Discover Venezuela

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The capital of Venezuela is a huge, vibrant and energetic city built on tremendous wealth and desperate poverty. Gravity is equally defied by the city's thrusting towers of steel and glass and the teetering shantytowns that cover the city's surrounding hills. A combination of earthquake and the rush towards modernisation that followed in the wake of the oil rush has obliterated much of the city's colonial architecture, but there are still some pockets that reveal the past. Musuems, art galleries and parks fill out the list of attractions.
Amazon Jungle
The Amazonas region in the south of the country is thick with tropical rain forest, crisscrossed by rivers, and home to a number of isolated Indian tribes. Tours up the Orinoco, Sipapo or Autana rivers and deep into the Venezuelan Amazon can be arranged from the hot but pleasant town of Puerto Ayacucho.
Caribbean Coast (Venezuela)
The northeast coast is the place to go for outdoor activities such as snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing, sailing or just lying around and enjoying the sun. The county's beaches are at their idyllic best here - long expanses of white sand lapped by turquoise waters and fringed with coconut palms. Isla de Margarita, 40km (25mi) from the mainland, is a favourite for beach-lovers and a popular holiday destination for Venezuelans. It is easily accessible by ferry from Cumaná and Puerto La Cruz on the mainland.
On the Caribbean coast at the base of the Península de Paraguaná, Coro is a pleasant, peaceful, cultured town with some of the best colonial architecture in Venezuela. Founded in 1527, it was one of the earliest colonial settlements on the continent, but most of the interesting architecture dates from the 18th century, when Coro flourished as a contraband centre trading with the islands of Curaçao and Bonaire. The historic town centre was declared a national monument in the 1950s and a number of buildings have been restored. The cobblestoned Calle Zamora is the most beautiful colonial street, with spectacular old mansions. Other attractions include the Catedral and the Museo de Arte Coro.
Río Orinoco
The third-longest river in South America, the Orinoco covers about 2150km (1333mi), from its source near the Brazilian border in the south of the country to its wide, flooded delta on the northeast coast. The myriad forested islands that make up the delta are home to the Warao people, who live on the riverbanks in houses on stilts, travel mostly by canoe and earn their livelihood from fishing. At the reaches of the Lower Orinoco lies the site of Ciudad Bolívar (formerly Angostura), a hot city that boasts a glorious history and still retains much of its colonial charm. It was here that Simón Bolívar set up his base for the final stage of the War of Independence, and the town became the provisional capital of the country prior to liberation from the Spanish. Most visitors to Ciudad Bolívar will be en route to Canaima, the spectacular town located on the Río Carrao just below the stretch of river with a chain of seven magnificent waterfalls. Nearby, on a tributary, is Salto Ángel (Angel Falls), the world's highest waterfall, with an uninterrupted drop of 807m/2647ft (16 times the height of Niagara Falls). Continuing southeast brings you to the fascinating landscape of the Gran Sabana, with its tepuis (flat-topped mountains) and simas ('sink-holes' of jungle up to 350m/1148ft wide, surrounded by sheer cliffs).
The Andes
The verdant mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Mérida are the northernmost tip of the Andes range, and lie in the northwestern reaches of Venezuela. Dotted with small villages whose inhabitants still follow a traditional lifestyle, the mountain also sports trails that reward the more adventurous and energetic traveler with stunning views of the snowcapped peaks. The pleasant, friendly town of Mérida, nestled in the mountains just 12km (7mi) from the country's highest peak, Pico Bolívar, is one of Venezuela's most popular tourist destinations.

Colonia Tovar
This unusual mountain town sits at an altitude of 1800m (5900ft) amid the rolling forests of the Cordillera de la Costa, about 60km (37mi) west of Caracas. The town was founded in 1843 by a group of 376 German settlers from the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). Effectively isolated from the outer world by the lack of roads and internal rules prohibiting marriage outside the colony, the village followed the mother culture, language and architecture for a century. It wasn't until the 1940s that Spanish was introduced as the official language and the ban on marrying outside the community was abandoned. The real turning point came in 1963, when a sealed road reached Colonia Tovar from Caracas, taking the population from a mere 1300 inhabitants to today's 6500.
These days it's a classic example of a tourist town, a little bit of old Germany lost in a Venezuelan cloudforest that draws in masses of caraqueños on weekends but is virtually derelict on weekdays. It's a particularly enjoyable day trip from the capital - take time out to splurge on a German lunch or dinner, and stock up on rye bread and knackwurst. If you decide to make a night of it and stay on for breakfast, take warm clothes as the temperature plummets up in the cordillera after sunset. To get there, take a carrito from Caracas and change at El Junquito (two hours).
Straddling the borders of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil is a 280 sq km (109 sq mi) plateau called Roraima that has become increasingly popular with travelers interested in trekking or botany. The roundtrip hike takes five days, and by custom you will be required to hire a local guide for the last two. Though the trek involves discomforting amounts of rain, the climb is fascinating and the moonscape scenery at the top of the mesa is a science-fiction dream of blackened rock, pink beaches and bewildering plant life.
Salto Aponguao
One of the most impressive and photogenic waterfalls in La Gran Sabana is Salto Aponguao. However, it's rather difficult to reach unless you're prepared to expend a little time and energy. One way to see it is to leave the highway, then travel about 40km (25mi) on an unpaved road before coming to the Indian hamlet of Iboribó. The next step is to pay one of the locals to take you by curiara (dugout canoe) across the Río Aponguao, from where it's a half-hour trek to the falls. Another possibility is to arrange for a boat to take you directly there, then return on foot. Either way, the 105m (344ft) Salto is spectacular. A well-marked path leads to the foot of the falls, where you can bathe and swim in one of the natural pools. And nearby is an idyllic camping spot with excellent views of both the falls and the surrounding countryside