Day 1: Caracas. Airport reception and transfer to your hotel. Overnight accommodations at the Costa Real Suites, with typical breakfast included. The hotel is conveniently located in Caracas' Central Coast, in the Tanaguarena/Caraballeda area, just 20 min drive from the airport. There are only 15 colorful suites, with a comfortable bedroom with big windows, private bathroom (shower with hot water), a spacious living room with couches and a double hammock, a/c, fan, cable TV, hairdryer, safe, and minibar/fridge. There is a swimming pool and a restaurant/bar.
Day 2: Caracas – Merida. Hotel pickup and transfer to the airport for your flight to Merida. The Andean region is a picturesque land of fertile soil, rich in traditional culture. This exciting adventure lets you truly experience the tranquility and beauty of this wonderful area and its inhabitants. There will be ample time for you to mix with the locals and barter for handicrafts in provincial markets. You'll be met at the airport by your guide and enjoy a short city tour of Mérida, the capital of the Venezuelan Andes.
Includes visit to Plaza Bolivar, the historic cathedral and museums. Your journey continues on to Jají, a reconstructed colonial village and then on to Hacienda El Carmen, a 150-year-old working coffee plantation where you learn about the history and processing of coffee. You’ll also visit Lagunillas, famous for its inland salt-water lake and the founding place of Mérida in 1558. Your day finishes at an overlook of the Chama River valley where paragliders soar 1000 meters above the canyon. (Optional tandem paragliding is available-weather dependent).
Located in the city of La Mesa de los Indios in the state of Mérida, Papa Miguel's Inn offers the comforts of modernity in a traditional Andean setting. The original building dates back to 1750 but has been renovated to provide modern comforts. The town around the inn is noted for the high number of children, as well as adults, who play musical instruments, as they believe that they have been given a special don (gift) to play music. Overnight at the comfortable accommodations of Papa Miguel. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 3: Andes. Start you day with an optional ride on the world's longest and highest aerial cable car ($15 per person - not included in package price. Does not operate on Mondays and Tuesdays). From bottom to top, the ride takes about one hour, and is especially remarkable for the changes in scenery and vegetation along the way. From Mérida, the cable car sweeps across the valley, planted with sugar-cane and coffee and soon you are rising above the steep forested hills and cascading rivers. From the summit, you see a wonderful panorama of snowcapped mountains, as well as glaciers and lakes full of Andean trout.
In the afternoon, explore small Andean villages and the high mountain plateaus or parámos. Discover the tiny town of Mucuchies, which was founded in 1596 by the Spanish on the site of the pre-Hispanic Chama Indian tribe. Opportunity for light trekking and horseback riding to glacier lakes. You can purchase all kinds of local Andean arts & crafts at the roadside stall while here. Overnight once again at Papa Miguel. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 4: Andes. Today you'll visit Laguna Mucubají, one of the largest of over 200 glacier lakes in the state of Mérida. Your adventure continues with the opportunity to trek or horseback ride to Laguna Negra observing the incredible variety of mountain flowers and possibly seeing the world's only high altitude hummingbird, the bearded helmetcrest. Here you will be introduced to the diversity and adaptive features of the Andean vegetation and the singularities of this tropical high-mountain climate.
An outstanding feature of the paramo is a group of plant species called Espeletiinae, the South American flannel flowers or locally known as frailejones. Visit Eagle Pass, the highest paved road in Venezuela at 4.047 meters and a biological research station to see the Andean Condor, one of the world's largest birds with a wingspan of more than 3 meters. Tonight you’ll sleep at Los Balcones de La Musui, a world-class mountain lodge with a spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and nearby hot springs. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 5: Andes - Barinas - Hato El Cedral. Depart this morning on a two-hour drive to Barinas. From the high Andes the road descends through dense tropical rainforest, home to abundant flora and fauna, including the rare Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Upon arrival in Barinas, rest up briefly before continuing overland for three hours to Hato El Cedral. Total driving time today is about five hours.
Most of Los Llanos is divided into large ranches known as hatos. Many of them are dedicated to cattle ranching, but some have recently turned to ecotourism and have built lodges called campamentos. Some hatos as Hato Cedral have taken a serious approach to environmental issues, introducing the full protection of wildlife within their ranches, installing research stations andcontributing to ecological funds. On arrival at Hato El Cedral, you'll be assigned to your air-conditioned guest bungalow. After a brief orientation, you'll head out to observe the abundant wildlife on this 106,000-acre working ranch.
Within its boundaries, the sanctuary contains rivers, lakes, swamps, forests and savannahs. Cedral offers a great abundance of wildlife and capybara can be observed close to the lodge itself. During the next few days, you will embark on a variety of excursions in the early morning and late afternoon. Your guide will point out the habitats of many bird, reptile and mammal species. This is one of the most noted wildlife areas in the llanos. You may also see the rugged Venezuelan cowboys, the llaneros, hard at work as they skillfully move great herds of cattle across the ranch.
The grasslands offer a great opportunity to observe Venezuela's vast array of neo-tropical animals - deer, anteaters, iguanas, capybaras, howler monkeys, fox, anacondas, caimans, ocelot and maybe the elusive jaguar. The llanos are also a bird watcher's paradise, with more than 300 species identified. Highlights include Hoatzins, Pied Lapwings, King Vultures, Storks and Ibis. And equally stunning is the flora; gallery forests are alive with orchids and dozens of flowering trees, including jasmines, acacias and araguaney [Venezuela's national tree]. No wonder, the Llanos have beencalled the "Serengeti of South America."During the midday heat, you can read or cool off in the lodge's swimming pool. - 3 nights. Includes: (B, L, D).
