Crossing the Andes by foot
5 days / 4 nights
Difficulty level:4 on a scale of 5
Departure for this trip is from Merida
Merida’s snow-capped Sierra Nevada buttresses the highlands that separate Lake Maracaibo from the plains of Los Llanos. Most people think of the rocky rampart as an impenetrable wall only to be crossed by bus or plane. You, however, will traverse it on foot. We’ll trek over the mountain range, crossing the borders of two states along the way, Merida and Barinas. We start the trek at the small Andean village of Gavidia, 3,500 meters, which is located in the Andean Paramo (moors) region, home to the endemic frailejon plant.
We’ll then cross the Andean paramo and end up on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada at about 400 meters. Along the way, we’ll trek through a number of beautiful and well preserved Andean villages, lush cloud forest, and valleys that provide breathtaking views of some of South America’s last paradises. This trek provides you with an excellent opportunity to have first hand contact with the peoples of this region.
We’ll enjoy spending time with local people in remote Andean hamlets completely cut off from civilization: no roads, no electricity, and surrounded only by the murmur of expansive wilderness. We’ll spend the nights in tents or in the quaint homes of the Andean farmers. And if we’re lucky, the hosts may make us a tasty, traditional corn arepa for our breakfast!
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Early in the morning, after a coffee in the office with your comrades, we leave for the paramo. This is a scenic route, where we’ll be passing through a number of well-preserved Andean villages and all the while ascending into the upper reaches of the Andes.
After a one-hour jeep ride, we’ll arrive to the Andean village of Mucuchies (2,980 m). From here, we’ll take a gorgeous secondary road to Gavidia: one of the best car trips in the Venezuelan Andes, through the spectacular canyon and over the Gavidia creek.
Arriving to Gavidia, we turn onto a small country road and work our way to Micarache (3,100 m). Gavidia’s main crops are potatoes, carrots, and garlic. The landscape features small fields, stone fences and hilly pastures, which are shaded by groves of tall trees. Here we start our trek. At this point we are presented with a drastic change in the vegetation from rainforest to Paramo. Along the way, the only people you meet will be solitary cowherds. After a few hours of hiking, we arrive to our first campsite. Camp is set up beside a creek, which provides an inspiring panoramic view (3,000-m).
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After packing up we shall head off to El Carrizal. Leaving the paramo habitat, we enter a dense, well'preserved rain forest, following narrow valleys. Occasionally, we will cross-incredible suspension bridges, which point to man’s feeble effort to tame this wild and unpopulated region. The streams that we cross feed the watershed of the Orinoco River, many miles away. These are some of the last paradises left in the area.
Finally, we get to El Carrizal (1,400 m), a small Andean hamlet completely cut off from civilization; without roads or electricity, with a total population of 30 people. The village specializes in the production of coffee, avocado, and oranges which, they bring to market, not an easy task because their produce needs to be transported 10-12 hours by foot or mule. After a hot breakfast, we’ll pack up the gear and trek to another small village, Alto La Agua (1,000 m). On the trek, we’ll ford some beautiful rivers, pass through sugar cane and coffee plantations and some remnants of cloud forest that are quickly being developed into pastures.
At the village, we’ll get a good glimpse of the lowlands and the city of Barinas in the distance. As we share a little time with local people, it is interesting to note that not only has the landscape changed but so have the people and their habits. Along the way, we sleep in a tent or farmers’ houses and if we’re lucky, the hosts may prepare us a tasty, traditional corn arepa for our breakfast!
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After breakfast, we continue trekking down the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada (400 m), which firmly signals our arrival to the Barinas State. Our arrival to the small village of Canagua is where a small, dirt road ends its uphill climb.
Our 4WD vehicle will meet us here and bring us down to the Pan-American Highway. From here, we can bring you back to Merida, or to Barinas for a flight or bus to your next destination.
White-water rafting in Barinas State can be arranged at an additional charge; minimum 6 people.
The following prices have been calculated for a departure from Merida.
These prices include:
Services of a knowledgeable, bilingual, and responsible guide, transfer from and to airport in Merida, transportation with 4WD to Trailhead in the Paramo, transportation from Barinas to Merida on Day 5, all meals as indicated in itinerary, first aid kit, necessary camping equipment, radio communication.
Discounts for groups of 6 and more.
If you want to rent your personal porter to carry part of your equipement per day, or if you want a mule,