Natoura Adventure Travel Tours (http://www.natoura.com/) is a travel company which has a partnership with a local Spanish teaching institution in Merida, Venezuela. Visit the link above to get more info.
Los Llanos is a part of Venezuela which consists of vast grass plains. In Venezuela Los Llanos covers 300 000 sq km, almost a third of the country. But not much of the population is living here. The soil is low in nutrients and the farms are mostly cattle ranches. You will most certainly see a Llanero in a cowboy hat sitting on a horse during your visit. Around in the landscape there are islands of woodland and many rivers and streams. Along the roads there are water filled dikes.
The climate can be extreme in Los Llanos. There is a wet season between May - November when it rains frequently and much of the landscape can be flooded (not when I visited in June/July). During the dry season, December - April, it can on the other hand be very warm and dry, and many of the water holes dries up.
The reason to come here as a tourist is mainly to see the abundant wildlife. There are about 50 species of mammals and 350 species of birds. During my visit I saw an anaconda, capybaras, caimans, turtles and lots and lots of birds. The dry season is considered the high season as the animals then concentrate around the water there is and is easier to spot, but during the wet season on the other hand they are everywhere. As many other tourists I visited on a tour from Mérida. We stayed at a camp in Apure State, surrounded by the grass plains.
It was a bit chilly in the morning but the views around the house were beautiful, with the surrounding mountains and a lid of clouds over the valley below. And it was very peaceful. After breakfast we filled our bottles with water that Pedro had boiled. The water was clean, but I must say it tasted awful because of all the smoke. Then we started hour walk downhill. We walked through forest, but there were also open spaces were we could see the mountain range opposite the valley and also Mérida below. I walked mostly alone (as the day before) with the guide ahead of me and the tourist couple behind me. We stopped halfway to have some snacks. After 4-5 hours we reached the village Mucunutan were we sat down to wait for the jeep from Guamanchi’s to pick us up and bring us back to Mérida. We had been lucky with the weather this day as there were no rain.
After breakfast men came with the mules and the luggage was prepared and fastened on to the mules. Then we set off. There was nothing you had to do to get the mule walk forward, it just followed the others. We rode through a beautiful landscape that changed as we came to higher altitude. To keep warm and dry I had a scarf on my head and a towel as scarf around the neck and my own rain and wind jacket and borrowed (from Guamanchi) rain pants. Along the way we made just a short stop to stretch our legs. It started to rain as we came on higher altitude, and then it also became much colder. For the last hour the rain poured down. The highest point we passed was Alto de la Cruz at 4200 metres, and from there we walked down, leading the mules, the last bit to Lomo Redondo at 4045m, the fourth station along the teleférico. From Los Nevados to Lomo Redonda it had taken about 4 hours. As I had suspected the borrowed rain pants were not good and my jeans under them were completely soaked. My own rain jacket had kept my sweaters dry though.
From Loma Redonda the group on the 2-day tour took the cable car down to Mérida. We were cold and wet and the couple in my group were tired as they had walked for some parts and one of them was a bit nauseous because of the altitude. The guide asked us if we too wanted to take the cable car down to Mérida. I said no and the others discussed it but stayed in the end. We had some biscuits and something to drink and than we continued downhill by foot. We walked for two hours and it was just raining a little bit.
As we arrived to Pedro’s house where we were staying the night we got hot soup and bread to eat. It made us warmer and then we stayed in Pedro’s kitchen talking. A bit later we had pasta and then we went to bed.
Day 1 - Los Nevados Tour
After breakfast we set off from Guamanchi’s office in two jeeps. We were three tourists and a guide going on the 3-day tour in one car and a family and their guide, doing the 2-day tour, in the other car. Partly the road was a narrow mountain road, only for 4-wheel drive. Along the way we stopped in a small hamlet to have coffee and an empenada. After 4-5 hours we arrived to Los Nevados. In Los Nevados we were shown to our rooms and then we had lunch.
There was no walk organised for the afternoon but we could just relax in the posada or take our own walk. I went out with the other two tourists in my group to stroll around in the village. On my way back to Guamanchi’s posada I met our guide, Darwin, who was looking for us to ask if we wanted him to come along for a walk. The other two were gone so I took a short walk with Darwin. I was not feeling to well and had an irritating cough. When we turned around to walk uphill it was much harder for the chest to walk (I was glad we were going uphill on mules the next day, because downhill there were no problems for me).
