Venezuela 2011

 Venezuela is a wildlife-watcher’s paradise.  A country of enormous ecological diversity, from snow-capped Andean peaks to desert islands set in a turquoise sea, from wetlands teeming with wildlife to the towering forests of the Amazon.  Not to mention the other-worldly region of Canaima, home to the world’s highest waterfall, Angel Falls.  Venezuela is also one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, with more than 300 species of mammal and over 1400 species of bird, not to mention hundreds of species of reptile, amphibian and butterfly.

Our adventure takes us from the mountains of Mérida, where we will look for Andean cock-of-the-rock and Andean condor, to the Llanos where we will look for capybara (the world’s largest rodent), giant anteater, red howler and weeper capuchin monkeys, as well as spectacled caiman, and dozens of bird species, including the bizarre hoatzin.  From here we fly into the Lost World of Canaima, where we take excursions around Angel Falls to visit the indigenous Pemón people and to the base of this remote waterfall.  We end our adventure in the Orinoco Delta, where we explore the waterways in search of a variety of wildlife including giant otter, agouti, Caribbean manatee and river dolphin, as well as spectacular birds, including both blue-and-gold and scarlet macaws.

Day 1,                                    March 29th

We arrive in Caracas, the vibrant capital of Venezuela, and transfer to our luxurious hotel.  Caracas is nestled in the valleys of the Coastal Mountains at a pleasant altitude of 1,000 metres.  This evening we meet for our welcome dinner.

Day 2,                                    March 30th    

After breakfast we begin our adventure with a half-day city tour, taking in the highlights of the Colonial city centre, including the Colonial Art Museum (housed in a restored Hacienda) and Plaza Bolivar, where the history of Caracas began.  This afternoon we fly to Mérida, set in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 1,645 metres.  Mérida is set in an extraordinary position along the valley of the Río Chama, protected by the high peaks of the Andes, known as Las Cinco Aguilas Blancas (the five white eagles).  Our accommodation for the next two nights is a delightful country inn, set in extensive grounds full of birdsong.

Day 3,                                    March 31st    

We spend the next two days exploring the city of Mérida and the surrounding mountains and páramo.  We start with a city tour of Mérida, during which we visit the beautiful cathedral and the Government Palace on Plaza Bolívar, as well as the colourful “Mercado Principal”, where artisans display the best in local handicrafts, regional delicacies such as smoked cheese, “dulces abrillantados” (crystallised guava chunks wrapped in leaves), flowers, many kinds of fruits and vegetables, weavings, and pottery.  We can also make a stop at “Helados Coromoto”, the ice cream shop that claims the world record for the most flavours: you can taste garlic, meat or spaghetti ice cream, or the more conservative chamomile and rose petal flavours.  This afternoon we drive out of town to explore the lower Andes around Mérida; driving along the winding roads of the Andes, which take us through cloud forest filled with hummingbirds and into small Andean villages.

Day 4,                                    April 1st         

Today we explore the páramo region of the higher Andes around Sierra Nevada National Park.  We visit the Andean villages of Tabay and San Rafael de Mucuchíes (where a special type of large and fluffy mountain dog is bred).  From here we continue on past the National Astronomic Observatory, whose white domes stand out against the blue sky, until we reach Laguna Mucubají, one of the most characteristic and beautiful lagoons in the páramo.  We visit the biological station of Mifafi, working to protect the endangered Frontino Bear and to reintroduce the Condor to the Venezuelan Andes. We finish our drive along Pico El Aguila, at 4,100 meters the highest mountain pass in the Venezuelan Andes with spectacular views.

Days 5, 6 & 7            April 2nd, 3rd & 4th    

After an early breakfast we leave the mountains and drive down into the vast plains of the Llanos.  Extending across 1,000 kilometres of Venezuela to the Orinoco Delta, the vast plains of the Llanos cover an area of about 320,000 square kilometres.  The Llanos are an incredible place to see wildlife, with more than 340 species of bird (including scarlet ibis, hoatzin and screamers), mammals including pink river dolphin, ocelot, giant anteater and capybara, as well as huge numbers of spectacled caiman and other reptiles, including green anaconda.  Our home for the next three nights is Hato El Cedral, a working cattle ranch covering 53,000 hectares, with the mission of protecting the spectacular wildlife of the Llanos.  Morning and afternoon wildlife-watching excursions are done by open truck, boat or on foot.  This is a true paradise for naturalists and birdwatchers.

Day 8,                                    April 5th         

This morning we leave the Llanos and drive to Barinas to catch a flight to the city of Ciudad Bolívar.  The city was founded in 1764 on a rocky elevation at the Orinoco River’s narrowest point, and was appropriately named Angostura (narrow).  As a colonial river port, and the headquarters of Simón Bolívar at a crucial time in the campaign for independence, Ciudad Bolívar is a city of great historic significance.  The colonial architecture and cobbled streets around Plaza Bolívar and the cathedral are particularly attractive.  Our accommodation tonight is in a colonial house transformed into a lovely boutique hotel.

Day 9,                                    April 6th         

Today we fly to Canaima National Park, a rugged wall of remote mountains and deep, heavily forested canyons nestled between the rainforest of the Amazon Basin and the watershed of the Orinoco River.  Many of the mountains have precipitous rock walls that rise thousands of metres where they end in an almost perfectly flat top. These formations are known by their Indian name: tepuis.  Originally, some 3.5 billion years ago when the plateau was created, the tops of the tepuis were joined together in a vast continuous plateau that stretched over a large part of northern South America from the Colombian Mountains into Guyana.  Over time erosion has carved steep-walled valleys and crevices into the plateau leaving fragments of the plateau completely isolated.  The region remains one of the most sparsely inhabited, and is one of the most beautiful of all natural areas in South America.  From one of these tepuis tumbles the world’s highest waterfall: Angel Falls (979 metres). The fall is more than twice as high as the Empire State Building and three times higher than the Eiffel Tower.

