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Mérida: 680km (422 miles) SW of Caracas

Mérida is a picturesque and bustling college town set on a flat plateau, nestled in a narrow valley between two mountain rivers, the Albarregas and Chama. It is flanked by two high Andean ridges, the Sierra Nevada and Sierra La Culata. Mérida's narrow streets and colonial architecture make it a great city to wander at your leisure, while the roaring rivers, towering Andean peaks and rugged mountain terrain make it a prime base for some serious adventure. Thanks to the presence of the Universidad de los Andes (ULA), along with a bustling tourist industry, Mérida has a great assortment of cafes, restaurants, bars, and discos.

Despite the imposing snow-capped peaks that surround it, Mérida enjoys a mild, springlike climate year-round. Days are generally warm, although you'll probably need a light sweater or jacket at night. May through November is the rainy season, with August and September being the wettest months.