Then I wanted to have a rest in the hammock on the balcony outside my room, but even if I put on an extra blanket it was too cold. Guess it was because I was not feeling well. I found some sun on the stairs in the beginning of the balcony and there I sat down to read.
After dinner we had tea and I got a special tea for my cough. Then it was time for bed.
Laguna Mucubají is one of many lagoons in Sierra Nevada National Park, and it is one of the largest lagoons. It is easy to visit as it is near the main road from Mérida towards Barinas. Laguna Mucubaji is situated at 3540 metres and the surrounding landscape is typical of the páramo (open highland) with frailejones. When I visited (on the way to Los Llanos) you couldn’t see far as the landscape was covered in clouds. There are several trails in the area and you can walk, or ride a horse, to Laguna Negra and Laguna Victoria. Just hope for better weather with clear views!
In the village San Rafael de Mucuchies, which is one of the highest located villages in Venezuela at 3140 metres, you can see a handmade stone chapel. This chapel was built by the Venezuelan artist Juan Félix Sanchez (1900 - 1997) who was from the area. The chapel, which is dedicated to the Holy Virgen of Coromoto, was built in 1984. About 20 years earlier Juan Félix Sánchez had built a similar chapel in the isolated hamlet Tisure, where he at that time lived. The artist is buried in the chapel in San Rafael de Mucuchies.
Chapel of San Rafael de Mucuchies is situated just by the road leading from Mérida to Barinas. On the Los Llanos tour I was taking from Mérida we made a stop here.
Los Nevados is a picturesque village situated high in the Andes (at 2750 metres). The setting is beautiful with high mountains around. The houses are whitewashed and there is also a small church with a very small Plaza Bolívar in front of it. The village is 400 years old and there are just over 100 inhabitants. On the farmland surrounding the village wheat, potatoes, beans and garlic is cultivated.
Los Nevados is situated within the National Park of Sierra Nevada. Because the village is situated on high altitude it can be very cold. The average temperature is 8 - 15°C.
From Mérida Los Nevados can be reached by four wheel drive vehicles on a mountain road, or by taking the cable car up to the 4th station (Loma Redonda) and from there ride a mule or walk for several hours. I visited on a tour arranged from Mérida.
One of the most beautiful regions in Venezuela is "Los Llanos." Here you can get close to nature and encounter many different species of wildlife. The llanos are huge plains where only the horizon stops your sight. Both, the vegetation and the fauna are full of beauty.
In this region there are only two seasons: rainy and dry season. However, pick the time you go correctly as you will have completely different experiences with the two. In the rainy season, the woods, the rivers, and the trees all show all their beauty and a large part of the region is under the water. In the dry season, the area becomes yellow and brown, and dust covers most parts of the plains, but this is the time when all the wildlife converge in the few spots where water is present. It is the season where you can see the most birds and animals. The difference between the two seasons is so big, that you can't say that you know the "llanos" unless you go during both periods.
There are many different animal species in Los Llanos. In the rivers and ponds you can find crocodiles and toninas (similar to dolphins), in the land deers, chiguïres (capybaras), jaguars and foxes, on the trees monkeys and birds. You can also find piranhas in the waters.
Summer (dry season) is the best moment for bird and watchers, because all the animals must go to the few spots that have water. Transportation in winter (rainy season) is also more difficult because many roads are flooded. However, this is the season when nature is more spectacular.
One thing is for sure, whichever the season, this is a must visit place. This is the one place that you have a high liklihood of coming across the huge Anaconda as well as can come face to face with piranha when fishing for them.
Visiting Los Llanos from Merida is easy as most of the tour companies offer 3 day tours to the area. A fully inclusive tour costs around $US 150 for 3 days and includes a mix of hotels and hammocks to get the full experience. Am happy to recommend tour companies if you shoot me an email.
Did you know that the unique lightning fenomena that occurs over the Catatumbo river happens to be the biggest regenerator of the Ozon layer worldwide?
