Venezuela things to see and do

Tourist offices

Venezuela Tourist Department UK

1 Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2HR, Venezuela
Tel: 020 7584 4206
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1300, 1400-1700.
www.venezuelaturismo.gob.ve

Things to see and do

Adventure activities in the Andes

Enjoy the novelty of skiing in the tropics: the highest Andean peaks of the Cordillera de Mérida have a permanent snowline and can be skied between November and June, though at an altitude of 4,270m (14,000ft) this is recommended only for the hardiest. Several of the country's highest peaks are located here and specialist local agencies offer experienced guides and equipment in the nearby city of Mérida. This is also the base for a whole range of adrenalin-pumping activities, including mountaineering, mountain-biking and paragliding.

Angel Falls

Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world, and, for many, it is also the most stunning. Its glistening waters spill from the rim of an ancient sandstone tepuy (plateau) into a freefall of nearly one kilometre (0.6 miles) before crashing into a pool. Double rainbows can often be seen in the spray-drenched air above. Located in Canaima National Park, 600km (373 miles) south of Ciudad Bolívar, the waterfall was made public in 1937 by American pilot Jimmie Angel, who was searching for gold in the area. Angel Falls used to be a holy site for the region’s original inhabitants, and is still sacred to the local indigenous people today. Tours can be made by boat or plane or ‘fly-by’ on scheduled flights from Ciudad Bolivar.

Caracas

Explore the capital, Caracas, a modern metropolis in a stunning setting along the base of the Ávila range. Besides a fabulously varied culinary landscape, a vibrant cultural life and throbbing nightlife scene, the city also boasts an array of world-class museums. All in all, it offers a loud and brash welcome for first-time visitors, most of whom escape to the countryside’s gentler attractions after a couple of days.

Colonia Tovar

Check out Colonia Tovar (www.coloniatovar.net), a slice of Deutschland in the forested mountains west of Caracas. Settled by German immigrants from the Black Forest in the mid-19th century, the town retains its Old World traditions, food and architecture. With its quaint rustic hostels and homemade culinary specialities, Colonia Tovar makes for a touristy but surreal excursion from the capital.

Coro

Linger in the beautifully preserved centre of Coro, an early colonial settlement near the Caribbean coast. The town is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites and is also the gateway to the Paraguaná Peninusula, a prime windsurfing destination. Surrounding Coro are the Médanos de Coro, a national park composed of huge sand dunes, the country’s only desert landscape.

Cuare Wildlife Refuge

Admire large colonies of pink flamingos and scarlet ibis at the Cuare Wildlife Refuge, a coastal reserve adjoining the Parque Nacional Morrocoy, about four hours north of Caracas. Best glimpsed in September, the flamboyant fowl are among many water birds that congregate in the lagoons near Chichiriviche and along the mangrove canals.

Cueva del Guácharo

Burrow down into the Cueva del Guácharo, the most spectacular of Venezuela's many cave systems. Here you can discover the fascinating guácharos (oilbirds), the nocturnal birds that inhabit this subterranean dwelling and which flock out of the cave mouth at dusk in their thousands, screeching eerily.

Devil Dancers of San Francisco de Yare

Dance with the devil: every year at Corpus Christi in May or June, up to 100 dancers in ghoulish devil masks perform a colourful ceremony in the small town of San Francisco de Yare, south of Caracas. Based on a Catholic tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, the “Diablos Danzantes” can also be seen in several towns along the central coast, including Cata, Chuao, Cuyagua, Naiguatá, Ocumare de la Costa, and Tinaquillo.

Game fishing off La Guaira

Go deep-sea fishing off La Guaira, where the plankton-rich El Placer bank is renowned for its extraordinarily abundant blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish. Anglers can also hook bonefish in the Archipelago Los Roques, tarpon in the Laguna de Tacarigua and even piranhas in the rivers of Los Llanos and Orinoco Delta.

