On Thursday 10th July 2014 I travelled from Manaus in Brazil to Santa Elena de Uairen in Venezuela. The journey took approximately 17.5 hours. This post discusses that journey and shares advice on Roraima and Angel Falls tours.
As this was my first time crossing a border I was extremely nervous. I worried about it for a few days. Looking back there was nothing to worry about at all.
At the recommendation of my guide book I visited the Venezuelan consulate a few days before I intended to depart, to check whether I needed a tourist card or not.
The address for the Venezuelan consulate that I found online was out of date. So I visited the tourist office, near the Amazon Theatre, and asked them. They gave me the correct address. There are public buses along the main road, a few blocks from the consulate. It takes about 20 minutes to get there during low traffic and costs R$2.75.
I didn’t need a tourist card, but the consulate recommended I got a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate. Luckily I already had one. In fact, I got my Yellow Fever injection and certificate in Manaus. Both items were free and easy to obtain. For more information visit the Manaus airport.
I visited the bus terminal one day before I intended to depart. The bus terminal is close to the centre and can be reached by public bus within 40 minutes during low traffic.
I bought a ticket with Eucatur for just over R$150. I chose the night bus (8pm departure) as it would arrive in Santa Elena in daylight, approximately lunchtime.
Buses in South America are famously air-conditioned to the max or not at all. I’ve encountered freezing, cold and warm buses. The bus to Santa Elana was cold – until the passenger next to me showed me how to close the vent! As you don’t know what to expect I recommend packing a hat, gloves, scarf, jumper, trousers and a blanket. This list seems crazy, but sadly I’m not exaggerating, I’ve become ill from travelling on freezing cold buses.
I was fortunate enough to be at the front of the top deck, seat number 4. It meant I had slightly more leg room and lots of window. I will now always try and request the top front seats.
The journey: Pit stop 1
At approximately 11pm the bus stopped at a service station for 30 minutes, enabling passengers to buy refreshment, use the bathroom (note: the bus did have a loo onboard but none moving loos are nicer) and stretch their legs.
At approximately 6.30am the bus arrive in Boa Vista. Unbeknown to me, the bus terminated there and passengers for Santa Elena had to get on another bus at 7.30am.
I didn’t mind waiting at the Boa Vista bus terminal as it had a bathroom (great for a quick refresh), ATMs (great for a final cash withdrawal before Venezuela) and refreshment stands.
The second bus was the same design and quality as the first bus and we resumed our original seats (hello Seat 4 with amazing views).
Pit stop 2
The second pit stop was in Pacaraima a town on the Brazilian side of the border. It gave passengers the chance to exchange money on the black market (the rate was 27 Bolivars per R$1), buy refreshments and use the bathroom.
Then the bus drove us the 50 meters to the Brazilian post. Note: some passengers took a shorter pit stop and decided to walk to the Brazilian post instead. This put them at the front of the queue and gave them time to walk to the border line and take photos – a really nice idea, but make sure you have enough time. The walk from the Brazilian post to the Venezuelan post looked far and had no shade.
It took one hour for all the bus passengers to get through the Brazilian post because it was busy. The bus had 40 passengers and when we arrived there were approximately 10 people already queuing.
With my UK passport it was easy to leave. I just had to show it for inspection and hand in the entry card I received on the plane when I first arrived in Brazil. Then I got back on the bus and waited for the rest of the passengers. When everyone was done we drove to the Venezuelan post.
It took 30 minutes to get all the bus passengers through the Venezuelan post. It was quicker because there were no other groups in front of us and there were more staff (5 instead of 2).
Again, the process was easy for me. They inspected my passport and then stamped it. They didn’t ask to see my Yellow Fever vaccination certificate.
Once everyone was through we were on the bus again.
We arrived around 1pm. The bus station is very small. It doesn’t have an ATM. It only has refreshment stands, tour company offices and bus company offices.
Outside there were lots of taxis waiting. I was too exhausted to wait for other tourists and taxi share or to negotiate prices with drivers. I went to the first taxi driver I saw and naïvely said I could pay in Brazilian Real. This made the taxi driver’s eyes light up. He charged me R$20 (270 Bolivars). Later I found out the trip should have been 40-50 Bolivars.
Posadas (cheap hotels in Venezuela)
There are many posadas and hotels to choose from in Santa Elena. The two most well known posadas are Backpackers and Posada Michelle. I stayed at the later but did the Roraima tour with the former. Santa Elena is a very small town. You could easily walk around it, price compare all the posadas and hotels and find the best offer. I was lazy and happy where I was so didn’t bother.
This is off topic but worth saying as Roraima is the main reason people stop off in Santa Elena. I spent two weeks in Santa Elena. During that time I did the Roraima trek and met lots of other people who did it too – some with different tour companies. The bottom line is go with Backpacker Tours. Other tour companies are cheaper but they are less well organised (eg food shortages) and untrustworthy (Mystic Tours was accused of selling fake bus tickets and Alvarez Trekking Expedition write fake customer reviews in Posada Michelle’s travel journals).
Watch my video from Roraima: http://youtu.be/plciFo0JMGA
Last, if you’re interested in Angel Falls tours don’t book them in Santa Elena. It is cheaper to book them in Ciudad Bolivar or Puerto Ordaz. I booked a tour through Sapito Tours based at Ciudad Bolivar airport. I was extremely pleased with Sapito Tours customer service.
Watch my video from Angel Falls: http://youtu.be/ihZuDVe2Gao