The mysterious Relampago del Catatumbo (Catatumbo lightning) is a unique natural phenomenon. Its cause is unknown. Centered on the mouth of the Rio Catatumbo at Lago de Maracaibo, the phenomenon consists of frequent flashes of lightning with no thunder. The luminosity and frequency of the lightning have diminished over the last decade and it can stop for days, but on clear dry nights it is still a special experience.
Most of the tour companies in Merida offer tours to Catatumbo for around $90 to $150 for 2 or 3 days including food, tours, and lodging. Make sure you ask around as different trips will stop off at different places. You should see a lot of wildlife on the trip, especially bird species and butterflies.. and probably some monkeys too. A lot of the trips take you to sleep in hammocks on the lake so you can watch the lightning through the night.
High in the mountains is a picturesque lake named Lake Verde. You can visit it by planning a hike up the mountain through one of the many tourist companies in Merida or the easier way is to take the teleferico to the 3rd station and eithter hike from there or take a donkey ride to it.
If you like trekking I definitely recommend Parque National Sierra La Culata. Take a por puesto from Merida to La Culata when you begin the trek. In two days you can climb Pico Pan de Azucar (it really looks like o loaf of bread with some sugar on its top!) staying overnight in a tent or the shepherds abandoned hut (rats!). Bring your own food, as there is no shops in the mountains. As for water I drunk from the streams, it should be fine on high attitudes. The scenery is marvelous, there's few tourist, really nice place! Technically it's easy, but the attitude make it difficoult, especially on final ascend. The view over Andes well recompense every effort.
A one hour Driving of Merida, enjoying the way where you appreciate the cloudy forests is the La AZULITA
La Azulita is the refuge for a lot of craftsmen from Merida, and of those who have decided to improve their health with art and silence. Craftsmen, goldsmiths, potters, and producers of jams and candies have been living since many years. It is located to 1,150 meters on the level of the sea and to 75 km of city of Merida.
His name comes from the blue color that has their mountain
It has a great variety of fauna and flora, which the Audubon Society considers to the La AZULITA like the second runner of birds of the world.
Also have a series of touristy attractive like the cascade and Park the Palmita, whose waterfall he is spectacular. The Church of the Immaculate Conception second in importance dafter the cathedral, has one cupola and wonderful color windows
A una hora manejando de la cuidad de Merida , disfrutando el camino donde aprecias los bosques nublados se encuentra La Azulita
La Azulita es el refugio de un buen número de artesanos merideños, y de quienes han decidido mejorar su salud a base de arte y silencio. Artesanos, orfebres, alfareros, y productores de mermeladas y dulces viven allí desde hace muchos años. Se localiza a 1.150 metros sobre el nivel del mar y a 75 Km de ciudad de Mérida.
Su nombre al color azulado que poseen sus montañas.
Tiene una gran variedad de fauna y flora, que la Sociedad Audubon considera a La Azulita como el segundo corredor de aves del mundo.
Además, tiene una serie de atractivos turísticos como la cascada y parque turístico La Palmita, cuya caída de agua es un verdadero espectáculo. La Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción es la segunda en importancia después de la catedral, posee una hermosa cúpula y unos vitrales maravillosos
San Rafael de Mucuchíes, or for short, San Rafael, is a little Andean pueblo between Merida and Pico El Aguila located at 3.140 metres high. It's 600 people tiny village which boasts one of Venezuela's most impressive little chapels. It's called "Capilla de la Virgen de Coromoto," and it was built by the Venezuelan artist Juan Félix Sánchez in bicoloured stone. The amazing thing is that its walls and roof are dry walls (and roof)... no concrete was used to build this chapel - yet it's very solid and waterproof.
We had decided to reach Merida via road, just to be able to drive over the famous Pico El Aguila at 4.118 metres high in the Sierra La Culata: the highest Venezuelan motorable road. Well, I can tell you that up to 200 metres before reaching the top the sights had been amazing - and once we reached the top - argh - thick fog came down on us (the same thick fog which prevented us from seeing many things , including the laguna mucubaji) and well-- there was no landscape to see. All we could do was have some hot chocolate and visit the small virgin of coromoto chapel on top.