Though best known for its oil politics and feisty president, Venezuela is in fact an action-packed traveller's destination endowed with an astonishing array of landscapes and experiences. Tropical beaches, vast wetlands, great rivers, idyllic colonial towns, little-explored jungle and majestic mountains are among the South American country's varied settings. Visitors can choose from a wealth of adventure activities or just kick back and enjoy the resort experience. The clear, warm waters of its Caribbean coastline and numerous offshore islands are ideal for snorkelling and diving. The tropical lowlands harbour an enormous array of wildlife, lush vegetation and dramatic waterfalls, while high Andean peaks challenge trekkers and mountaineers.
Originally inhabited by Carib and Arawak Indians, Venezuela was claimed as a Spanish territory by Christopher Columbus in 1498. Spanish rule was administered from a distance, leaving the various regions to develop separately from the capital, Caracas. In the 18th century, Simón Bolívar led widespread resistance to colonial meddling, and Venezuela finally became a sovereign state in 1830.Today's politics are dominated by President Hugo Chávez, who draws on the support of the disaffected masses of poor Venezuelans. Despite attempts by the opposition to remove him, Chávez has remained a formidable political force, gaining another six-year term after an overwhelming victory in 2006.