In a continent filled with stunning variety, Venezuela still manages to standout for the diversity of its spectacular sights. The country has Andean peaks, endless Caribbean coastline, idyllic offshore islands ad grasslands teeming with wildlife. The long winding Orinoco River and its banks as well as rolling savannas punctuated by flat-topped mountains called tepuis host a wide variety of flora and fauna. Those seeking adventure will find hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, kite-surfing, windsurfing, paragliding and more. Even better, most of these attractions lie within a one-day bus trip of each other.
Venezuela receives considerably fewer visitors than other major South American countries. Tourism infrastructure exists, but it is primarily geared toward domestic travelers. That said, Venezuelans love to have a good time, and that spirit is infectious.
Salto Ángel (Angel Falls): Thundering Angel Falls is the world's highest waterfall and Venezuela's number-one tourist attraction. Its total height is 979m (3211ft), of which the uninterrupted drop is 807m (2646ft), about 16 times the height of Niagara Falls. The cascade spills off the heart-shaped Auyantepui, one of the largest of the tepuis (sandstone-capped mesa), into Devil's Canyon.
Angel Falls is not named after a divine creature, but after an American bush pilot, Jimmy Angel, who crash landed his four-seater airplane atop Auyantepui in 1937.
The waterfall is situated in a distant, lush wilderness with no road access. Most visitors who visit by boat opt to stay overnight in hammocks at one of the camps near the base of the falls. The canoe trip upriver, the surrounding area and the experience of staying at the camp are nearly as memorable as the waterfall itself.
Lake Maracaibo: Those who love the theatre and excitement of a good bout of thunder and lightning should consider visiting South America’s largest body of water, Lake Maracaibo, the site of the most frequent lightning in the world. The heat and humidity are at optimum levels here, and with the addition of wind caused by the surrounding Andes, the lightning is the most intense and predictable in the world. Lakeside fishing communities now welcome tourists who come to make the most of what is called Catatumbo lightning, so-called because it only occurs over the mouth of the eponymous river that flows into the lake.
Venezuela actually takes its name from Lake Maracaibo’s water-world settlements. The rows of huts constructed on stilts atop the calm water put the first Spanish explorers in mind of a Little Venice, and the name stuck.
Yunek: Sitting in the shadow of the Chimantá Massif, a collection of 11 tepuis from which waterfalls descend from mile-high rock walls, the view from Yunek is alluring. The mist-shrouded mountains rising out of the forest here form one of the world’s most beguiling frontiers of exploration and research, inspiring Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 fantasy novel ‘The Lost World’ and teams of biologists who still mount expeditions to remote escarpments in hopes of finding species new to science.
Parque Nacional El Ávila: One of the great attractions of the Caracas area, this national park encompasses some 90km of the coastal mountain range north of the city. The highest peak in the range is Pico Naiguatá (2765m), while the most visited is Pico El Ávila (2105m), which is accessed by the teleférico (cable car). The southern slope of the range, overlooking Caracas, is uninhabited but crisscrossed with about 200km of walking trails. Most of the trails are well signposted and there are a number of campgrounds.
Roraima: A stately table mountain towering into churning clouds, Roraima at 2810 meters lures hikers and nature-lovers looking for Venezuela at its natural and rugged best. Unexplored until 1884 and studied extensively by botanists ever since, the stark landscape contains strange rock formations and graceful arches, ribbon waterfalls, glittering quartz deposits and carnivorous plants. The frequent mist only accentuates the otherworldly feel.
Although it is one of the easier tepuis to climb and no technical skills are required, the trek is long and demanding. However, anyone who is reasonably fit and determined can reach the top. Be prepared for wet weather, nasty puri puris (invisible biting insects) and frigid nights at the summit. And give yourself at least six days round-trip so you have sufficient time to explore the vast plateau of the tepui.
Parque Nacional Morrocoy: One of the most spectacular coastal environments in Venezuela, Parque Nacional Morrocoy comprises a strip of park on the mainland, and extends offshore to scores of islands, islets and cays. Some islands are fringed by white-sand beaches and surrounded by coral reefs. The most popular of the islands is Cayo Sombrero, which has fine coral reefs and some of the best shaded beaches. Other snorkeling spots include Cayo Borracho, Playuela and Playuelita.
Cueva de Kavac: Near the purpose-built tourist village of Kavac, Cueva de Kavac is not a cave but a deep gorge with a waterfall plunging into it. There is a safe, natural pool at the foot of the waterfall, which you can reach by swimming upstream inside the canyon. It is a pretty straightforward half-hour walk from Kavac to the gorge.
Kavac itself consists of around 20 churuatas (palm-thatched huts) built in the traditional style, resembling a manicured Pemón settlement. Quiet and almost devoid of people, it sits on the savanna just southeast of Auyantepui.