Written by Robert Raymond Ingledew on 02 Dec, 2006
Margarita Island / Porlamar. I have been a number of times, and it is definitely not my favorite destination in the Caribbean. In most cases beaches are not wide (Playa El Agua could be the exception). I was always there on business trips, but stayed…Read More
Margarita Island / Porlamar. I have been a number of times, and it is definitely not my favorite destination in the Caribbean. In most cases beaches are not wide (Playa El Agua could be the exception). I was always there on business trips, but stayed at different hotels: the Concorde, Bella Vista, and Los Pinos (5, 4 and 3 stars). The Bella Vista hotel has a very nice swimming pool and is not expensive. The hotel Los Pinos is in the downtown, but I would only go there if I need to save money. There are some historical places in the island, but apart from this, I prefer by far the beaches on continental Venezuela that are surrounded by mountains with tropical vegetation (Playa Colorada, Arapito, Playa Medina) or (if you prefer larger cities) Puerto La Cruz and Cumana. Porlamar is supposed to be a free port, but does not compare in variety nor in prices with Curazao and St. Martin, nor even with the island of San Andrés.
Maracay. Although this city is not on the seaside, the road from Caracas to Maracay is beautiful, and goes through a rolling area. Very near Maracay is Las Delicias, a cooler climate in the mountainside, where I enjoyed a stay at the Hotel Pippo. All the road to Las Delicias is really beautiful, and the climate is far nicer, because both Maracay and Valencia have a very tropical climate; even during the night the weather is very warm. Highs are generally about 87 degrees and lows about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Valencia is a nice city, but the tourist attractions are further down the road, like Puerto Cabello. Puerto Cabello was founded nearly five centuries ago, has beautiful colonial buildings, the San Felipe fortification, and is the second port in importance in all Venezuela. It also has beautiful beaches. Here I stayed at the hotel Suite Caribe, a very nice 4-star hotel. There is a local bus service to Puerto Cabello from the city of Valencia (the third city of Venezuela). Colonia Tovar is a beautiful Alpine town founded by Germans, and where you still "breathe" the German atmosphere. Constructions are beautiful, street are up and down the hill, climate is ideal, at an altitude of 9,000 feet. There are tours from Venezuela to Colonia Tovar, one of my preferred destinations in Venezuela.
San Juan de los Morros and San Felipe De Yaracuy are two places where I would only go if I were on a business trip and needed to fill in a gap, but would not be prime destinations on a sightseeing trip. Both are nice, but not outstanding. I enjoyed the stay at both places, but they are definitely not top destinations. El vigía (near Mérida) is a place that you will enjoy if you are fond of bird watching. There is a fantastic wildlife reserve at a dam near the city. Otherwise, the view is nice (tropical vegetation and a rolling area) but there are nicer places en Venezuela where to spend your time. San Cristobal and San Antonio are on the border with Colombia, beyond Mérida. The road from Mérida to San Cristóbal is really enjoyable, but Mérida is the nicest city in the whole area (and even in all Venezuela). I really enjoyed my stay at the Hotel El Tamá in San Cristobal. I never stayed at San Antonio.
Caracas, the capital, is a city of contrasts. It is very modern in the downtown, but forty percent of the population lives in shacks on the mountainside that you can see from the downtown. The difference of social classes is evident, and if you are very sensitive to poverty those shacks up in the mountainside (you see them from everywhere) will not allow you to enjoy the modern city. There are some beautiful residential areas, like the Country Club, very nice shopping districts like Sabana Grande, one of the most modern subways in Latin America. If you want a 2-star hotel in the downtown at a low price, El Conde might be OK. The Hilton hotel is very nice. The Sheraton and Melia hotels are far away from the city, on the coast, in a nice area, but not comparable with the beach area between Puerto La Cruz and Cumana, nor even with Margarita Island. Enjoy your stay in Venezuela. Remember, my priorities there would be Merida, Canaima-Angel Falls, Colonia Tovar and the beach area between Puerto La Cruz and Cumana.
Written by Robert Raymond Ingledew on 01 Dec, 2006
CHICHIRIVICHE/MORROCOY is known for its mangrove swamp. I navigated the swamp and enjoyed the trip. I also crossed over to a solitary island with very nice beaches, but the Morrocy swamp does not compare with the Caroni wildlife sanctuary in Trinidad, that I also navigated…Read More
CHICHIRIVICHE/MORROCOY is known for its mangrove swamp. I navigated the swamp and enjoyed the trip. I also crossed over to a solitary island with very nice beaches, but the Morrocy swamp does not compare with the Caroni wildlife sanctuary in Trinidad, that I also navigated (it is very near Port of Spain) where you can see ibis in abundance (I visited both reserves), nor with the Orinoco delta, where there is also a lot of wildlife. There are some nice islands in front of the coast in Morrocoy with small beaches where you can enjoy the day. It is not a prime destination. I would only go if I have time left over; in any case you will enjoy the trip.
