Scores of tour agencies and adventure tour companies are in and around Mérida, with the greatest congregation around the Plaza Las Heroínas. The competition is cutthroat and you can often find good deals by shopping around. However, be careful, as some of them are fly-by-night operations. I highly recommend the companies mentioned below, as their level of service, quality of guides and equipment, and safety standards are consistent and dependable. Whatever tour company you choose, be absolutely sure that you feel confident about the competence of the guides and the quality of the equipment.
Arassari Treks, Calle 24 no. 8-301, behind the teleférico (tel./fax 0274/252-5879; www.arassari.com); Natoura Adventure Tours, Calle 31 between avenidas Don Tulio and 6 (tel. 303/800-4639 in the U.S., or 0274/252-4216 in Venezuela; www.natoura.com); and Guamanchi Expeditions, Calle 24 No. 8-86 (tel. 0274/252-2080; www.guamanchi.com), are the most established and trustworthy tour companies in town. All offer the majority of the outdoor adventure options listed below, and then some. And all of them can help you with onward tours and trips to Los Llanos and most other destinations in Venezuela.
Canyoneering -- This adventure sport, a mix of hiking, sliding, and rappelling down a river canyon, is full of thrills and chills. No experience is necessary, but you should be prepared to get very wet. A 6.3m (21-ft.) natural water slide is just one of the highlights. The cost for the full-day tour, with a snack and late lunch at the end (around 4pm), is BsF250 to BsF350 per person.
Climbing & Trekking -- At 5,007m (16,423 feet), Pico Bolívar is Venezuela's highest peak. Crowned with a statue of its namesake hero, it's the most popular summit for visiting climbers. Although the simplest routes are not technically difficult, the sheer altitude and variable weather conditions make a summit climb here plenty challenging. Only experienced climbers in good shape should attempt it. The more challenging routes over steep rock and ice are for die-hard climbers.
Other high Andean summits here include Pico Humbolt (4,944m/16,216 ft.), Pico La Concha (4,922m/16,144 ft.), Pico Bonpland (4,883m/16,016 ft.), and Pico El Toro (4,755m/15,596 ft.). Several of these peaks can be combined into a multiday trek. Some require ropes, crampons, and ice-climbing gear. All should be attempted only with a guide, proper conditioning, and proper acclimation.
For those looking for less adrenaline and a touch of culture, multiday treks of the high paramo that visit several small towns and Andean villages can also be arranged. Bird-watchers can also hire specialized guides for day hikes and multiday treks. Although you can see hundreds of species in the area, one of the most sought-after sightings, albeit rare, is that of a giant Andean condor.
Prices for climbing and treks range from BsF200 to BsF400 per person per day, depending on group size, season, itinerary, and equipment rentals. Porters can be hired for around BsF80 per day.
Horseback Riding -- If walking or biking don't strike your fancy, you can saddle up and tour the area on horseback. Prices range from around BsF100 for a half-day tour to between BsF250 and BsF350 for a full-day tour. Overnight and multiday tours are also available.
Mountain Biking -- The same Andean peaks and paramo that make this such a great area for mountain climbing and trekking also make it a prime area for mountain biking. A variety of options are available, from simple half-day jaunts to multiday adventures. Tours can be designed to suit your skill level, experience, and conditioning. Prices range from BsF200 to BsF400 per person per day. Rental of a decent bike should cost around BsF45 per day.
Paragliding -- The high mountain walls of the Andes and near-constant thermal wind currents make the Mérida valley perfect for paragliding. You may not see a condor, but you will get a condor's-eye view of things. Experienced paragliders will want to fly solo, but beginners can also enjoy the thrill, strapped into the front of a double harness with an experienced pilot behind them. If conditions are right, air time can exceed 90 minutes. A typical 3-hour tour, with 20 to 40 minutes in the air, will cost BsF360 per person.
White-Water Rafting -- Rafting here is possible year-round, but the high season is May through November. Rafting is conducted down in the lower elevations near Barinas, so a hefty car or van ride is involved, and the trips are generally a minimum of 2 days. The rivers run include the Acequias, the upper and lower Canagua, and the Sinigui, which range in difficulty from Class I to Class V. Both Arassari and Guamanchi operate river lodges that make the trips even more enjoyable. Prices run around BsF600 to BsF800 per person for a 2-day, 1-night adventure.
Because the rivers here run from the Andean foothills down to the plains of Los Llanos . It's common to combine a rafting trip out of Mérida with an onward tour and stay in Los Llanos.
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.