elena…
Living in Northern Canada, travelling often means connections. I first flew 1hr to Calgary, then had another 5hr flight to Newark, New Jersey. From Newark it was another 10hr flight to Sao Paolo, Brazil which arrived early the next morning. Shortly after, I got on another flight that would take me to Manaus. This flight was 4 hours and when I arrived in Manuas there were great views of the Amazon river and the dense rainforest. Manaus is the capital of the state of Amazonas and home to 1.8 million residents. This is the largest city in the Amazonas state of Brazil and finding flights here was easy.
The city of Manaus is nestled in the heart of the Amazon rainforest where the Solimões and Negro rivers meet and then flow into the Amazon river. This city is accessible primarily by boat and plane as it is surrounded by dense rainforest and aside from Boa Vista to the North or Porto Velho to the Southwest there are no roads or bus services connecting it to any other major cities.
After arriving in Manaus I didn’t have long to wait before I would board the next flight to Boa Vista. This was the final flight that would bring me one step closer to getting to Venezuela and more importantly Santa Elena. This flight was just under 1.5 hours. At this point I had taken 5 flights and been in the air over 20 hours with 4 layovers! I just wanted to shower, eat something other than airport food and get some rest!
If you are on a budget and have the time, it is also possible to travel by bus from Manaus to Boa Vista. The buses between these two cities are run by Eucatur and have 5 daily departures between 10am and 11pm. The length of the trip is 12 hours and the cost is 70Real/22$. The Real is the Brazilian currency and it is worth around .30$ USD at the time of this post.
Boa Vista is the capital city of the state of Roraima and was historically a base for gold prospectors that were mining on the Yanomami Reserve. This area thrived until the government put an end to this due to pressure from the international community. This led to 40 000 people losing their job and the city hasn’t recovered since.
Boa vista is typically a stopover point for any foreigners coming and going from Venezuela as it doesn’t have much to offer in the way of tourism. This is also a good place to withdraw Brazilian currency and your last chance to do so before entering Venezuela. With the instability of the Venezuelan currency you don’t want to take a chance at what the bank exchange rate will be. Also making this a good idea is that the bank machines in Santa Elena commonly run out of money and paying by credit card is often going to give you a much lower exchange rate if it is even accepted as a method of payment.
Once I arrived in Boa Vista I was only interested in getting to Santa Elena in the least time possible and this was easily accomplished. Before I could get to Santa Elena I would first need to get to the border town of Pacaraima to get stamped through customs and then go a short distance further to Santa Elena.
I decided I would take a taxi to the Terminal Coimbe and this is where the collectivo taxis are located that take people to Pacaraima. Once you get to the terminal you wait until enough people show up to fill the vehicle. They charge 40R/$15 per person and this trip took 3 hours. We stopped once on the way at a small roadside restaurant to use the bathroom and grab a quick bite to eat and get something to drink if necessary.
Taxi operators waiting for passengers to bring over to Venezuela at the Terminal Coimbe in Boa Vista.
Another option is to take the bus from Boa Vista to Pacaraima. This only runs once daily at 7 am and costs 22R/$8 and leaves from the Terminal Internacional. If you go with this option you still need a taxi to get to Santa Elena once you clear customs and enter Venezuela.
Once we arrived in Pacaraima the other passengers and myself got out of the taxi and waited in line at the Brazilian customs office to get stamped out of the country. This border crossing is known as “La Linea” and is located 15km South of Santa Elena. The customs office was a trailer with 3 customs officers working inside. I used my European Union passport that I have from the country of Malta to enter Brazil. This is because I wanted to avoid what most Canadians entering Brazil need to do to enter the country. This involves applying for an entrance visa, having to provide a lot of documents and personal information as well as paying a fee of almost $100. It also means possibly being denied entry!
Clearing customs went smooth and the majority of foreign tourists that are exiting Brazil and entering Venezuela are here to do excursions and tours. Brazilians also cross at this border in droves to take advantage of duty free shopping once over the border in Venezeula. After a few questions and validating my documents I was quickly stamped out and back in the taxi on my way to the Venezuelan customs office.
Once we reached the Venezuelan customs office a short distance down the road I had no problem getting cleared for entry. They asked the same questions as the Brazilian customs office and after verifying my exit from Brazil they stamped me into the country.
After everyone cleared customs we got back into the taxi and drove a little further down the road where we were stopped at a military checkpoint. The taxi driver knew the guards and they made some small talk, had a laugh and continued on. We then made the short trip to Santa Elena where I had my hotel room booked and waiting for me!
After almost 30 hours since my first flight I was finally where I wanted to be and excited to have come so far. I was in Santa Elena and it was hot, tropical and the sun was shining! Now time to clean up, get some rest and do some exploring!
Gone on a whim…