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Getting There

By Plane -- The closest commercial airport to Mérida is located about 1 hour away in El Vigia. More than a dozen commuter flights daily to El Vigia's Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso airport (tel. 0275/881-6972; airport code VIG) from Caracas's Simón Bolívar International Airport. The principal airlines serving this route are Conviasa (tel. 0500/266-84272; www.conviasa.aero), Santa Bárbara (tel. 0800/865-2636; www.sbairlines.com), and Venezolana (tel. 0501/VENEZOLANA [836-3965]; http://ravsa.com.ve). Fares range from BsF320 to BsF450 each way, depending on season and demand. Flight time is roughly 1 hour.

Taxis are waiting for all arriving flights. One-way fare to Mérida should run around BsF150.

Downtown Mérida's Alberto Carnevalli Airport (tel. 0274/263-0722; airport code MRD) has been closed to commercial commuter traffic since 2008, and there is little indication that things will change any time soon.

By Bus -- Several bus lines have daily service between Caracas and Mérida. The most prominent are Expresos Occidente (tel. 0212/632-2670), Expresos Mérida (tel. 0274/263-3430), and Expresos Los Llanos (tel. 0274/263-5927). Many buses depart between 6:30 and 10pm and drive through the night. The trip takes 8 to 10 hours and costs around BsF65 to BsF90. Most buses leave from La Bandera Terminal, near La Bandera Metro stop, although Expresos Flamingo has its own terminal near the Parque del Este. The bus station in Mérida is located about 3km (2 miles) southwest of downtown on the Avenida Las Américas and is connected to downtown by regular por puestos and inexpensive taxis.

By Car -- The fastest route to Mérida from Caracas is via Barinas. It's mostly flat to Barinas, after which you rise quickly and dramatically into the Andes, passing through Santo Domingo, Apartaderos, and Mucuchies. This route takes between 9 and 11 hours. For a more scenic tour through the Andes, you can turn off at Guanare and head up to Trujillo. From Trujillo, the Trans-Andean highway passes through Valera, Timotes, and Paseo El Aguila (Eagle Pass), before heading into Mérida. If you come this way, you can drive to the summit of Pico Aguila; at 4,007m (13,143 feet), it's the highest point in Venezuela you can reach in a car.

Getting Around

Mérida is a town of many parks and plazas. The two most important are the Plaza Bolívar, which is the de facto center of town, and the Plaza Las Heroínas, which is located about 5 blocks south of Plaza Bolívar.

You can easily walk to most destinations and attractions in downtown Mérida. Taxis are relatively plentiful and inexpensive. Most rides in town will run you BsF8 to BsF15. There's also a good system of local buses and buses to nearby towns, which is a good way to get around for next to nothing. In 2007, Mérida inaugurated a Trolebus, fixed-route electric-bus units that runs from a point near the southwestern corner of the airport to Ejido further southwest of the city center.

Both Budget (tel. 0274/263-1768; www.budget.com.ve) and Dávila Tours (tel. 0274/266-1711) have offices in Mérida and rent cars for BsF150 to BsF300 per day.

Visitor Information

Cormetur, the Mérida Tourism Corporation (tel. 0800/637-4300;), has a half-dozen information booths around town, including locations at the airport in El Vigia, the Mérida bus terminal, and on the Plaza Las Heroínas. Office hours vary slightly according to location, but most are open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 6pm. Their main office is beside the now mostly dormant Mérida airport on Avenida Urdaneta and Calle 45, but you can get a copy of the map they distribute and their list of hotels and tour operators at any of their branches.

Fast Facts

Several currency-exchange houses and a host of banks are around town, although you are best off asking at your hotel or one of the tour operators to find someone who will exchange your dollars or euros at a more favorable rate.

If you need medical attention, ask at your hotel, or head to Centro Clínico on Avenida Urdaneta, opposite the airport (tel. 0274/262-9111). It has an emergency room and a variety of doctors on staff with offices nearby. Or you can contact the bilingual doctor Aldo Olivieri (tel. 0274/244-0805).

Scores of Internet cafes are all over town. Rates run between BsF1 and BsF3. The main Ipostel office is on Calle 21 between avenidas 4 and 5; there's also a branch office at the main bus terminal.

Mérida is a great place to brush up on your high school Spanish or take a crash course in the language. The Iowa Institute, Avenida 4 and Calle 18 (tel. 0274/252-6404; www.iowainstitute.com), runs programs of between 1 week and 6 months. Class sizes are small, and homestays can be arranged. Costs run around BsF344 per week for classes, BsF440 per week for room and board with a local family. Alternately, you can try CEVAM (tel. 0274/263-1362; www.cevam.org), which is tied to the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela and specializes in private lessons.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.