Venezuela’s Andean state of Merida is one of those rare corners of the world that is overwhelmingly beautiful, yet largely untouched by international tourism. Perched on the cusp of the Andes and the Caribbean, Merida is where the tropics mingle with the mountains. It’s an odd combination – Merida city can be sticky humid while a few hours away a blizzard is enveloping the sierra. Yet the diversity never gets boring.
After a year here, it’s still hard to leave. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore – the highlands dotted with creaky frontier-style villages, the weird and (relatively) laid back Merida city, and the endless mountain treks. It’s a paradise for explorers.
This is my second album on Merida state. My first is available here.
The hills around La Azulita make for great walking and birdwatching.
Although they grow throughout the Northern Andes, in Venezuela Frailejónes are symbolic of Merida state. They look like soft, squishy cacti, and their leaves are not only great camping mattresses, but also make a good cup of tea. Add cinnamon, sugar and a dash of aguardiente for a relaxing nightcap while on the trail.
View from the base of Pan de Azucar, one of the easier peaks.
Los Nevados is easily one of the most idyllic highland hamlets in the state.
A day out from Los Nevados.
Just south of Tabay, another pleasant town closer to Merida city. It gets plenty of noisy traffic from the state capital, but the shady plaza is a good place for a cup of coffee.
Renovating Tabay’s church.
Laguna Negra at dawn. It’s a good place to camp, but don’t expect to catch many fish.
The countryside near La Azulita after a rainstorm.
Hummingbirds are to Merida, what flies are to Australia.
View from Pedro’s House. Everyone in the Merida mountaineering community knows Pedro – a cheery hermit who offers dirt cheap bunks to hikers en route to Pico Bolivar. He does a hearty vegetable soup worth stopping for. If you’re heading for the peak, it’ll be the last decent meal for days.
Pico Bolivar towers over Merida city, and is well worth the climb. Try to hit the peak in the morning, when it’s less likely to be cloudy.
The approach to the peak.
The plastic helmets offered by guides really only help with the hail.
Near Pico Bolivar, the morning after a storm.
Forest in El Valle.
Merida’s botanic gardens sport some eerie sculptures.
Trout farming collective near Monterrey village. The farm also has a free museum, and a restaurant that sells cheap, tasty (you guessed it) fresh trout.
Merida city is normally a sleepy provincial capital.