Venezuela Things to Do Tips by swesn
Venezuela Things to Do: 186 reviews and 276 photos
The 'tepuys' of La Gran Sabana are stupendously awesome. They are formed millions and millions of years ago. In fact, this area is probably the same sort of land (not much eroded, not much created) from the Pangaea days when South America was connected to Africa like a jigsaw puzzle.
This is the mystical area that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got inspired and wrote 'The Lost World'.
The 'tepuys' are amazing geological and biological wonders. As they are table mountains with very steep vertical edges, many are unexplored yet.
Roraimi is the highest and it is possible to organise treks here from Santa Elena. Make sure you attempt this only if you are very fit.
I read that the surface area of Auyntepui or 'Devil's Mountain' is like 700 sq km in area... that's larger in size than my country Singapore.
Because of their extreme age and isolation, the 'tepuys' host a huge number of endemic species of flora and fauna.
Birds, warm turquoise water, idyllic islands, star-fishes, cliffs, white sandy beaches, corals... Parque Nacional Morrocoy is one of the most spectacular littoral environments on Venezuela's coast.
I was there in August and although Venezuela is in SOUTH America, it is actually in the NORTHERN hemisphere and August is summer which is the peak tourist season. So, I got to visit the park with scores and scores and scores of Venezuelan tourists.
There might be some concern to the environment because of the popularity. I could see that the fragile corals are already suffering. Many were completely white, i.e. dead.
Venezuelan families or those in a group can organise boat services with the boat-drivers. They usually arrange with the boat drivers to take them to an island, spend the whole day there, and then, get the boat drivers to come pick them up in the evening.
For those travelling alone or in pairs, this may not be feasible (financially). Suggest to join a boat excursion organised from the tour agencies or hotels. This may not be ideal but if you have a short time, at least you get to visit several islands and see many flying and roosting water birds (like frigates) around a mangrove area. Watch out for large star-fishes which can be seen very clearly through the shallow water.
We got about 1 hour (or shorter for the smaller islands) on each island. Some islands have no shade, so slap yourself silly with sunscreen. The last and most popular island is Cayo Sombrero. We were left here longer and there were lots of shady trees. There are roving masseurs as well to knead your muscles.
Do rent a snorkel mask which is optional to those who go on the boat excursion. While some corals are sadly dead near certain islands, there are rather lovely ones around Cayo Sombrero and it is quite amazing to see the colourful fishes. The mask is also a great ice-breaker with the Venezuelan children as you can lend it to them (much to their delight) and they will love you for it.
'La Gran Sabana' means 'The Great Savannah'.
Indeed here, the savannah is G-R-E-A-T. There is something magical about this region, I cannot quite explain it. As the car drove through the rolling hills, I felt my spirits rising and I was often choked with tears.
There are many hidden waterfalls and rivers. One of the most noteworthy is Quebrada de Jaspe which is one HUGE flat piece of jasper rock where a gentle-sloped waterfall flows through. If you know about crystals and minerals, you would know that they give out a form of energy. So, being here on such a massive piece of jasper rock, I truly felt this is a centre of energy.
Other waterfalls where you can take a dip in is Quebrada de Pacheco which has a series of very beautiful waterfalls. It seems that sitting under different parts of the waterfalls, we get different temperature.
Salto Kama is a huge waterfall for viewing behind the barrier (erected after an unfortunate tourist plunged to his death while being too enthusiastic with photo-taking... the perils of tourism!!) and another nice spot with a deep pool is Salto Kaui where it is possible to swim.
The most magical part of this drive must be witnessing the mysterious revealing of the 'tepuys' in the distance as the clouds lift. 'Tepuys' are table mountains, often enshrouded in clouds, but actually surprising near. The most famous one being Roraimi. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got inspired to write 'The Lost World' when he visited this place. Truly truly truly magical... I have no other words.
Santa Elena is a little town surrounded by one of the most amazing natural landscapes in the world. There are many rivers and waterfalls around this region and rainfall is abundant, leading to wonderfully swollen rivers for rafting.
