James Cameron’s “Avatar” film series introduced us to Pandora, a lush biosphere teeming with life, where exotic plants, animals and lemur-like humanoids thrive.
While Pandora might be a fictional place, it was inspired by real places on good ol’ planet Earth, including a sandstone mountain so ancient it dates all the way back to the Proterozoic Eon.
Mount Roraima, which can loosely be translated to “great blue-green house of spirits,” is a vast flat-topped mountain (or tepui) nestled between the borders of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. Estimated to be over 2 billion years old, many consider it to be one of the oldest geological formations on earth.
Because the area experiences rainfall year round, it’s not uncommon to see giant waterfalls spontaneously fall from the plateau’s cliffs. And on cloudy days, the tepui more closely resembles some kind of sky island.
In other words, it’s magical. The indigenous Pemón and Kapon certainly felt this way. According to their folklore, Mount Roraima is the stump of a sacred tree that once held all the fruits and tuberous vegetables of the world. The tree was struck down by the trickster god Makunaima, unleashing a terrible flood.
Throughout history, Mount Roraima has enchanted Native tribes and travelers alike. English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh climbed it in 1596 on his quest to find the legendary golden city of El Dorado. His findings were said to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “The Lost World,” which depicts an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon basin of South America where prehistoric animals still survive.
Being home to several species of plants and animals that can only be found on the plateau—including carnivorous pitcher plants and the black and yellow Roraima Bush Toad, which is listed as a vulnerable species—it’s no wonder that Mount Roraima helped bring science fiction worlds to life.
Mount Roraima isn’t the only real-world place that helped create Pandora, by the way. China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hawaii’s Hamakua Coast, Jamaica’s Bioluminescent Lagoon, New Zealand’s Glowworm Caves and the caves of Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park are just some of the filming locations used for “Avatar” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” collectively.
Many of us love to watch movies that transport us to mystical imaginary places, but the planet we live on has so much natural beauty to marvel at.