There are two main areas of Venezuela of interest to adventure travellers. In the east of the country are the Guyana Highlands where rafting and other jungle trips are possible and you can see the worlds highest waterfall, Angel Falls. In the west of the country are the Venezuelan Andes, known as the Sierra Nevada de Merida. There are quite a few walking and trekking and climbing possibilities here.
Access to both areas once in Venezuela is easiest by flying onwards from the capital Caracas, but you can also go by bus to save money.
The Guyana Highlands, also known as La Gran Sabana, is an area distinguished by wild rainforest and huge sandstone plateaux, known as tepuis, the largest of which are bigger than most counties in Britain. Most travellers come here to see Angel Falls, which plunge nearly 1000m from Auyantepui, but there are lots of other options. Hikes to the top of several of the tepuis are popular, including the rugged walk to the top of Auyantepui and a three day trip to the top of Roraima, the mountain that inspired Conan Doyle to write The Lost World. The easiest way to reach the Guyana Highlands is by flying to the village of Canaima. Here you can hire a boat or a light plane to go further upstream to see Angel Falls. The best time of year to see the falls is the wet season (June-November) but treks will be easiest in the dry season.
The Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevada rise directly above the small university city of Merida in western Venezuela. The city makes an excellent base for climbs and treks in these mountains with a cable car rising to 4500m on Pico Espejo from the centre of town. This is a very rapid altitude gain and it is advisable to get some previous exposure to high altitude before using this cable car. The Sierra del Norte to the north of Merida are a good place to get acclimatised before a trip into the Sierra Nevada.
Pico Bolivar from the Pico Espejo cable car station.
A very popular walk which can be done in just two or three days is the trip to the quaint little village of Los Nevados. This walk starts at the Loma Redonda cable car station, goes up and over the crest of the Sierra Nevada then is entirely downhill to Los Nevados. Basic accommodation is available in the village and the next day you can hike out to El Morro and arrange transport back to Merida.
A more spectacular but much tougher expedition is the Traverse of the Sierra Nevada. This backpacking walk is best done west to east, beginning at the Pico Espejo cable car terminal above Merida and crossing two passes of 4600m. The hike stays fairly near the crest of the mountains and passes the foot of Venezuela's highest mountain, Pico Bolivar 4979m, which is a difficult and exposed rock scramble. Other highlights of this walk include some spectacular campsites by high lagoons and the final descent back to Merida through continually changing zones of vegetation from bare rock at 4500m, through the 'paramo' a moorland of giant heather, alpine flowers and the strange espeletia plants, to bamboo forest at 3000m, then down to tropical rain forest with towering hardwood trees, lianas, ferns and bromeliads below 2500m. The whole traverse can take as little as three days, with camps at Laguna Timoncitos and Laguna Verde, but it is better to take a few extra days and fit in some side trips, or climb some peaks. For example an extra day can be added at the start by traversing the peaks of El Toro and Leon. Maps are available in Merida.
A giant Espeletia plant, Sierra de la Culata.
When to go - The best season for most climbs and hikes is the dry season from January to March.
Weather - Tropical, with afternoon storms. Generally warm and humid, with a freezing level about 4500m
Flights - From London to Caracas direct or via Madrid, Paris or Miami. From about £600-800
Guidebooks - The Andes - A Guide for Climbers is the only English language guidebook to feature descriptions of the climbing routes on the peaks of the Venezuelan Andes.