Venezuela’s international reputation is all around the political style of President Hugo Chavez and the occasional international beauty winner. At least that’s what I had always heard before my visit in 2005. However, there’s so much more to Venezuela than these typical headlining issues. As a matter of fact, Venezuela is a country of staggering variety and remains a land that’s under-visited by international travellers.
The country’s highlights, you name it: Andean peaks; the longest stretch of Caribbean coastline to be found in any single nation, tranquil offshore islands with turquoise seas, wetlands teeming with caimans, capybaras, piranhas and anacondas, the steamy Amazon and the rolling savannah punctuated by flat-topped mountains called tepuis.
What you read here is a combination of Dimitris’s opinion and mine as he was lucky to stay longer than me and he visited more unforgettable places that he talked to me about.
The world’s highest waterfall, Angel Falls (Salto de Angel), plummets 979m from the top of a tepui in Parque Nacional Canaima, one of the most beautiful parks in Venezuela. You can even take a small flight around the waterfall and the tepui, something that, although overpriced, is worth it as the height of the waterfall makes it difficult to see. Don’t focus only on the waterfall though, as Canaima has many beautiful tracks you can take in order to come face to face with the jungle.
In the Andes themselves, Merida is presently a beautiful city surrounded by impressive mountains, with a colonial downtown of singular beauty and a place from where you can take a cable car, the Teleférico, the city’s main attraction. It’s the world’s longest and highest cable car that will lead you to Pico Espejo (4.765m) with two stops on the way. This was our last stop before we left the Andes and headed to the Caribbean Sea.
We chose Choroni as our final destination in Venezuela. Although Choroni is generally known as one of Venezuela’s best Caribbean beaches, the hamlet itself actually sits slightly inland, boasting some fine colonial houses around a quiet central plaza. Instead, the neighbouring fishing village of Puerto Colombia just beyond Choroni is where the palm tree-lined beaches lie and most accommodation is found. Framed by the tropical rainforest of Parque Henri Pitier, the beaches around Puerto Colombia are some of the most stunningly beautiful in the country.
Although Nikos and I rushed through the capital Caracas on our way to the airport, Dimitris and another friend Kostis told me that it’s a pretty vibrant city with the best nightlife in the country. Nowhere else in Venezuela will you find such an array of cultural activity, world-class museums or eclectic cuisine, from the arepa joints of Gran Sabana to the haute cuisine of hubs like Las Mercedes. Despite these obvious attractions, Caracas’ traffic is relentless and trash and noise can be unnerving. On top of that, shantytowns creep up the surrounding hillsides and poor enclaves rub shoulders with some of the ritziest zones. One constantly hears about how Caracas has declined over the past decade, and with all the warnings about crime and decay, a visit to the capital is inevitably tinged with fear.
For us, Venezuela was the best way to end our most exiting overland trips in South America that started five and a half months ago, when Nikos, Dimitris and I landed in Lima, Peru. We crossed by land five of the most exciting countries and got to know things that can last for a lifetime. As for you, I’ll quote Chavez himself. “Venezuela is one of the last pieces of paradise and the people of Venezuela are the luckiest people on earth”. So go there in order to live the best and the worst at the same time.