Los Llanos

The
llanos
are veined by numerous slow-running rivers, forested along their banks. The flat plain is only varied here and there by
mesas
, or slight upthrusts of the land. About five million of the country's 6.4 million cattle are in the
llanos
, but only around 10% of the human population. When the whole plain is periodically under water, the
llaneros
drive their cattle into the hills or through the flood from one
mesa
to another. When the plain is parched by the sun and the savanna grasses become inedible they herd the cattle down to the damper region of the Apure and Orinoco. Finally they drive them into the valley of Valencia to be fattened.

In October and November, when the vast plains are still partially flooded, wildlife abounds. Animals include capybara, caiman, monkeys, anacondas, river dolphins, pumas and many bird species. Though it's possible to explore this region independently, towns are few and far between and distances are great. It's better to visit the
llanos
as part of a tour from Mérida , or stay at one of the ecotourism
hatos
, or ranches .

Guanare

An excellent road goes to the western
llanos
of Barinas from Valencia. It goes through San Carlos, Acarigua (an agricultural centre and the largest city in Portuguesa state) and Guanare, a national place of pilgrimage with an old parish church containing the much venerated relic of the Virgin of Coromoto. Pilgrimages to Coromoto are 2 January and 11 September and Candlemas is 2 February.

Barinas

The road continues to Barinas, the hot, sticky capital of the cattle-raising and oil-rich state of Barinas. A couple of colonial buildings remain: the Palacio del Marqués on the west side of the plaza and the Casa de la Cultura on the north side. On the south side of the plaza is the beautifully restored, 19th-century Escuela de Música; the cathedral is to the east. The shady Parque Universitario, just outside the city on Avenida 23 de Enero, has a botanical garden.
Tourist office
, www.corbatur.com.ve. Helpful, maps, no English spoken; kiosks at airport and bus station.

San Fernando de Apure

At Lagua, 16 km east of Maracay, a good road leads south to San Fernando de Apure. It passes through San Juan de los Morros, with natural hot springs; Ortiz, near the crossroads with the San Carlos-El Tigre road; the Guárico lake and Calabozo. Some 132 km south of Calabozo, San Fernando is the hot and sticky capital of the state of Apure and a fast-growing trade and transport hub for the region. There is
Corp Banca
for American Express, Avenida Miranda, Edif Chang, PB, and
Bancos Mercantil
(Paseo Libertador) and
Provincial
(Plaza Páez) with Visa and MasterCard ATM and cash advance. From San Fernando you can travel east to Ciudad Bolívar or south to Puerto Ayacucho .

San Fernando to Barinas

From San Fernando a road heads to head west to Barinas (468 km). It's a beautiful journey, but the road can be in terrible condition, eg between Mantecal, La Ye junction and Bruzual, a town just south of the Puente Nutrias on the Río Apure. In the early morning, many animals and birds can be seen, and in the wet season caiman (alligators) cross the road.
Mantecal
is a friendly cattle-ranching town with hotels and restaurants. Fiesta, 23-26 February.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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