CORO is a beautiful city and one of the oldest colonial cities in Venezuela, founded in 1527, only 35 years after Columbus discovered the American continent, and has many historical colonial buildings. It also has the National Park Medanos de Coro (Coro Sand Dunes) that is what I call the South American Sahara. This national park is just "accross the street" from the city, at a walking distance. The desert is small, maybe 20 miles long, but gives you the real picture of what a sand dune desert is like. They used to have camels there for tourism purposes, but I do not know if they are still there. I stayed at the hotel Miranda, I see it rated as a 4-star hotel, it does not deserve more than 3 stars, but it was OK. You will really enjoy seeing stone paved streets and taking photos of old colonial buildings.
LA VELA DE CORO is a beautiful nearby small fishermen's village you can take the Lusitania Express Ferry to Aruba, Curazao and Bonaire. These 3 islands are very near, maybe 30 to 35 miles away, and I understand that the trip now takes only 3 hours on the Express Ferry. Curazao is certainly the best place for shopping in this area, is a free port, where you can buy practically anything at very good prices, and has a very interesting mixture of cultures. The inhabitants normally speak 4 languages: English (for tourism purposes), Spanish (they are very near Venezuela), Dutch (they are a Dutch territory), and Papiamento, a local dialect that is a mixture of the different cultures that existed in the area, since the island was under British, French, Spanish, and Dutch domination, and probably also Portuguese. If you want to have fun, just have a look at the Aruba newspaper, where they speak the same dialect. Curazao and Aruba used to depend highly on the Shell oil refineries, that were closed, and later bought over by Petroleos de Venezuela.
PUNTO FIJO is another city in this area near Coro. There are some very nice beaches on the sea between Coro and Punto Fijo. MARACAIBO is the second city of Venezuela, it is a very modern city, and also one of the most unsafe cities in Venezuela. The best hotel I know in Maracaibo is the Intercontinental hotel (5 stars), that has a beach on the lake and nice swimming pools. I also stayed at a cheaper hotel that was fine: Hotel Kristoff, 4 stars, a nice swimming pool and a good restaurant, on Av. 8 No. 46-68. The Maruma Hotel is the most expensive one (rated six stars, an hotel rating category that only exists in Mexico, Venezuela and Ecuador), and El Paseo (Best Western) is another option. I would go either for the Intercontinental or the Kristoff, in this last case if you want to be in a quiet area inside the city.
Don't miss a motorboat tour of the Maracaibo lake. Maracaibo was the first petroluem producing center in Venezuela. As you probably know, Venezuela is the fifth petroleum producer in the whole world. And in this tour you will not only see petroleum production facilities, but also floating homes on the lake. Maracaibo is near La Guajira, a fascinating (and very dangerous) travel destination, in the border with Colombia. There are bus services, but I would recommend that you stay away from this area.
BARQUISIMETO is another beautiful city that is only 3 hours away from Maracaibo. The whole road is enjoyable, and to continue from Maracaibo to BARINAS takes another 3 hours. The whole area is a rolling area where you will enjoy the scenery and take beautiful photos. And then from BARINAS (tropical climate) you can continue over the Andes by the TRANSANDEAN HIGHWAY to MÉRIDA, the most beautiful city in all Venezuela. At Barinas I have stayed at the Hotel Internacional (3 stars, but it hardly deserves one star) and at the Hotel Bristol (3 stars), where I enjoyed the stay. The very best option at Merida is the Hotel La Pedregosa, that has a very nice forty-acre park and a beautiful view towards the mountainside. The "carros por puesto" (shared taxis, but that operate as normal bus lines) are the fastest way of getting around, and they are not expensive at all. Enjoy your stay in Venezuela.
This is one of the most fascinating areas in Venezuela. Puerto La Cruz, some 3 hours on the bus from Caracas, that together with Barcelona form one large city with more than one million inhabitants, is one of the main tourist destinations in Venezuela and…Read More
This is one of the most fascinating areas in Venezuela. Puerto La Cruz, some 3 hours on the bus from Caracas, that together with Barcelona form one large city with more than one million inhabitants, is one of the main tourist destinations in Venezuela and has accordingly some five star hotels like the Melia. If your room looks towards the sea and you are in a high floor, you will see islands in the Caribbean at a distance. Beaches are not wide in this area, but the scenery is beautiful. This area covers all the destinations I mentioned above, and some others like the Orinoco delta, that I did not visit, and that is the third largest delta in South America and an ibis wildlife reserve. The road from Puerto La Cruz to Cumaná (some 50 miles) is beautiful. It is a winding road along the seaside. The Mochima National Park has mountains covered with a tropical forest, that fall down straight onto the beach, and below you have white sand (white and red sands in the case of Playa Colorada), with crystal clear water, very small waves and palm trees. The Mochima National Park has fantastic views, including Santa Fe, a small fishermen village, Playa Colorada, Playa Arapito, and Playa Medina. It is difficult to decide which of the three is the most beautiful one. Surprisingly, there are no hotels in this area (only one two-star hotel at Playa Colorada), just as there are no hotels near to the Angel Falls in Venezuela. And very near hear is Los Roques archipielago, one of the most fantastic destinations in Venezuela, ideal for snorkeling, bird watching, and exploring coral reefs.
