Canaima was established as a national park in 1962 and its size was doubled to the present area in 1975. The park is best known for the unique table mountain (tepui ) formations: there are numerous waterfalls, including Angel Falls with a free drop of 1,002 m. The high level of endemism found on the summits of the tepuis has led to the recognition of Pantepui as a unique biogeographic entity.
The park protects the headwaters of the Caronì River which supplies Guri, the country’s largest hydroelectric power station and source of 60% of the nation’s energy. The savannah portion of the park is inhabited by the indigenous Pemòn people, many of whom are settled and dependent on three Capuchin missions. A main road from Ciudad Bolivar runs along the eastern border of the park, bisecting its south-east corner and providing easy access for tourists. There are no other metalled roads within the park, the western section being accessible only by air.
Reflecting its former connection between South America and Africa through the former Gondwanaland, Canaima has many geological affinities with western Africa. The cliffs and mesa-like structures in the western Sahara consist of sandstone similar to that of the Roraima tepui .
Structurally the tepuis have similarities with Monument Valley in Arizona where similar plateaus and rock types are found. Canaima’s tepuis , however, are more dramatic in terms of their relief, waterfalls, tropical forest slopes and floral endemicity.
The fauna is diverse, although not very abundant: 118 mammals, 550 birds, 72 reptiles and 55 amphibians have been recorded. There are six species of mammals of conservation concern: giant anteater, giant armadillo, giant otter, bush dog, little spotted cat and margay. The only endemic mammal is the rodent Podoxymys roraimae . The avifauna is varied and contains over 30 species endemic to Pantepui. The less mobile orders, amphibians, reptiles and fish, exhibit even higher levels of endemism. The forests and savannah have been occupied for 10,000 years by various groups of Amerindians of the Carib family, collectively known as the Pemon. Two archaeological sites, containing various hand-fashioned stone tools estimated to be 9,000 years old, have been found in the park.
The park is sparsely inhabited: many Pemon maintain traditional lifestyles of swidden agriculture, hunting and gathering. They also trade artefacts and now have access to electricity, schools and basic medical care.