Venezuela is where the Andes meet the Caribbean. The Orinoco river separates the great plains from the table-top mountains of the Gran Sabana, where waterfalls tumble into the forest and lost worlds are easy to imagine.
Lying at the heart of the country – geographically and spiritually – are the llanos (plains), a vast area of flat savannah the size of Italy that is home to an immense variety of exotic birds, mammals and reptiles, including caiman, anacondas, anteaters, pumas, jaguars and giant otters. These plains flood seasonally, but when the waters retreat, the animals share their territory with cattle and the llanero cowboys, renowned for their hospitality towards visitors.
If the sea is more to your taste, head for the country’s seductive coastline – the longest in the Caribbean. Venezuela’s waters have some of the best (and least known) dive sites in the region. Pick of the bunch are Islas Los Roques, an archipelago of emerald and turquoise lagoons and dazzling white beaches.
At the other end of the country, the Amazon is home to humid rainforests and rare plants and animals, as well as over 20 different ethnic groups. This part of Venezuela is very much frontier territory and remains as wild and untamed as it was when the country received its first foreign visitor back in 1498. So overwhelmed was Columbus by what he saw that he described it as “Paradise on Earth”.