Cumana is a beautiful city with very nice beaches, and has two excellent hotels: the Cumanagoto, a very nice 4-star hotel with private beach and a very nice swimming pool, and Los Bordones, that is also excellent. I stayed at both hotels and both are very highly recommended. Cumana was founded nearly five hundred years ago, and there are fortifications built by the Spaniards at El Castillo de Cumaná. There are also colonial churches in the area.
Carupano is further east, but does not have anything special, being mostly a petroleum producing area. Río Caribe is the next destination that is worthwhile visiting, and beyond that you have the Orinoco Delta, the third largest (and least explored) delta in South America. This area has the largest heavy petroleum reserves in the whole world. Venezuela is the fifth producer of petroleum in the world. Towards the north of Puerto La Cruz you have some petroleum producing areas like El Tigre and Anaco. Beyond these is the city of Puerto Ordaz; the steel and aluminum producing plants are here. Venezuela is the third producer of aluminum worldwide. Near Puerto Ordaz, you have a beautiful zone to visit: Ciudad Guayana, with two large and enjoyable waterfalls: Salto de la Llovizna and Salto Cachamay. The Intercontinental Hotel (4 stars) is located just in front of the Salto de la Llovizna. There you can take a motorboat tour under both waterfalls and down to the water division line where the Caroni and Orinoco rivers meet. The water remains clear on the Caroni river side for miles, while the waters of the Orinoco river are far darker. Puerto Ordaz is the gateway to Canaima and Angel Falls. Flights from this city to Canaima cost about one hundred dollars less than from Caracas... There are other important cities in the area, like Ciudad Bolivar (where I stayed at a very nice hotel, Las Lajas) and Maturin (that does not have good hotels, the Perla Princess if about the best), but neither city has attractions that may justify a visit. Gasoline is inexpensive, and cars are manufactured in the country at Ciudad Alianza, near Valencia, so taxis and car rental should not be expensive either. The problem is leaving the car unattended since, although not as dangerous as Colombia, Brazil or Perú, Venezuela is becoming increasingly dangerous. Enjoy your trip to Venezuela.
The Andes end in Venezuela, not very far away from the international border with Colombia, in the city of Merida. Although there are mountains that fall into the sea for many miles along the sea, the highest mountains are in the Andes, that are some…Read More
The Andes end in Venezuela, not very far away from the international border with Colombia, in the city of Merida. Although there are mountains that fall into the sea for many miles along the sea, the highest mountains are in the Andes, that are some 6 hours by car or 8 hours by bus away from Caracas or less than one hour away by plane. Distances are short in Venezuela, and this is why renting a car could be an alternative, despite the increasing lack of safety, that is not so bad if you drive during the daytime. I have been many times to Venezuela years ago (I had to visit the country every 3 months from 1984 to 1993), and never had any incidents, but I know that the cities of Caracas and Maracaibo, and to a lower extent Valencia and Barquisimeto, pose some threats to safety.
As I already mentioned, it is important to not accept transportation offers from strangers, but to go to the taxi counter and hire your trip there, even if you have to wait (this can be nerve consuming if you arrive very early in the morning; taxi drivers seem to be fond of getting up late...). Keep in mind that there is a distance of only one thousand feet from the international airport to the national airport, and that taxis are cheaper at the national airport. Also, you can connect international and national flights in an easy way, without costly transportation between airports. Never loose your paper of admission to the country, or you might have to bargain with an immigration officer, and you never know how that could end. Unlike Argentina, where they will give you another form to fill in, or like Chile, where they will give you a sermon but request no money, in Venezuela they will say that only the office can issue that paper, that the office is closed, that you will have to wait until the next day… only to see how much money they can get from you. If you don’t loose the paper, you will not run into this problem. That happened to me once in 1993, and the situation could be better or worse by now.
