Venezuela is where the Andes meet the Caribbean. The Orinoco river separates great plains from the table-top mountains of the Gran Sabana, where waterfalls tumble in sheer drops into the forest and lost worlds are easy to imagine. If the sea is to your taste, head for the country’s seductive coastline – the longest in the Caribbean at over 2,500 km. Venezuela’s waters play host to some of the best (and least known) diving in the region with three marine national parks.
At the other end of the country, the Amazon is home to humid rainforests and rare plants and animals as well as over 20 different ethnic groups. This part of Venezuela is very much frontier territory and remains wild and untamed, as it was when the country received its first foreign visitor back in 1498. So overwhelmed was Columbus by what he saw that he described it as ‘Paradise on Earth’.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Everard Im Thurn set off for the Gran Sabana on the Brazilian border, a strange, fascinating place of waterfalls and tepuys, bizarre tabletop mountains like islands lost in time. His expedition to the highest of these plateaus, Mount Roraima, inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write of a land inhabited by dinosaurs. The largest of these plateaus is Auyán-tepuí. From its 700-square-kilometre top springs Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall, named after the American pilot Jimmy Angel, who discovered the falls in 1935 whilst trying to find a river of gold. Nearby is the Canaima lagoon, named by the Pemón indians after a mischievous spirit who was believed to dwell here. The national park is one of the largest in the world and protects a large part of the Guayana Highlands, including part of the Gran Sabana.
Venezuela’s Andes have some gorgeous scenery, with snow-capped peaks and remote, historic villages. The main centre is Mérida, in the Sierra Nevada of the same name. It has accommodation, other services and tour companies, which can arrange treks, climbing and other excursions. Two of its claims to fame are the highest cable car in the world, ascending the 4,776-m Pico Espejo, and the shop selling the largest number of ice cream flavours in the world.