Of course, river rafting is dangerous. You should seek a good travel agency. If possible, make sure they check their equipment before leaving. Would you believe that we were stuck for quite a while at the beginning of the rafting trip because one of our rafts had sprung a leak?? Duh.
I think they usually raft along Rio Yurani but it was too dangerous to be rafted that day as it had rained A LOT the night before. We rafted in Rio Soruape and gosh, it was truly one of the most DANGEROUS and EXHILIRATING rafting trip I had ever done. 4 out of 6 in my raft fell into the water during the rapids!! Including me!!
The idea is that if you fall in during the rapids, you have to relax the body and let go of the rope. Otherwise, you are caught between the raft and the rocks underneath it - 2 very hard places - and there is a high chance you can drown or be squashed. But saying this idea and actually doing it are two different things.
The rocks and rivers around were truly stunning and I certainly highly recommend doing a rafting trip here. Anyway, despite the hunt for a fixative to tape up the raft, I think the travel agency is reasonably nice and can be recommended - Ruta Salvaje Tours.
There are highland tours like what they call 'PARAMOS TOUR' organised by various travel agencies.
After signing up with one the day before, I had expected to be put on a tour van. However, as expected of the level of disorganisation here, the lady from the tour agency hooked me up with 2 Venezuelan guys she h-a-p-p-e-n-e-d to run into, and she negotiated with a guy who drove a very beat-up and ancient Ford to take us on this excursion. What the... Oh well, as long as the Ford lasts through the day and does not fall apart on us…
The tour involves stopping by a few towns, a monument, etc… then, you slowly climb up a mountain through a series of zig-zagged roads all the way to Pico El Aguila, at 4118m.
Our driver parked his car along the road somewhere as it was too crowded to reach the top. We walked the rest of the way to Pico El Aguila. Here is one of the peaks that Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, had climbed across the Andes mountains from Venezuela with his armies to fight the Spanish. And here now, is a monument with an eagle (el aguila).
But take note that it is freezing cold up here, perhaps between 0-2 C, perhaps lower. Be very well-prepared with the woollies. I had a terrible headache, as the sudden rise in altitude was too much for me. Also, the wind was unbearable. The clouds covered everything in sight. I could barely walk. My fingers were as good as dead.
Yet some Venezuelan show-offs were in their short-sleeved shirts! Mad mad mad!!
There might be a visit to a reserve for condors. But we didn't do it.
Later, we were driven to Laguna Mucubaji which was just a pretty lagoon with a type of very interesting flora, known as 'frailejon', found all around the lagoon area. This plant has curiously lovely felt-like leaves. Even the stems of the budding flowers had a thick felt-like feel around them. Very interesting, one of the most interesting plants I had seen in a while.
Los Nevados is a tiny one-street town hidden in the Andes mountains. The pretty white church is built nearly jutting out of the mountain (or so it looks). A stunning locale indeed. And all around, Los Nevados offers such amazing views. This unassuming humble town is thoroughly thoroughly enchanting. Magic!!
To get there, there are 2 options.
Option 1) You take the cable-car to Lomo Redondo (last but one station) and hike downhill for 5-6 hours to Los Nevados and plonk yourself in one of the posadas there. The next day, you arrange for a jeep to take you back to Merida.
a) I did not try this, but I wonder if you would really know the way. There might be an obvious trail to Los Nevados but as there are farms spread out, people are always making trails to get around. Oh well, one could always ask.
b) I fear that shooting up to Lomo Redondo (4045m) from Merida by cable-car might be a shock to your system. And then, you hike for 5-6 hours.
c) Strangely, at 8am, I was told all tickets up the cable-car are sold out. I don't know how the system works but it seems people make prior reservations for tix, although they may not necessarily have gone up by then. As such, I had to do Option 2.