On arrival we check into our beautiful lodge on the edge of Canaima Lagoon for a three night stay.  This afternoon we visit Sapo waterfall.  We board dugout canoes at the beach, and cross Canaima Lagoon with impressive views of its seven waterfalls.  A short walk through savannah, and we can walk behind the impressive water curtain of Sapo falls.  It is a truly exhilarating experience: a cliff to the right, the roaring falls to the left, and water spray everywhere. Once on the other side of the curtain, we walk to the top of the falls for a wonderful view of the Tepui landscape.

Day 10,                      April 7th         

Today we have a full-day excursion by canoe to the base of Angel Falls.  Early in the morning we board motorized dugout canoes (or “curiaras” in the local Pemón Indian language).  We travel up the Carrao River, and cross Mayupa lagoon and the Arautaima rapids, always surrounded by the spectacular landscape of Canaima National Park.  We enter Churún River, winding its way through the spectacular Devil’s Canyon.  One more turn, and we see the highest waterfall on earth.  We leave our canoes, and walk for an hour through virgin rainforest, until arriving at a rocky ledge we suddenly stand before the magnificence of the Angel Falls, a few hundred metres away, becoming drenched by the frenzy of spray.  This is a truly unforgettable and awesome sight.  We can take a refreshing bath in the lagoon at the base of the fall.  After lunch we return to Canaima, and our comfortable lodge.

Day 11,                      April 8th         

This morning we take a flight over the spectacular landscape of Canaima National Park.  After approximately 20 minutes we enter the impressive Devil’s Canyon, and soon see Angel Falls. We then land at the airstrip of the small Pemón Indian village of Kavac, nestled in the valley of Kamarata, under the sheer walls of the impressive table-top mountain, Auyantepuy.  From here we set off on a pleasant walk, across grassy savannah and through thick rainforest, until arriving at the “Enchanted Valley”, one of the narrowest canyons in the world.  Over millions of years a small river has carved a cavernous gorge where the sun hardly reaches the bottom.  Guided by local Indians, we will wade and swim through the canyon to the hidden waterfall of Kavac.  A dugout canoe is there to ferry non-swimmers.  After lunch at Kavac village we take a return flight to Canaima.

Day 12,                      April 9th

Today we leave the Gran Sabana and fly to the Orinoco Delta: a vast, intricate labyrinth of waterways weaving through the rainforest, which carry the waters of the Orinoco River to the Atlantic Ocean.  The Delta has been formed over the course of thousands of years, as the mighty river has deposited millions of tonnes of sediment along the banks of the waterways.  The Orinoco branches off into over 60 caños (waterways) and 40 rivers which diffuse through 41,000 square kilometres of forested islands, swamps and lagoons.  The Warao Indians – the “Canoe People” – are the native inhabitants of the Delta.  Family groups reside in palafitos (wooden houses raised on stilts) along the banks of the river, and spend most of their daily lives in canoes fishing the nearby caños, and hunting and gathering in the surrounding forests.  Our home for the next two nights is the rustic Orinoco Delta Lodge camp, built on stilts at the edge of the river, and set in beautiful jungle surroundings.

Day 13,                      April 10th

We spend today exploring the Delta, with morning and afternoon excursions by boat and on foot, through the endless mangroves and creeks of the Delta.  This area is noted for its variety of flora, ranging from tropical forest plants of the Amazon to typical coastal mangrove species.  This rich atmosphere is also home to an abundant tropical fauna, with mammals such as titi and capuchin monkeys, otters, river dolphins, many species of birds, including a variety of parrots, macaws and toucans, not to mention great numbers of reptiles, as well as a great diversity of fish, including several species of piranhas.

Day 14,                      April 11th       

This morning we leave the Orinoco Delta and fly back to Caracas for our international flights home, or to continue on to the extension to Los Roques Archipelago.


Extension to Los Roques Archipelago:

Day 14,                      April 11th  

For those taking the extension to Los Roques, we check in to our luxury hotel in Caracas.

Day 15,                      April 12th       

This morning we fly to Gran Roque, the only inhabited island in the Los Roques Archipelago.  Situated 100 miles north of Caracas, the Archipelago of Los Roques is one of the largest national parks in the Caribbean, with expansive white sand beaches, warm azure waters and an abundance of marine flora and fauna.  The archipelago is made up of around 300 islands, islets, keys and sand banks, beside countless coral reefs.  Los Roques is an ideal destination for snorkelling and diving, and for exploring the flora and fauna of this remote island group.  Los Roques has been visited since pre-Colombian times by Caribbean Indians, and then by the Spanish, Dutch, British and French who went there in search of protection from storms, for fishing or to extract salt.

Days 16 & 17,          April 13th & 14th       

We have two full days to explore the islands and reefs of the Archipelago.  Each day we go out by boat to visit different islands, and to snorkel remote reefs.  This truly is a Caribbean paradise, and a wonderfully relaxing way to end our expedition.

Day 18,                      April 15th       

Today we bid a sad farewell to this island paradise and fly back to Caracas to catch our international flights home.

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