Merida Sierra Nevada National Park / Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada
(Merida, The Andes, Venezuela)
To the east of Merida, the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada provides the main hiking area in the Venezuelan Andes. This large and extremely scenic national park is a popular haunt for both Merida locals and tourists alike, being home to the highest mountain peaks in Venezuela
For magnificent views over the Andean peaks and valleys, as well as nature in all its glory, this is certainly the place to come. The Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada is also a centre for adventure sports and all manner of outdoor activities. The peaks themselves are snow-covered year-round and there are magnificent glacier lakes.
These mountain peaks dominate the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada and include the Pico Bolivar (4,981 metres / 16,342 feet), the Pico Humboldt (4,940 metres / 16,207 feet) and the Pico Bonpland (4,883 metres / 16,020 feet). However, it is strongly advised that these mountains are only climbed with an experienced guide, and various trips are provided by tour operators based around Merida city centre.
The tallest mountain within the Sierra Nevada National Park is the Pico Bolivar, and understandably, this is amongst the most popular climbs, with those reaching the summit being greeted by a bust of its namesake, Venezuela's beloved leader Simon Bolivar. However, despite its popularity, this climb is certainly not for the uninitiated, since it will involve ropes and specialist snow equipment.
Those hiking to the top of the Pico Humboldt will find this trek considerably easier, and whilst there is not much to see along the way, the views across areas of the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada are superb. This trek (known as the Humboldt Trail) commences at La Mucuy and generally involves camping at the Laguna La Coromoto. Some four hours away is the Laguna Verde, while a further hours' hike will take you to the Laguna El Suero.
From here, you can follow the La Travesia trail to the Pico Espejo. The nearest high peak to Merida, the Pico Espejo towers high over the valley and remains snow-capped for most of the year. Frequently shrouded in mist and cloud, until recently this was a prime cable car destination. Now that this service is no longer running, access to its chilly heights may be trickier.
N.B. National Park permits will be required, so be sure to bring your passport as proof of identity for the rangers.