The TransAndean highway from Barinas (highs in the nineties and lows in the seventies) to Merida, a colonial city founded in 1558, with highs in the high seventies and lows in the high fifties, and with temperatures below freezing point on the top of the Pico Bolivar, crosses the Andes in two or three hours, going through beautiful places. The carro por puesto (shared taxi) is the cheapest option. In Barinas you can fish dorados, and in the lakes near Merida in the Andes you can fish rainbow trout. Barinas is on the plains, and you can get there by bus or "carro por puesto" from Barquisimeto, going through Acarigua and Guanare. It is a nice trip. I have stayed at all these towns, because I had to visit them on business. Barquisimeto is a nice city, located in a rolling area, and there I stayed at the Gran Hotel Barquisimeto, that was good enough, and far cheaper than the Hilton hotel. At Acarigua I have stayed at the Motel Acarigua, and the Hotel Portuguesa in Guanare. All three hotels have good swimming pools. In the small towns on the road you will only find two-star hotels, but they are OK. The Gran Hotel Barquisimeto is a 3-star hotel. The Hilton is better, but more expensive. Nearly all the way from the coast (mountains that are some 3,000 feet high) up to the Andes (mountains 17,000 feet high) is a rolling area with tropical vegetation that you will really enjoy. The plains in most cases are away from the coast, in the areas of San Fernando de Apure and Barinas, or between Puerto La Cruz and Ciudad Bolivar, passing through El Tigre.
Once you start "climbing" the Andes on the highway, the scenery becomes fairly arid, being the frailejones, that can live up to 150 years, the only brush that can survive drastic changes in temperature. It has beautiful flowers. Some lagoons in the Andes, the testimony of glaciers that existed a long time ago, are accessible by road, as the Mucubaji lagoon, while reaching others requires extensive walking (for example, Laguna Victoria). You will find a beautiful chapel constructed completely in stone at San Rafael de los Mucuchíes. You will pass by Los Aleros, a beautiful tourist village. We have already left the arid scenery and are coming down to the green valley. On thing that will charm you are the crops on the hill slopes, very similar to what you see in the areas surround Quito in Ecuador and Pasto in Colombia. Patches of different colours give the scenery an incredible beauty. The city of Merida is the most beautiful city in Venezuela (see my separate report on Merida, the most beautiful city in Venezuela). It is a University city, with some 100,000 inhabitants, of which 30 to 40% are university students. It runs along a narrow valley between the foothills and the Andes, that in some cases is not even a mile wide. It is a quiet area, and one of the safest places in Venezuela, although no city in the country is 100% safe. The hotel Park in the downtown, and La Pedregosa in the surrounding area, are the best options. Both are 4-star hotels. I prefer La Pedregosa, because it has a 25 acre park with an artificial lake that isolates the hotel from the noise of the city, offering you an ideal place for relaxing. From the swimming pool you can see the mountains. It is a really enjoyable place to stay, and food is good. A room at this four-star hotel should be costing now some 85 dollars per night.
Founded four and a half centuries ago, Merida has beautiful colonial buildings, including the Archdiocese, the Government Palace, the sede of the University of the Andes and the Cathedral, definitely one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all Venezuela. The climate in Merida is an eternal spring, and there is a cable car (7.5 miles long) that goes from the downtown to the top of the Bolivar peak (17,000 feet high, with eternal snow on the top). So you can be sunbathing at the hotel, and one hour later be on the top of the mountain enjoying the snow... that lasts all the year round. Merida’s airport used to be in the downtown, but due to crashes of planes in the mountainside (a friend of mine, David Berríos, died in one of those crashes), they moved the airport to the nearby city of El Vigía, near which there is an incredibly beautiful wildlife sanctuary, where you can watch hundreds of birds at one time. So the ideal thing to do is to go from Caracas to Barquisimeto, from there to Barinas, over the Andes to Merida, and come back on a different highway down to Maracaibo, and from there back to Caracas.
On the way along the coast, you will have the chance of visiting the Morrocoy Marshes and the desert at Coro, a very nice colonial city. And beyond Merida and El Vigía, where there is a fantastic bird watching area, we arrive at San Cristóbal and San Antonio, just "across the street" from Cucuta, Colombia. At San Cristóbal there is a very nice 3-star hotel with an olympic swimming pool and a very nice park, Hotel El Tamá. I stayed there many times and really liked it very much. Enjoy your stay in Venezuela. Merida, Canaima, Angel Falls, Playa Colorada (between Puerto La Cruz and Cumana, and the Mochima national park between these cities), Colonia Tovar, an Alpine village in the mountains at an altitude of 9,000 feet, the Coro National Park (the South American Sahara, although far smaller) are the places you should not miss.
Venezuela is full of beautiful places (San Felipe de Yaracuy, San Juan de los Morros, Puerto Cabello, and many more). And what about the island of Margarita? Porlamar is OK, but there are some far more beautiful spots to see in Venezuela, as -for example- Los Roques, a place with nature in its primitive state, coral reefs, and bird watching.