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Holiday Guides for South America - Venezuela

Venezuela Holiday

Wedged between Colombia and Brazil, Venezuela is one of South America's most spectacular countries.

Home to the continent's largest lake, highest waterfall and longest snakes, Venezuela is certainly not overshadowed by the imposing South American countries which surround it.

Venezuela lies to the northernmost point of South America, bordered by Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east and Brazil to the south.

Within these borders travellers can trek across vast Amazonian rainforests, stroll along miles of picture-postcard Caribbean shoreline, feel the sand between their toes in the country's burning desert plains and marvel at the snow-capped Andes.

The country's proximity to the equator means its seasons are clear-cut - dry and hot from December to April, wet from May to November.

When Columbus landed in Venezuela in 1498, only 400,000 aboriginal people inhabited its lush rainforests and fished along its blue coastline.

In the 16th century the Spanish colonised the country and began exporting its rich natural resources - sugar, tobacco, cocoa and beef.

Venezuela’s independent, fiery spirit could not be quashed, however, and the country remained one of the most autonomous countries in the continent, largely due to the creole (native-born whites) landowners.

The creoles finally defeated the Spanish in 1823 and Venezuela briefly became a part of the nation of "Gran Colombia" which included Colombia and Ecuador.

For the 130 years that followed, the country was ruled by a series of caudillos; powerful warlords who forced the governments to work for them.

Venezuela's fortunes took a turn for the better in 1928 when oil was discovered, making the country the world's second-largest producer and a leader in petroleum export.

However, despite being one of the most wealthy countries in Latin American, Venezuela has large foreign debts which have led to food riots in recent years.

The capital, Caracas, is the country's political, cultural and economic centre, where lush forests meet flashy modernity and rich meets poor.

Dramatic in its setting, Caracas should be at the top of any travel itinerary. Sitting 3,000 feet above sea level in a long valley that stretches from east to west, like a king lording over his land, Caracas is a mesmerising blend of the emerald slopes of Avila National Park and the treacherous hills of the southern suburbs.

Caracas is packed with bars, clubs and restaurants as well as loads of must-see colonial monuments.

The centre of the old town, Plaza Bolivar, is an atmospheric, leafy square, where religious figures and missionaries go to preach and is perfect for getting a taste of the the city's colonial flavour.

Like much of South America, Venezuela is predominantly Catholic and the splendour of the Museo Sacro de Caracas - a carefully restored old colonial building which houses a magnificent collection of religious art - perfectly rounds off a visit to the city.

But if Venezuela's rich natural beauty is more of a pull than its busy towns, tired-out travellers will find much needed respite on the aptly named 'Pearl of the Caribbean', the Isla Margarita.

Venezuela's best-kept secret, the Isla Margarita, is a semi-desert island located just off the coast of South America, roughly halfway between Trinidad and Bonaire.

Here you can ride horses along the beach, doze on the white-sand beaches or indulge in a spot of duty-free shopping before heading back to the mainland to continue your Venezuelan adventure.

Round off your trip by going to see the spectacular snow-capped Andes, the hugely impressive, gushing Angel Falls and of course, a trip to the legendary Amazon rainforest.

Travellers who overlook Venezuela in favour of its bigger, more-travelled South American counterparts such as Brazil and Argentina are missing out on some of the world's most fabulous natural beauty and warmest hospitality.