Hello! This is Peris, and I lived for ten months in Venezuela, working as an ESL teacher.Lately, when one thinks or hears of Venezuela, images of violence, long queues for food due to scarcity and crime may come to mind. For me, Venezuela is my second home and a country I would consider moving to for the long haul. Despite its current challenges, this country is blessed with a lot of beautiful scenery, oil, natural minerals and vast coastlines of beautiful beaches.
During my time there, I took a 3-week vacation backpacking with my friends around the country and this is where I came across the beautiful cold city of Merida.It is located in Northwest Venezuela in the Andes mountains.It is one of the most attractive places to visit in Venezuela for its amazing landscapes and cool weather.Merida is also a vibrant college town with one of the most prestigious universities (Universidad de Los Andes, ULA ) being located there.It also boasts of hosting the highest cable car in the world rising to almost 5000m.From my experiences traveling there, I came up with the top 5 things you have to see and do while in Merida:
1-La Laguna de Mucubaji.
This lagoon is of glacial origin and is one of the largest in the region.Like most of Merida, the lagoon can get very cold and sometimes even foggy.The weather changes throughout the day but you definitely will need a jacket.You can get to Mucubaji by car or bus from the city center. At the entrance of the park where the lagoon is situated, you will be asked to pay a small fee for entry.The official language in Venezuela is Spanish, so learn some beforehand or carry a dictionary to translate as much of the population does not speak English.You might find several tourists at the lagoon but most of the visitors will be locals.People from Merida are especially kind and helpful so feel free to ask questions or even ask them to take photos of you with the scenic view.From the lagoon, there is a horses` stable where you can get a horse for an hour or longer for a fee. You can get a guide to take you up to the cascadas de Mucubaji or Mucubaji waterfalls. The guides are very friendly and helpful with the horses to and fro.The views from the hill are simply breathtaking.
2 -Pico El Aguila.
The highest roads in the country lead to Pico El Aguila, also known as Collado del Condor. It is a big, yellow monument and also a landmark. The monument stands tall at 4118m above sea level.During your trip to Merida, set aside a day for a mountain road trip which is how you get to the peak of the mountain.The best time would be in the morning or around midday.You can go by car or take a local van that for a small price, which will take you up the mountain.The roads are very winding, with sharp bends and curves.If you are prone to motion sickness like I am, my advice is, do not eat before the trip or it will be a very uncomfortable ride for you.My friend and I found this out the hard way!Luckily, there are washrooms at the top as well as souvenir stalls and restaurants.Otherwise, enjoy the spectacular views of the Andean range as you go up. Once you get to the top, the weather is cold and windy even though it may have been hot at the bottom of the mountain or in the city below. Altitude sickness is also common.Be sure to bring a scarf or jacket and maybe even gloves. Sometimes there is snow at the peak or you could see snow from nearby mountains and the view is amazing!
3-The Botanical Garden.
The Botanical garden in Merida is pretty young being inaugurated in 2000. The garden is about one hour from the city center by bus and the entry fee is quite cheap.The garden is pretty huge having within it a small forest.The park has many beautiful species of plants, different flowers and different types of fish in its various ponds. There are nice places where you can sit and chat, have a picnic or even throw around a frisbee. The garden is lush and green. In the botanical garden, there are also places set aside for walking, exercise using beams and rods, and climbing nets.If you are a lover of nature and serenity, then you will love these gardens.
4-Plaza las Heroinas.
Plaza las Heroinas or Heroine`s square was created in honor of the memory of the strong and brave women who helped fight for independence.The plaza is decorated with beautiful statues of the various women who gave their lives for an independent Venezuela.The sculptures are all made of bronze, with some placed beautifully between water fountains. During the nights, the fountains are lit in different changing colors that make the whole plaza come alive.While here, be sure to try the various typical dishes from Merida like the arepa Andina or other types of delicacies from all over Venezuela like the arepa cabimeras, cachapas, and patacones venezolanos.
Catedral Basilica Menor de la Imaculada Concepcion is a church with beautiful architecture of the Roman Catholic church. The church is located near Plaza Bolivar de Merida, Palacio Arzobispal, and the Archdiocesan Museum making it easier to see more of Merida at once. The Archdiocesan Museum displays many religious artifacts and works of art.It is also home to the Ave Maria Bell, the second oldest bell in the world, and is estimated to be more than 1100 years old.The church was elevated to a cathedral in the 18th century and is said to have religious artifacts of great historical worth.
If you are planning a trip to South America, be sure to include Venezuela to your list. And while there, visit the beautiful cold city of Merida, try some arepas, drink some chicha and interact with the kind and friendly locals.