High in the Venezuelan Andes, crammed into the Chama River Valley, there’s a small city with a growing reputation. Home to colonial buildings, shady plazas, and leafy parks, Mérida has become increasingly popular with travelers looking for a South American experience.
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, it’s a major center for adventure sports. The city boasts a thriving economy, safe, walkable streets, stunning views, and affordable lodging. It’s the perfect base for day-trips in the mountains or shopping for handicrafts in surrounding areas.
Mérida—at 5,331 feet above sea level—has spring-like temperatures year round. Daytime temperatures range between 68 F and 77 F. The short bursts of rain it does get don’t last long, and they add to the lush greenery of the mountain vegetation and the bright flowers adorning windowsills and doors all over town.
Mérida is home to the University of the Andes, over two centuries old, and the city’s narrow streets bustle with students. Dominating the view from the city is Venezuela´s highest peak, Pico Bolívar. At 16,427 feet, it is a climber’s delight, as are the neighboring Humboldt, Bonpland, and Espejo mountains.
They’re all part of the Sierra Nevada National Park, home to a vast variety of birds, flowers, plants, and animals. With so many mountains surrounding the city, Mérida is the perfect base for climbers, nature lovers, and the in-between walkers who enjoy the hillside trails and country roads around.
Coffee and sugarcane plantations thrive in the countryside and are open to tours. In the valley, citrus trees, strawberries, and various flowers flourish, including orchids and tropical blooms native to Venezuela.
Jaji, a colonial village an hour’s drive from Mérida, is one highlight of the surrounding towns.
Residents and church-goers meet in the town square, flanked by the attractive white and blue church. Jaji artisans sell hand-woven hammocks, shawls for cool evenings, and ceramic cups and plates as inexpensive souvenirs of Mérida and Jaji. The blackberry wine perfected in the Mérida region sells for as little as $8 a bottle and is a tasty gift or after-dinner treat.
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