Covering 175,500km², the state of Amazonas comprises over
20% of Venezuelan territory. Extending south from the convergence
of the Río Orinoco and Río Meta, the state is bordered by
Colombia to the west and Brazil to the east. With its dense
jungles, maze of rivers and scattered tepuis, Amazonas is
one of the most biodiverse and least explored regions of
Tropical rainforest covers most of Amazonas’ western lowlands
and is home to a variety of flora including lianas, strangler
figs, bromeliads, tree ferns, orchids, lichens and mosses.
The dense jungle landscape is interrupted only by swamps,
waterways and flat-topped mountains known as tepuis, whose
isolated surfaces are home to many rare and endemic plant
species. Eastern Amazonas is dominated by the forested mountains
of the Sierranía La Neblina. The waterways of the region
are mainly the headwaters of the Orinoco, which flows northwest
from its source in the Sierra Parima mountains on the Brazilian
border. On the cusp of both the Orinoco basin and the Amazon
basin lies the Río Brazo Casiquiare, the only waterway to
feed both these great rivers.
The luxuriant forests are home to an exotic array of fauna,
including mammals such as manatee, fresh water dolphins,
giant otters, capuchin, red howler and woolly monkeys, jaguar,
puma, ocelot, tapir, brocket deer, agouti and armadillo.
The forests are also teeming with bird species such as macaws,
parrots, toucans, parakeets, tinamou, contingas and hummingbirds.
A diversity of reptiles and amphibians also inhabit the
In the north, the dry season is from December to April,
and the rainy season from April to November. The temperature
peaks in April, reaching 24-30ºC. Further south, the dry
season becomes shorter and less distinct.
Puerto Ayacucho is the state capital. With a population
of 74,000, it is home to nearly 93% of the region’s population.
Located about 70km south of the convergence of the Orinoco
and the Meta, the town has the only overland link with Amazonas
and is the commercial hub of the region. The capital, together
with the town of Samariapo, was established in 1924 to provide
a road bypass for the treacherous Maripure rapids on the
Orinoco. This road, which marks the division between the
upper and lower Orinoco, was an essential connection in
the transport of goods up and down the river. The town,
isolated bar a single dirt track running north, remained
little more than a link in the chain. However, in 1980,
the road was paved and river transport replaced with overland
transport, bringing prosperity to the town and transforming
it into the commercial center it is today.
Several sites of interest are dotted around Puerto Ayacucho,
including a museum, a cathedral and local markets selling
Indian artesania of every description. Within walking distance
are the two most popular tepuis, Cerro Perico and El Mirador,
both of which have breathtaking panoramic views. A short
por puesto trip away is La Parque Tobogán de la Selva, a
natural waterslide and popular weekend destination among
locals. Also nearby are the beautiful waters of Pozo Azul
and the pre-Colombian petroglyphs of Cerro Pintado.
Puerto Ayacucho is also the best place to organize tours
into Amazonas. Accommodation is easy to find and there is
a good selection of tour operators offering a wide range
of trips to a number of locations. One of the most popular
is to the Cerro Autana, the sacred mountain of the Piaroa
Indians. Located 80km south of the capital, the tepui plateau
covers an area of 480ha and reaches a height of 1,400m.
The vertical sides are pock marked with caves and galleries,
the largest of which cuts right through the mountain. Deals
may encompass 1-10 day trips with accommodation ranging
from sheltered hammocks to private cabins with running water.
Common activities include boat tours, trips to the tepuis,
flights over the stunning landscapes, hiking, mountaineering
and white water rafting.
Puerto Ayacucho can be reached overland by bus or by air
from Caracas, Ciudad Bolivar and San Fernando de Apure.
Light aircraft also fly to smaller settlements in the region.
Brazil can be reached by air, and Colombia by ferry to Casurito.
Tours in Amazonas also operate from San Fernando de Atabapo
and San Carlos de Río Negro, both of which can be reached
by air from Puerto Ayacucho. In the northeast, San Juan
de Manapíare has accommodation and tours to the surrounding
region. Visiting the upper Orinoco is only possible with
special permits as it is part of the protected Yanomani
Indigenous communities are scattered throughout the state,
and more groups live here than anywhere else in Venezuela.
Three large tribes, the Yanomani, Piaroa and Guajibo comprise
more than 70% of the area’s 40,000 Indian population. Until
European explorers first penetrated the thick jungle in
the 1800s, the tribes lived as they had done for thousands
of years in complete isolation. Suddenly exposed to the
conflict and diseases of the outside world, many Indians
perished. Since the early 1900s, their numbers have decreased
by 50%. Today, the remaining Yanomani Indians number 12,500.
One of the few existing Neolithic tribes, the Yanomami live
in large communities of up to 400 centered around a circular
shelter or Yano, and have retained the traditions and ways
of life of their ancestors more than any other Indian group.
Though they were granted legal protection in 1988 and their
homelands recognized in 1992, the existence and lands of
the Yanomani continue to be threatened by illegal developers
and gold diggers from Brazil.
Parks of the Amazonas
The four national parks of Amazonas (Yapacana, Duida-Marahuaca,
Parima-Tapirapecó and Serranía La Neblina) together protect
6 million hectares of the region. However, all, with the
exception of Duida-Marahuaca, have restricted access and
can only be entered by those undertaking scientific research.
Located in the mid-west of the state, Yapacana National
Park encompasses Venezuela’s highest plain; perhaps the
highest in the world. The unique plateau rises abruptly
from the surrounding lowlands to 1,345m and is inhabited
by an enormity of endemic flora and fauna, including 46
species of herpitofauna.
Duida-Marahuaca National Park lies in the center of the
state. Notable features include the tepuis of Huachamakari
and Duida-Marahuaca, the beautiful waterfalls of the Río
Cunucunuma and various petroglyphs. The park is also a haven
for birdwatchers, and can be reached by boat along the Iguapo,
Padamo and Cunucunuma rivers. The nearest airstrips are
at Esmerelda and Comunidad de Culebra.
Parima-Tapirapecó National Park covers the entire southeast
portion of the state. With a total area of 3,900,000ha,
it is the fifth largest national park in the world. Almost
all the Yanomaní of Venezuela live within its boundaries,
for which access to the area is restricted. The park is
also home to the source and headwaters of the Orinoco and
the Sierra Parima mountains.
Serranía La Neblina National Park lies on the southern
tip of the state and comprises the Serranía La Neblina mountain
range. The range peaks at 3,040m with the Pico La Neblina,
Latin America’s tallest non-Andean mountain and the largest
tepui in on Earth. The massive tepui is all but sliced in
two by the Cañon Grande del Río Baría, one of the deepest
canyons in the world. The park, along with Parima-Tapirapecó
is part of the Alto-Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve.
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