Option 2) You go to the park near the cable car station in the morning and ask for the jeep to Los Nevados. The jeep will wait for 4 or 5 tourists before heading up. It takes 4 very bumpy hours to get through the one windy treacherous road to Los Nevados. Your breakfast might pop out if you are of weak disposition. The next day, you get your posada owner to arrange for a mule-driver with a mule each for your 4-hour mule ride up to Lomo Redondo.
a) Almost effortless, as you simply sit on a mule. But you might get naughty mules who have issues with the fellow mules, thereby racing, poking, pissing, kicking one another very near to the edges.
b) You can go on up to Pico Espejo (4700+m) the highest cable-car station in the world once you reach Lomo Redondo
c) You end up walking bow-legged like Lone Ranger for a couple of days
The cable-car ride has always been the selling point of Merida. But indeed, it is an experience to behold.
Firstly, Merida is located at 1,630m and generally, this region is more or less the start of the Andes mountain range in the northern end that stretches all the way to the southern end of South America. The city is surrounded by numerous wondrous and stunning peaks, the highest peak in Venezuela, naturally named Pico Bolivar (named after who else?) can also be seen from here. So, it is already a very attractive mountain town for a visit.
Secondly, where else can you ascend to 4,765m almost effortlessly? The cable-car ride is broken up into 4 stations.
After Merida, it is La Montaña at 2,436m, where you can stop for a breather and then, you arrive at La Aguada. At 3452m, nearly 1000m in difference between these 2 stations, the ascent (or descent) is exhilarating, to say the least. Ears go 'pop' indeed.
Then, it is onwards ho! to Lomo Redondo 4,045m. By now, you will be pretty much surrounded by clouds and perhaps, start to feel the effects of altitude sickness. This is where you get off if you want to hike to Los Nevados.
After that, the cable-car literally gets engulfed in 100% clouds and you ascend to Pico Espejo at 4,765m. Forget about admiring the view. Unless you are very lucky, there is hardly any. Just soak in the knowledge of where you are physically. The top spot is quite a small area, and there is a statue of the Nuestra Senora de las Nieves (Our Lady of Snow). While I felt giddy within 5 minutes, some people were making and throwing snow balls at one another. We were encouraged to descend within 15 minutes, to make room for ascending people, and also, usually, that's about the limit most people can take before they start feeling ill.
I didn't go up this way. I just went up from Lomo Redondo to Pico Espejo and down. The descent back to Merida took more than 2 hours.
The Jardin Botanico (Botanic Garden) of Caracas is not a must-see and I do not particularly recommend it.
I was seeking a reprieve from the pollution, some peace and quiet, and hence, endeavoured to make my way there.
As it turned out, the longish garden is parallel to the highway Autopista Francisco Fajardo. So, sitting at the benches there, there is NO reprieve from the pollution and NO peace and quiet.
Many of the greenhouses are also closed or very run-down with no displays.
There are some unique palm trees, like the world's largest palm tree (Corypha Sp) that are somewhat interesting.
But what I enjoyed more was actually the walk through the campus ground of Universidad Central de Venezuela (Central University of Venezuela) while trying to locate the entrance to the Botanic Garden. The campus ground is spacious and rather pleasant. It was kinda fun to observe the students' notice boards and colourful banners, while trying to suck in some of the youth essence from the passing students.
Well, this is not a pretty or pleasant neighbourhood but as it is so central, there is no avoiding it.
The Boulevard de Sabana Grande (or Avenida Abraham Lincoln) is mostly pedestrian and there are scores and scores of street stalls selling everything imaginable - clothes, watches, toys, etc... Yes, every crappy tacky things imaginable.
Although nothing happened to me, someone told me someone had their earrings ripped off from their ears (or something to that effect). Anyway, as with all crowded and dodgy spots around South American cities, take triple precautions.
There are many cheap eats around here as well.
This is a cultural centre between Parque Central and the Natural Science Museum.
The large, grey building has a retro-feel and is not particularly attractive. But if you have nothing planned for the evening, suggest that you drop by here to check out what are the upcoming events. When I was there, there were concerts and plays.
We showed up about 10 minutes before the start of the programme and managed to procure tickets. Many Venezuelans came very elegantly dressed.
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