By Narbeh Minassian
This oil-rich nation on the northern tip of South America is one of the more under-explored destinations in South America. With the longest stretch of Caribbean coastline, Venezuela enjoys some of the most beautiful sea in the world than any other nation. It should therefore come as no surprise that this country is home to some of the most incredible spectacles of nature that can be seen.
For New Yorkers, whether you find yourselves in Manhattan or The Hamptons, there is a good chance that you have seen more of this world than most Americans have and are probably on the lookout for something new. Venezuela is the perfect destination for the well-travelled few. It is also utterly convenient and not altogether surprising that American Airlines, which operates an extensive international and domestic network, should fly to Caracas four days a week.
A little bit of history before you go: Venezuela was named so by the first Spanish visitors. They called the land ‘Venezuela,’ or literally ‘Little Venice.’ The name of Venezuela appeared for the first time on a map in 1500 and has remained to this day. Laguna de Sinamaica is reputedly the place where the first Spanish sailors saw the palafitos, and you can see similar huts above water still standing there today.
As its proximity and great accessibility to the Caribbean may suggest, Venezuela is rich in natural beauty. The focal point to this claim and perhaps main attraction of the country is the one and only Salto Angel Falls. We New Yorkers may believe ourselves to have fairly well-trained necks when it comes to looking up to tall buildings, but even we will have to crane ourselves that little extra bit to see this awesome waterfall in all its glory. Nearly 3,000 feet high, Salto Angel is twice the height of the Empire State Building. It is comfortably the largest waterfall in the world, and helicopter services are offered to view this natural phenomenon as only the birds and the privileged can. Just be sure to go on a cloudless day.
Mérida is perhaps unlike most places you have visited. It is found at the foot of the Andes and is just less than 10 miles from Venezuela’s highest point. Driving here by car will offer you some special views of the mountains and valleys as you will be almost two and a half miles above sea level. Mérida is also the center for outdoor activities in Venezuela. One of the greatest reasons for this is the amazing Teleférico, the world’s longest and highest cable car. This will lead you on a journey across stunning scenery from a perfect elevated position, finishing at the Pico Espejo, from which many choose to descend on top of mules or by hiking. Be sure to take some layered clothing with you, however, as the top is often covered by clouds.
Arguably, such natural beauty would not be complete without a varied wildlife, and Venezuela certainly checks off this box. Los Llanos is undoubtedly the best spot to catch a glimpse as this is where you will see some amazing wildlife, including anacondas, the abundant capybaras and caimans, bird species that number in their hundreds, and the much rarer jaguars and anteaters. This is also the last stronghold of the Orinoco Crocodile. If you’re after marine life, then Los Roques is where you want to be. This is a chain of islands and coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea. It’s also the ideal spot for scuba diving!
Strangely enough, travelers, largely overlook Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city. Nonetheless, Caracas is worth a visit. Even in the nation’s capital, stunning landscape is hard to miss. As you land, your immediate attention is drawn to the Caracas valley –which can be seen from your plane window—with the northern mountains in the background. The city itself is home to some excellent art, as can be seen in the Museo de Arte Colonial. Caracas also has a bustling nightlife, and locals tend to party until five in the morning. The hotspots for such nightlife are the Las Mercedes and La Castellana regions.
The capital’s forté, however, must surely be its gastronomy. Caracas offers a diverse range of restaurants, but it would be a shame not to try out the native specialties in one of the many Venezuelan restaurants. Arepas, thick corn tortillas which are split and stuffed with a myriad of fillings, are the quintessential Venezuelan dish. The most famous variations are the reina pepiada, which is a shredded chicken salad with avocado, and domino, stuffed with black beans and shredded white cheese. The traditional Venezuelan lunch is pabellón, consisting of rice, black beans and meat, with a side of fried plantain slices. Hallacas, Venezuela’s home grown version of the tamale, with meat, olives and raisins covered in cornmeal and wrapped in plantain leaves to be steamed, is a popular Christmas dish. The above dishes are known as comida criolla, or Creole food.
I hope you have already made up your mind to plan a visit this hidden Eden in South America, or at the very least, acknowledge that it deserves a spot on the bucket list. For backpackers, travelers or seasoned vacationers, Venezuela as a destination is difficult to beat. And there is no better way to get there than with American Airlines – the trusted name in aviation.
From: Caracas (CCS)
To: New York (JFK)
Departs: 10:25 a.m.
Fridays through Tuesdays
From: New York (JFK)
To: Caracas (CCS)
Departs: 4:50 p.m.
Arrives: 9:25 p.m.
Thursdays through Mondays