Venezuela and Up
Posted by: Mark Nichols
06 Jun 2009
The setting and even some characters in Pixar's movie "Up" drew inspiration from Venezuelan scenery. The Associated Press article about it can be read here.
I visited Venezuela in June of 2008, heading to Angel Falls and also to the glorious mountains of Mérida (and there's plenty more to see than those two places). For anyone looking to visit Venezuela, here are some travel tips:
1) Money. You'll probably need to exchange money in Venezuela. The currency is BolĂvares Fuertes, a 3-zeroes-lopped-off version of BolĂvares. Make sure you know what you're getting. But the pegged exchange rate isn't favorable to anyone but Venezuelans. There are people willing to exchange currency with you, even in the airport with their fake tags pretending they're official and what you're doing is legal. The rates they're offering are probably so bad you might as well go to the bank.
2) Getting to Angel Falls. If you're going to Angel Falls, there are numerous tours being offered from Caracas or even the US. They're expensive. If you're goal is cheap (since you're forking over so much in currency exchange), get to Caracas on your own, then head to a bus terminal (try the private line Rotovias), and take a bus all the way to Ciudad BolĂvar. Bring a blanket, the buses are cold (and they show rated 'R' movies). You'll probably need to spend the night before heading to the Ciudad BolĂvar airport in the morning. You'll find about 8 tour places all willing to take you to Canaima National Park where Angel Falls is located. You could try to contract with a flight on your own and "rough it" through the park, but it's probably a good idea here to latch on to a tour group. Get to the airport early in the morning (7:30 or 8:00 am local time) to find a group that's heading out. You'll probably need cash and to pay for the whole trip up front (which would be the equivalent of having roughly $350 per person for a two night stay). You may have to make a bank run or hope the ATMs in the airport spit out enough money for you (they won't). We were lucky enough to be able to pay half up front and half when we got back, so the ATM option (at a nearby Banco Mercantil, not the airport ATMs) worked for us.
Arriving from Cuidad BolĂvar to Canaima
Shops at the airport in Canaima
3) Preparation. Honestly, you might want to have your bathing suit on underneath your clothes when you show up to the airport in Ciudad BolĂvar. You'll take an hour-long flight to the national park, and you may end up dropping your stuff at a campsite and heading straight to the falls without a chance to change. Or not. I speak Spanish and couldn't get a clear story regarding the agenda. It's just a different winging-it kind of lifestyle. And by the way, don't expect your guide in the park to speak English. The guy who sold you the trip in Ciudad BolĂvar may have spoken it, but it's likely they're paying locals/"natives" to take you on the actual tour of the park and the falls.
Also, you'll probably always want to have a backpack with some of the basics, like suntan lotion, hand sanitizer, wipes of some sort (Clorox or Lysol), and wads of toilet paper because you'll be roughing it during this trip. Put things in plastic baggies inside of your bag. Don't expect decent looking toilets. You're basically camping. Just feel lucky that you don't have to dig a pit to go to the bathroom. You may want to wear old sneakers for the hiking, but if you're used to wilderness trekking in sturdy sandals or flip-flops, you could manage with those. You'll probably be walking over wet rocks, through streams, etc. Choose as you see fit. The worst part of getting to Angel Falls is probably the hours-long trip you have on a hard seat in a motorized canoe heading up river. (Remember to put lotion on your knees!)
Tepuis (plateaus in the background) and Waterfalls
4) Mérida. Mérida is a nice college/resort kind of city in the Andes mountains. You could get there from Ciudad BolĂvar by taking a bus to Barinas, then over the mountains (and through the region called El PĂˇramo with quaint mountain villages and vistas) to Mérida. It's a long and scenic ride (and you better like eating arepas at the rest stops, because you're not getting much else!). In Mérida, the tallest and longest cable car system in the world takes you up to the top of Pico Espejo. You can visit any number of tourist places downtown and arrange to go paragliding off some nearby cliffs. Or you can visit small towns up in the mountains that make you feel like you're in a different world. Clouds are often absorbing you or you're above them, depending on how high up you go.
Outside of Mérida - a place to Paraglide
And by the way, the Orinoco River (probably most famous because of the Enya song "Orinoco Flow - Sail Away") runs throughout parts of Venezuela. Here we are crossing it by bus.
And just for fun, here is a link to the Up movie preview.