With its reputation for violence and political instability, many travellers opt to give Venezuela a wide berth. But those brave enough to visit this feisty South American nation will discover a country of extraordinary diversity and abundant natural beauty; a land of lofty Andean peaks, mysterious Lost World plateaus, wildlife-rich rainforests, vibrant cities and idyllic Caribbean islands.
At the heart of all this lies Caracas, Venezuela’s thronging capital. A hotchpotch of hillside favelas, crumbling colonial buildings and glistening skyscrapers, the city has much to offer visitors; there’s a fine collection of museums, galleries and historic monuments, not to mention a pulsating nightlife.
But for all its appeal, most of Venezuela’s attractions lie beyond the capital city, hidden away in national parks and reserves which cover an impressive 40% of the country.
The lush tropical lowlands of Los Llanos harbour abundant wildlife, with eco-conscious hatos (ranches) offering safaris to view caiman, puma, anaconda, capybara, hundreds of birds and much more. Then there are the table-top mountains of the Guyana Highlands, whose summits loom over golden savannahs and bristle with prehistoric flora and fauna. These towering peaks spawn dramatic waterfalls, including the awesome Angel Falls, officially the world’s highest.
Those with an appetite for adventure can be sated with an excursion into the virgin rainforest of the Amazonas, Venezuela’s least-visited region, where indigenous communities cling to traditional lives in the jungle. Alternatively, head to Mérida to tackle the soaring Andean peaks or go piranha fishing in the Orinoco, South America’s second-longest river, which empties into the wildlife-rich wetlands of the Orinoco Delta.
Beyond that, the clear waters of the Caribbean lap onto Venezuela’s stunning coastline, where numerous offshore islands provide ample opportunities for reef diving, partying and pandering to pleasure. Amongst them is the Los Roques archipelago, which is the epitome of Caribbean island idyll and a very long way from the unsavoury headlines of the mainland.