Mérida, Venezuela

Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida

Merida from the teleferico
••• Merida from the teleferico. Peter and Jackie Main

Mérida, in the state of Mérida, lies in the midst of two of Venezuela's Andean mountain chains. Founded twice, first illegally in 1558, and then at a different location as Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida in 1560, Mérida is the home of Venezuela's second oldest university, the University of the Andes, founded in 1785.

More than university students and faculty enjoy the year-round spring like climate.

With mountains, including the snow-capped peaks of Pico Bolívar, (5007 m/16,523 ft) Pico Humboldt (4,942 m/16,214 ft), Pico Espejo (4,753m/15,594 ft) and Pico Bompland (4883 m/16,113 ft), which form part of the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada, one of four in the area. There are also 12 state parks. The region is popular with climbers, backpackers, wildlife lovers, birders, and sightseers who enjoy the variety of scenery from lush rainforest, abundant waterfalls to mountain peaks permanantly covered with snow, glacier lakes, and páramos, or highland moors reaching from about 3300 m to the snowline. Add the small and tropical Palmarito beach, located on the southeast side of Maracaibo Lake, and there are a dozen or more varieties of climate and geography in the state of Mérida.

The fertile valleys between the mountains support agriculture, including coffee plantations, sugar cane, flowers, especially the frailejón which grows only in the altiplano areas of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador and bloom in November and December.

Tropical plants, palm trees, citrus, strawberries, orchids, and the Golden Rain tree grow lavishly. The city, built between and bisected by rivers, maintains 35 parks in its long, narrow stretch. With flat land no longer available, the city now grows up from its base (1,625 m/5,331 ft). Earthquakes and wars of independence have taken the toll on the city, but it cultivates a pleasant, quiet grace with plenty of cultural activities.

Getting There:
Mérida is 680 km (422 miles) southwest of Caracas, easily reached by plane or road.
By Air:
The airport is on the meseta, right inside the city, 2km south-west of Plaza Bolívar. City busses connect the airport to the rest of the city. The runway is short, and the surrounding high mountains make landing in bad weather difficult. Planes are often rerouted to the airport at El Vigía. If this happens to you, insist on free transportation to or from Mérida. Check flights from your area. From this page, you can also browse hotels, rental cars, and special deals.

By Bus:
The bus terminal is 3 km south-west of the city center and is linked by frequent public transport. Half a dozen buses a day run to Caracas and to Maracaibo.

When to Go:
At a height of a mile above sea level the tropical climate is moderate so it gets warm enough for sunbathing in the afternoon and just cool enough at night for sound sleeping-all year round. Average temperatures range between 20ºC to 25ºC (68ºF to 77ºF) to 15.5ºC (60ºF.) at night. Average daily temperature: 19ºC / 66.2ºF. The rainy season, May through November, with August and September being the wettest months, cooperates with rainfall early in the morning, thus not interfereing with daily activities.

However, fog, particularly in the surrounding area, often obscures the sights.

Check today’s weather in Mérida.

Many visitors go to Mérida to celebrate the Feria del Sol with bull fights, exhibitions and dancing in February and early March.

Shopping and Practical Tips:

  • The Heladeria Coromoto is a Guinness World Record holder for the number of ice creams, though some, such as black beans, shrimp, sausage, or garlic might not be to everyone's taste.
  • Mercado Principal de Mérida offers three floors of restaurants and shops where you'll find everything from fresh produce to local handicrafts.
  • Lodging and Dining suggestions from Frommers.

    Please read the next page for things to do and see.

  • Things to do and See:
    On or near Plaza Bolivar, the heart of the city:

     

    • The Basílica Menor de la Inmaculada Concepción was begun in 1800 but not completed until 1958, giving it a variety of styles and ornamentation.
    • Museo Arquidiocesano, next to the cathedral, displays religious art and a bell, dating from 909, thought to be among the oldest surviving church bells.
    • Casa de la Cultura offers temporary displays of the work of local artisans.
    • Museo Arqueológico displays pre-Columbia art and artifacts.
    • Musdeo de Arte Moderno
    • Casa de los Gobernadores displays ceramic models of the city created by local artist Eduardo Fuentes.
    • Biblioteca Bolivariana exhibits material related to Simón Bolívar, El Libertador, including a gold and jewel encrusted sword presented to him after the victory of the Battle of Junín.
    • Museo de Arte Colonial displays colonial religious art.
    • Casa Bosset offers changing exhibitions. No visit to Mérida is complete without the nearly seven mile trip on the cable car to the top of Pico Espejo, so named for the mica at the summit which reflects like a mirror. This cable car, or teleférico is the longest and highest anywhere, with the exception of Alaska. Be sure to stop at the stages during ascent to acclimate to the altitude and thinning air. From the summit, you can see surrounding peaks and valleys.

      Outside the city limits:

    • Sports! Hiking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, fishing, paragliding, trekking, mountain biking and walking.
    • Birding and wildlife viewing.
    • Horseback tours of the glacier lagoons of Victoria and Laguna Negra. Mucubaji Lagoon also offers fishing, and is a pleasant place for walking.
    • Tour the surrounding country side to see colonial villages like MucuchÌes, famous for the dogs, Timotes, Santo Domingo and Chachopo, where you can buy local handicrafts and art.
    • Drive through the high Páramos, again allowing time to get used to the altitude and the cold of these wild and rugged moorlands, where isolated farms dot the landscape.
    • Take a break at the hot springs at Tabay, La Musui, Ejido, Chiguará, Jají, and Santa Apolonia.
    • Stop in Los Aleros for the extremes of colonial spirit and architecture and the Astronomical Research Center for a guided tour and a look at both astronimic hemispheres.
    • Visit the sugar cane plantations and sugar mills, known as trapiches in the villages of La Punta, Ejido and Pozo Hondo to view the ancient ways of making Papelón, brown sugar, Guarapo de Caña, sugar cane brew and Alfondoque, a typical Andean sweet.
    • Visit Sierra de La Culata National Park in the desert-like Páramo de la Culata to see spectacular glacier lagoons. The park is home to our Andean Condor, one of the world's largest birds, at the Mucunturia.
    • Tour Jají, a lovely reconstruction of a seventeeth century pueblo andino to see Hacienda La Victoria, the oldest coffee farm in Venezuela, which demonstrates coffee growing and preparation of the coffee bean, and the Immigrant Museum and Coffee Farm, all on the Coffee Route.
    • Visit the villages of Estanques, Santa Cruz de Mora and Tovar, famous for their great coffee.
    • Stop for strawberries, in season, in Bailadores, and tour the Casa Bolivariana before continuing on to view the waterfalls at La India Carú Park. If you like theme parks, you'll want to see:
    • Los Aleros, a recreation of a typical pueblo andino of the 1930'swith period events, food and drink and crafts.
    • La Venezuela de Antier is an encapsulized view of Venezuela with its cultural traditions, food and drink, and landmarks from all regions.

      Whenever you visit Mérida, enjoy yourself and post a trip report on the forum.

      Buen viaje!