Lying between 1° and 12° north latitude and rising from sea level to 5,007m (16,443 ft.), Venezuela has everything from steamy Equatorial jungles to perennially snowcapped mountains. There are dry barren deserts and lush tropical rainforests. More than 90% of the population lives in cities located in the northern part of this country, bordered by the Caribbean Sea, Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana.
Given the wide range of destinations, attractions, and adventures offered in Venezuela, the itinerary you choose will greatly depend on your particular interests and needs. Business travelers in Caracas with a free day or two should head to Los Roques for some fun in the sun, and a chance to go fishing or scuba diving. Adventure travelers should definitely visit Mérida and the Andes. Bird-watchers and nature lovers should not miss Los Llanos. Families looking for an all-inclusive resort vacation with plenty of activities to keep the kids busy should choose Isla de Margarita. And those seeking an adventurous tour through some of South America's most stunning scenery should head to Canaima and Angel Falls.
Caracas -- Caracas is an overcrowded, inhospitable, and famously violent city. The city center occupies a flat valley surrounded by high mountains and hillsides. Urban sprawl has covered most of these hillsides with dense ranchitos (shantytowns). A total of some four million inhabitants, or Caraqueños, make up the greater metropolitan area. Despite the widespread poverty and overcrowding, Caracas is one of the more cosmopolitan and architecturally distinctive cities in Latin America, with a vibrant and active population.
The Urban Belt -- From Maracaibo in the west to Cumaná and Maturin in the east is a more or less linear belt of urban development, much of it based around major petroleum, mining, and agricultural centers, and most of it on or close to the Caribbean coast. Major cities include Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Valencia, Maracay, and Caracas. An estimated 80% of the country's population lives within this relatively narrow urban belt. In fact, Venezuelans refer to almost all the rest of the country as "the interior."
The Caribbean Coast & the Islands -- Venezuela has 3,000km (1,860 miles) of coastline and hundreds of coastal islands, most of them uninhabited. The largest of the islands, Isla de Margarita, is Venezuela's most popular tourist destination. Los Roques, an archipelago of 42 named islands and 200 sand spits, mangrove islands, and tiny cays, is also very popular. The coastal region closest to Caracas, known as El Litoral, was devastated in 1999 by massive landslides and flooding, which left an estimated 20,000 dead and many more homeless. While this region has largely recovered, it still shows the effects of the disaster, and there are no beaches or tourist destinations of note here. The coastal areas farther east and west of El Litoral, however, offer scores of relatively undiscovered and undeveloped beaches for the more intrepid and independent travelers. The climate all along the coast and on the Caribbean islands is hot and tropical, and much drier than the rest of the country.
The Andes -- The great South American mountain chain, the Andes, runs through Venezuela from the Colombian border in a northeasterly direction through the states of Táchira, Mérida, and Trujillo. The mountains here, in three major spines -- the Sierra Nevada, Sierra de La Culata, and Sierra de Santo Domingo -- rise to more than 5,000m (16,400 ft.). The principal city here is Mérida, a picturesque and bustling college town nestled in a narrow valley. However, there are many small mountain towns, as well as some interesting indigenous villages, that are scattered about and worth exploring. This is a prime area for hiking, trekking, and a wide range of adventure sports.
Los Llanos -- Located on plains that roll on for hundreds of miles south and east of the Andes, Los Llanos is an area of flat, mostly open cattle ground, punctuated with some isolated stands of forest. During the latter part of the rainy season (July-Nov), the plains are almost entirely flooded, with only a few raised highways and service roads passable in anything that doesn't float. In the dry season, the land reemerges and wildlife congregates in dense herds and mixed flocks around the ponds and creeks that are left behind. The quantity and variety of wildlife visible at the nature lodges located in Los Llanos are truly phenomenal -- anaconda, caiman, capybara, deer, and even wildcats are commonly sighted. This is one of the top spots on the planet for bird-watching.
Southern Venezuela & the Gran Sabana -- Southern Venezuela is a largely uninhabited and wild region of tropical forests and jungle rivers. The region is home to several ancient indigenous tribes, including the Piaroa, Pemón, and Yanomami, who still live an often-nomadic lifestyle based on hunting and gathering. This area is home to vast expanses of forest, including Canaima National Park, the largest national park in Venezuela and the sixth largest in the world; Angel Falls, the highest waterfall on the planet; and a series of stunning steep-walled mesas called tepuis. Much of this region is also known as the Gran Sabana (Great Plains), as it features large stretches of flat savanna broken up only by these imposing tepuis.
The Orinoco Delta -- The eastern end of Venezuela comprises the largely uninhabited Orinoco Delta. Second in size and import to the Amazon (both as a river and a river basin), the Orinoco Delta is a vast area of shifting rivers, tributaries, mangroves, rainforests, and natural canals. The area is also known as the Delta Amacuro, after a smaller river that empties into the basin and forms part of the border with Guyana. This area is just starting to develop as a destination for naturalists and ecotourists.
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.