Isla de Margarita

Swim, savour superb seafood or just soak up the sun at the coastal resorts of Isla de Margarita, Venezuela's largest Caribbean island. With 168km (104 miles) of beaches, it offers everything from the full-on buzz of its principal town Porlamar, to mangroves, marshes and sand dunes in its wilder reaches. There are many national and international flights and charters to Porlamar, as well as daily air-shuttles from Maiquetía airport, and ferries from Cumaná, La Guaira (Caracas) and Puerto la Cruz.

Joropo dancing in Los Llanos

Catch a display of joropo, Venezuela's national dance, in Los Llanos, the vast plains region where it originated. The flamenco-influenced step is accompanied by ensembles playing harp, guitar and maracas and singing in a high-pitched nasal style. Local joropo groups perform at family parties and street concerts throughout the country, but the best places to see it in Los Llanos are in Guanare and San Fernando de Apure.

Maracaibo’s Stilt-Houses

Take a tour from Maracaibo north to the Guajira Peninsula, via the Sinamaica Lagoon, where the indigenous people (Añu/Paraujano and Wayúu/Guajiro) live much as they did when the first Spanish settlers arrived, dwelling in houses that are raised above the lake on stilts (www.wayuutaya.org). The stilt houses reminded the conquistadors of Venice, prompting them to name the country “Little Venice”.

Mérida

Get to know Mérida, a delightful university city perched amidst snow-capped Andean peaks. More than just an excellent base for hiking, wildlife watching and whitewater rafting, Mérida has a rich cultural history, with several fine art and archaeology museums and buzzing nightlife.

Mount Roraima

Marvel at the eerie majesty of Mount Roraima, the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. Spanning the borders of neighbouring Brazil and Guiana, Roraima is the tallest of the Gran Sabana's tepuis - flat-topped sandstone mountains. Its sheer rockface is pierced by graceful waterfalls; its ancient crags and sinkholes are lined with endemic insect-eating plants. Adventure tour companies take organized treks up Roraima, a challenging but thrilling expedition requiring a minimum of five days.

Mukumbari cable car

Ride the world's longest and highest cable car, which runs 13km (8miles) in four stages, from Mérida to the top of Pico Espejo, 4,765m high (15,629ft), providing easy access to starting points for mountain treks. It was closed in 2008 for complete re-construction; due to re-open in mid-2014, it has been renamed Mukumbari: “the place where the sun is born”.

Parque Nacional Ciénagas del Catatumbo

Marvel at the magical natural phenomenon of lightning minus the accompanying thunderclap at the Parque Nacional Ciénagas del Catatumbo, along the southwest shore of Lake Maracaibo. The spectacular displays of forked lightning storms over the water can be witnessed daily throughout the year. The park is also rich with birdlife and animals, including capybara and manatees.

Parque Nacional Henri Pittier

Train your binoculars on hummingbirds, herons, tanagers, toucanets, and curassows; just a few of the 580-plus exotic bird species at the Parque Nacional Henri Pittier (tel: (0243) 550 7085) a birdwatchers' haven on the central northern coast. This is the oldest national park in the country, and also home to jaguar, puma and monkeys. The main entrance is at Rancho Grande, between Ocumare and Maracay.

Parque Nacional Mochima

Snorkel, swim, dive or fish at Parque Nacional Mochima (www.mochima.org) on the northeast coast, with hundreds of offshore islands and islets. Some - like the popular Isla de Plata – are surrounded by coral reefs; and there are countless beautiful beaches for just lazing around. The archipelago Los Roques is another underwater wonderland, fantastic for birdwatching, diving and snorkelling off its gorgeous white-sand beaches.

Wildlife safari in Amazonas

Get up close to birds, monkeys and caiman on a jungle safari in the far south Amazonas region. Based in the largest town of Puerto Ayacucho, specialist tour operators take river trips to lodges deep in the jungle, where you can go wildlife watching. Treks to tepuis such as Auyan-Tepui and Cerro de la Neblina, (which at 2,994m (9,823ft) is the tallest peak outside of the Andes) are also available.

Edited by Jane Duru
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