Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Venezula: Come For The Adventure, Beaches, Fishing, and Nightlife / Isla Margarita, Venezuela

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For Bold Travelers, Venezuela’s Natural Beauty Beckons

It boasts the world’s highest waterfall, snow capped Andean mountain peaks and white-sand beaches dotting one of the longest coastlines in the Caribbean. But hurdles to easy, carefree travel — such as fly-by-night tour operators, lack of qualified guides and mediocre accommodations in many remote regions — keep many potential visitors away, leaving some of Latin America’s most diverse natural beauty for the most adventuresome.

Consider flying into the heart of Canaima National Park about 155 miles to the east for a visit to Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall at 3,212 feet with an uninterrupted drop of 2,648 feet.

The majestic waterfall is Venezuela’s most highly acclaimed attraction. It’s competing with 25 other spectacular natural landmarks in the final phase of a global poll to choose the “New 7 Wonders of Nature.” People can vote by Internet or phone. The winners of the survey — organized by the group New 7 Wonders, led by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber — will be announced in 2011.

Visitors can fly over the falls in small planes, but most choose to be ferried up the Churun River in dugout canoes and hike through the steamy jungle to the base of the falls for a refreshing swim among the rocks below.

Anglers will want to try their luck in the Orinoco River Basin — home to more than 1,000 species of fish. The speckled peacock bass can grow to more than three feet and the payara, featuring two long fangs protruding from its lower jaw, always put up a good fight, making them favorites among sport fisherman. A catfish called the “valenton” weighs up to 330 pounds.

To escape the stifling heat, head west to Los Andes. The city of Merida is a charming, university town providing a perfect jumping-off point for visits to nearby snow capped mountains in Sierra Nevada National Park.

Venezuelans are fond of their rumba (revelry), and after-hours entertainment is a highly developed art. The evening's activities usually get started with a couple of cold Polars or rum cocktails at a bar, followed up by a night of dancing. Most discos cover the musical spectrum from salsa to Latin pop, while the more youth-oriented venues tend toward rock and reggaetón. The capital, Caracas, boasts the country's most hedonistic nightlife scene, with multi-hall clubs thumping through the night, but most towns of any significant size will have a disco or two. For a less frenetic night out, stately old theaters in Caracas, Maracaibo, Maracay and Valencia feature classical music, opera, ballet, and (if your Spanish is up to it) plays. Cinemas, often located in shopping malls, generally feature recent Hollywood fare with Spanish subtitles.

Venezuelans are mad about shopping, and much social activity revolves around the glitzy malls that dot the urban areas. Shoppers flock to Isla de Margarita, particularly the town of Porlamar, to take advantage of the island's duty-free status.

Travelers are more likely to be interested in the quality handicrafts produced by Venezuela's indigenous inhabitants, including hand-woven baskets by the Ye'Kuana people of the Orinoco Basin, chinchorros (palm fibre hammocks) by the Wayúu (also know as Guajiros), and devil masks from San Francisco de Yare. The northwestern state of Lara is renowned for its woodwork and blankets, particularly from the village of Tintorero, while adjacent Cojedes state is a producer of harps, cuatros (small guitars) and maracas. Gems and gold and silver jewelery also make good purchases. It's best to look for these items where they're made, but if you're unable, try Hannsi, an enormous crafts department store in El Hatillo, an outlying district of Caracas.

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