Discovering the Beauty of Mérida, Venezuela

Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida

The world's highest cable-car, Merida, Venezuela
Bjorn Holland/Getty Images

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. 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) 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, mountain peaks permanently 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 buses 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. The average daily temperature is 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 interfering with daily activities. However, fog, particularly in the surrounding area, often obscures the sights.

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

Things to See and Do: 

  • Casa de la Cultura offers temporary displays of the work of local artisans.
  • Museo Arqueológico displays pre-Columbia art and artifacts.
  • 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.
  • Take a 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.
  • Horseback tours of the glacier lagoons of Victoria and Laguna Negra.
  • Drive through the high Páramos, 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 astronomic hemispheres.
  • Visit the sugar cane plantations and sugar mills, known as trapiches in the villages of La Punta, Ejido, and Pozo Hondo.
  • 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.
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