Mérida

Mérida stands on an alluvial terrace - a kind of giant shelf - 15 km long, 2½ km wide, within sight of Pico Bolívar, the highest in Venezuela. The mountain is part of the Five White Eagles group, visible from the city. The summits are at times covered in snow, but the glaciers and snow are retreating. Founded in 1558, the capital of Mérida State retains some colonial buildings but is mainly known for its 33 parks and many statues. For tourists, its claims to fame are the great opportunities for doing adventure sports and the buzz from a massive student population.

The heart of Venezuelan mountaineering and trekking is the Andes, with Mérida as the base, and there are several important peaks and some superb hikes. Bear in mind that high altitudes will be reached and acclimatization is essential. Suitable equipment is necessary and you may consider bringing your own. In the Sierra Nevada is mountain biking, whitewater rafting, para- penting and horse riding.

Getting around

Mérida may seem a safe place, but theft and robbery does occur. Avoid the Pueblo Nuevo area by the river at the stairs leading down from Avenida 2, as well as Avenida 2 itself. The
airport
is on the main highway. The
bus terminal
is 3 km from the centre of town on the west side of the valley, linked by a frequent minibus service. City bus fares rise by 50 cents at weekends. A trolley bus system from the southern suburb of Ejido to La Hechicera in the north has been opened for much of its length.

Sights

In the city centre is the attractive
Plaza Bolívar
, on which stands the
cathedral
, dark and heavy inside, with
Museo Arquidiocesano
beside it, and
Plaza de Milla
, or
Sucre
, always a hive of activity. The
Parque de las Cinco Repúblicas
, is
renowned for having the first monument in the world to Bolívar (1842, replaced in 1988) and contains soil from each of the five countries he liberated (photography strictly prohibited). Three of the peaks known as the Five White Eagles (Bolívar, 5,007 m, La Silla del Toro, 4,755 m, and León 4,740 m) can be clearly seen from here.
Plaza Las Heroínas
, by the lowest station of the
teleférico
is busy till 2300, an outdoor party zone, with artists exhibiting their work. Many tour operators have their offices here.

Less central parks include
Parque La Isla
, which contains orchids, basketball and tennis courts, an amphitheatre and fountains. In the
Plaza Beethoven
, a different melody from Beethoven's works chimes every hour.
The
Jardín Botánico
, has the largest collection of bromeliads in South America; also a canopy walkway. The
Jardín Acuario
, beside the aquarium
is an exhibition centre, mainly devoted to the way of life and the crafts of the Andean
campesinos
.

Mérida has several museums:
Museo de Arte Colonial
. More interesting is the small
Museo Arqueológico
 with pre-Columbian exhibits from the Andes.
Museo de Arte Moderno
, is in the Centro Cultural Don Tulio Febres Cordero, a run-down but impressive concrete building with political murals in front of its main entrance, several galleries and theatres. It is open sporadically. Roger Manrique has an impressive butterfly collection (over 10,000).

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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