Days 6-8: El Cedral. Days to explore the Llanos grasslands on guided excursions. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 9: El Cedral - Barinas – Caracas – Maturin - Orinoco Delta Lodge. Depart on a 3 hour overland drive from Hato El Cedral to Barinas Airport for your flight to Caracas. Upon arrival, proceed to your connecting flight to Maturin. Upon arrival in Maturin, depart on a two-hour drive to Boca de Uracoa, where you will board your boat for the final ride to the lodge. The Orinoco Delta in Venezuela is accessible yet still virgin. Its web of countless small and big rivers allows you to venture deep into spectacular galleries of untouched beauty.
From your base at Orinoco Delta Lodge, you travel by fast strong boats to get as deep as the Delta permits. Then change to smaller boats with smaller motors, and finally you travel just like the Warao Indians did it for thousands of years, you penetrate 1-2 meter canals by dug-out canoes. With the blasting sounds of the Howler Monkeys and the sharp curious screams of the Blue and Gold Macaws protesting your invasion, the effects are unforgettable.
The adventure begins with your arrival in Boca de Uracoa. From here a 1-hour fast boat transfer brings you to the Orinoco Delta Lodge. This riverside camp features 37 cabins each with private bathrooms. The family-run camp is somewhat rustic, and built in a style favoring the local Warroa thatch roof homes. The food is excellent and served in a huge restaurant and bar area overlooking the vast delta. While here you will experience the Orinoco Delta with experienced bi-lingual guides.
The Orinoco Delta
The Orinoco delta is a vast, intricate labyrinth of waterways weaving through a simmering jungle to carry the waters of the Orinoco to the Atlantic Ocean. The Orinoco Delta - the landmass now known as Delta Amacuro State - has formed over the course of thousands of years as the mighty river has deposited millions of tons of sediment into the ocean. Over the last century alone, some 1,000km² has been added to the delta, which continues to extend into the Atlantic at a rate of 40m per year over its entire 360km coastline. The Orinoco branches off into over 60 caños (waterways) and 40 rivers which diffuse through 41,000km² of forested islands, swamps and lagoons.
The Delta and its Wildlife
The delta is divided into upper and lower regions, west and east of the Caño Macerao respectively. This division is a consequence of the flood control program initiated in the 1960s; Caño Mánamo was dammed, reducing seasonal flooding in the north and making the land more suitable for cattle farming. There was, however, a cascade of knock-on effects in the region. The reduced water levels in the upper delta caused the region to become tidal, and water levels now rise and fall by 1-2m daily. In the dry season, salt water now moves further up the waterways, which has had a significant effect on the flora and fauna of the area and has forced resident Warao to relocate, seeking fresh water upriver. The lower delta, still under the influence of the Orinoco, is subject to flooding during the dry season, when water levels may vary by up to 15m. Since 1991, 331,000 ha of the lower delta has been protected under
Mariusa National Park
A massive variety of habitats has arisen within the delta, both terrestrial and aquatic. Mixed tropical rainforest, dominated by towering palm trees, prevails over much of the terra firma, fostering a variety of flora including fruiting trees, orchids, bromeliads and arboreal ferns; the latter of which flourish in the moist air of the canopy. Grassland swamps and marshes brim with aquatic plants, and estuarine waterways towards the ocean are thick with mangroves. Throughout the delta, the caños are themselves hugely diverse in form. Wide channels break off into narrow rivulets, isolated pools and lagoons. Some, heavy with sediments are brown in color, others are black with tannic acids. Many are carpeted with vast floating meadows of bora and grasses, slowly drifting along with the current.
Needless to say, the wildlife of the delta is also extremely rich and varied. Jaguar, puma, ocelot, red howler and capuchin monkeys, capybara, agouti, giant otter, manatee and dolphins are just a handful of the countless species of mammal that can be observed in their natural habitats. Among the extensive bird population are hoatzin, macaws, parrots, toucans, caciques, kingfishers, cormorants, egrets, falcons, hawks, harpy-eagles, weaverbirds and hummingbirds. There is also an untold number of amphibians, reptiles and fish species, including anaconda, boas, vipers, fer-de-lance, coral snakes, iguana, cayman, turtles, piranha, stingrays and catfish.
The Warao Indians - literally the 'Canoe People'- are the native inhabitants of the delta. With a population of 24,000, the Warao constitute the second largest indigenous tribe in the country. Family groups reside in palafitos (wooden houses raised on stilts) along the banks of the river, and spend most of their daily lives in canoes fishing the nearby caños and hunting and gathering in the surrounding forests.
Skilled craftspeople, the Warao build their palafitos and canoes from forest wood using traditional techniques, and, owing to increased contact with tourists, have also begun to carve figurines from balsa wood and to make necklaces, baskets and hammocks from the leaves and seeds of the ubiquitous moriche palm. The moriche palm, however, supplies more than just the basis for artesania. Otherwise known as the 'tree of life', the moriche provides the Indians with fruit, juices and a sweet pulp that can be made into a type of bread. Moreover, the trunk of the palm is used to cultivate a thumb-sized beetle grub, the moriche worm, a nutritious dietary supplement. Includes: (B, D).
Days 10, 11: Orinoco Delta Lodge. Days to explore the area on guided excursions. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 12: Orinoco Delta Lodge - Maturin - Caracas. Depart the lodge by boat to Boca de Uracoa, where you will transfer by vehicle to the airport in Maturin. Check in for your flight to Caracas. Caracas Airport reception and transfer to your hotel. Overnight at the Costa Real Suites, breakfast included. Includes: (B).
Day 13: Int'l departure. Hotel pickup and transfer to the international airport. Includes: (B).
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