Doug Pridham helps organise our tours in Venezuela and also works as a tour leader on many of them. Explore's Emma Dixon had a chance to chat to him recently and said "I've come away from this chat with a really strong desire to explore the country. Venezuela seems to be one of those truly magical places that once you scratch the surface you will keep on digging and digging, making new and surprising discoveries at every turn." Here's her chat with Doug:
Emma: What are considered to be the Highlights of Venezuela?
Doug: Venezuela is a land of extremes. 4,000km of Caribbean coast line, the word’s tallest waterfall - Angel Falls - and, at 4,000 million years old, the Guyana Shield (highlands) is the world’s oldest geological structure never to have been covered by glaciers. Add to those 28 different ethnic groups, sheer remoteness of locations and more bird species than you can shake a stick at and Venezuela has all the ingredients for a real adventure! More important than the ‘headline acts’ are Venezuela’s hidden gems, such as Kavac cave, the Ichun waterfall, and the secretive Shirian Indians. Venezuela really allows you to feel like a real explorer.
E: How do the native Indians respond to tourism, and what are they like?
D: Each tribe is very different. There are 28 ethnic groups in Venezuela and 22 of them are on the verge of extinction. The ones that are doing well are the ones that know how to adapt. Depending on which Explore tour you do, you will have the chance to spend time with one or more of the following groups.
The Warao people of the Orinoco Delta. I encourage our guests to buy their handicraft such as baskets, hammocks, and jewellery made from brightly coloured beads as this helps boost their economy and allows them to buy essentials.
The porters on our walking tour in the Guyana Highlands are from the Pemon tribe (specifically Taurepan) and absolutely depend on tourism. It would be nice to do more for them – such as get them into the porter’s protection scheme.
The Kamacoto Indians who reside amongst the highlands near the Angel Falls love tourists. They adore seeing new things such as gadgets and are fascinated by everything they see.
Lastly the Shirian Indians, who we see only on the Shirian Tribal Lands tour, live deep in the south of the country. They are totally cut off from the rest of civilisation and the only interaction they have with outsiders is with Explore guests!
To find out more about these fascinating people, travel journalist Chris Haslam visited the Shirian Tribe with us and wrote an article about it for The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/holiday_type/adventure/article4830716.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1
It is impossible to learn the languages of the tribes you will visit, but some basic Spanish could get you a long way towards interacting with some of them.
E: What sort of Wildlife can I expect to see in Venezuela?
D: The Orinoco Delta, which is home to the Warao people (who we visit) and ancient mangroves, is a paradise for birdwatchers. With macaws, ibis, hawks, kingfishers and hummingbirds to name but a few, even those who don’t consider themselves birdwatchers will quickly become fascinated. In the Llanos region, we also see giant anteaters, deer, armadillos, howler monkeys, capybara, and caiman. Again, bird species are abundant with everything from hummingbirds to storks on display, as well as pink river dolphins, mata mata turtles and piranha. You may even be lucky enough to have an anaconda caught for you by the locals – who must do the peculiar ‘anaconda dance’ to keep control of the 6m long snake!
E: Practicalities: What is the accommodation like?
D: Accommodation in Venezuela is basic, and you will spend a lot of time sleeping in hammocks. However, we give everyone a ‘hammock demonstration’ to show you the correct and most comfortable way of sleeping in a hammock, and most people end up wanting to take one home with them!
E: What clothing would you recommend?
D: Pick up some ‘adventure trousers’ from one of the travel clothing specialists before you leave home. You know the sort – quick drying, zips off to 3⁄4 length or shorts etc. Bring some walking boots, and if you are doing one of the walking specific holidays, make sure they are well worn in but not old. The terrain is fairly demanding and old boots will fall apart. If possible, bring two pairs of footwear, your boots plus a good pair of trainers – just in case. Also essential is a good pair of water shoes. We do a lot of canoeing and some white water rafting, climb through waterfalls etc, so get the sort that straps to your feet, otherwise they will end up whizzing off down the river!
Explore's Matthew Pratt was lucky enough to travel on our The Lost World tour earlier this year and had an amazing time - his list of highlights were pretty much the entire tour! He said:
If you are after a proper adventure packed full of highlights then this trip is for you! The trek is challenging but very enjoyable as you get distracted by stunning views of the Gran Sabanna and the top is literally ‘The Lost World’. The river journey is also a great adventure leading up to the magnificent Angel Falls, where you take a bath at its base! Kavak Gorge excursion is very special.…an opportunity not to be missed! Our Tour Leader and his local staff were also absolutely amazing and the food they produced was brilliant. You won’t be disappointed I guarantee that!