It is no coincidence that the state of Merida and its capital have the same name. The thousands of native and foreign visitors who come to this Andean paradise in western Venezuela want to know both the historical and university-like city as well as the splendid beauty of the surroundings blessed by a wide diversity of features. This diversity ranges from the snowed Pico de Bolívar, the highest peak in Venezuela with an altitude of 5,007 meters (16,450 feet), to the small and tropical Palmarito beach, located on the southeast side of Maracaibo Lake. Only by visiting one of the four national parks that cover an area of about 750,000 hectares (about 1,85 million acres), 12 state parks, three natural monuments, or 172 glacier lagoons, tasting freshly caught selected trout, visiting coffee growers' farms and chapels lost in the heights, buying handicraft in its place of origin, and walking the tough Andean paths, can you say you indeed visited Merida. And if we add the stay at a rustic and cosy inn in the mountains, by the heat of a comforting fireplace, then the trip will be complete.
Merida stretches long and narrow along a valley located at an altitude of 1,625 meters (5,331 feet), next to the majestic Sierra Nevada (snowed mountain). Its position is diagonal, from northeast to southwest. The city is crossed by the rivers Chama on the west side, and the Albarregas practically through the middle. The rivers Milla and Mucujún join the latter in the northern area of the city. Three transverse viaducts join the two parts of the city divided by river Albarregas; they are the Sucre, Miranda, and Campo Elías viaducts. Our panorama follows the same south to north direction of that of the first Spaniards who arrived in the zone and founded the city.
From the south boundary (La Parroquia-Alto Chama) and Sucre viaduct, through Miranda viaduct (Calle 38)
Although this section represents half of the city lengthwise, in the practice its density and tourist appeal are less abundant than those found in the northern half which, paradoxically, includes both the most traditional and the most modern sectors of Merida, one on each side of the river. Nevertheless, in the southern part there are spots that no informed tourist should miss.
Avenida Andres Bello (that later becomes Avenida Urdaneta) is the most interesting place in the area. La Parroquia is located in its south end, renowned for its magic-religious festivals as well as for large, old houses of great interest; and El Punto sector, currently Zumba (Urbanización Alto Chama), where Merida was born for the second time, though it would not be the last.
Along the above-mentioned avenue, the chain of parks will catch your eye. Merida has 28 urban parks, more than any other city in Venezuela, apart from squares and monuments scattered about. Besides pure parks, here you will also find the Parque Jardín Acuario, the Museo de Ciencia y Tecnología, and the monument to Juan Rodríguez Suárez (Xuárez), founder of the city.
Avenida Andres Bello changes names to Avenida Urdaneta and leads to Sucre viaduct. At this point, the facilities of Aeropuerto Alberto Carnevalli begin, which extend to the next viaduct: Miranda. The airport has a colonial style that enchants tourists, and a location in the middle of the city and too close to the mountain which pilots do not like. Other well-maintained parks enhance the airport's surroundings.
Apart from the interesting spots above mentioned, other ones on Avenida Andres Bello or Urdaneta besides parks, squares, and monuments include Alto Chama, Las Tapias, and San Cristóbal shopping malls as well as a number of restaurants and high quality stores that offer a wide variety of goods. Towards the east, behind the airport, is Estadio Olímpico Guillermo Soto Rosa, Gimnasio 9 de Octubre, Estadio de Beisbol Libertador, the Piscina Olímpica and Hospital de la Universidad de Los Andes.
If you cross Albarregas river through Miranda viaduct and reach the Avenida Las Americas, you will stand before the modern Mercado Principal de Merida (street market), a recommended visit if you want to get to know the Andean idiosyncrasy and handicraft, or want to buy products from the region. Across from it is Mercado Murachí.
Between Miranda (Calle 38) and Campo Elías (Calle 26) viaducts
Without returning by the same path you came just yet, you will be able to see here the first sculptures of the Museo Mariano Picón Salas inside Parque Albarregas, which extends between Miranda and Campo Elías viaducts. Further up this same Avenida Las Americas you will find the bullfight ring Plaza de Toros Román Eduardo Sandia.
Once you return to the other side of the river, Avenida Andres Bello or Avenida Urdaneta takes a third name: Avenida 3, with a new park at this point, the Parque Glorias Patrias. Heading northward, between Calles 29 and 28 is Plaza Rangel del Llano and its monument and church. Beside that is the famous Heladería Coromoto.
From Campo Elías viaduct (Calle 26) to the traditional city's north end (Calle 13)
This is the area where Merida was finally established, after its two first foundations in the current San Juan de Lagunillas and El Punto or Zumba. Here, especially around Plaza Bolívar located between Calles 23 and 22, and Avenidas 3 and 4, you'll find the greatest examples of Merida's architectural and historical heritage. This part of the city is included in our Recommended Tours.
Plaza de Las Heroínas Merideñas and the Teleferico de Merida
This is one of our Recommended Tours within the same zone that covers Plaza de Las Heroínas and Teleferico de Merida, located at the west end of Calles 24 or 25 where no other avenues cross. Here is what might be Merida's most widely known landmark: the Teleferico, or cable car. It is not unusual for a person to travel to Merida exclusively to take this tour.
Beside the Teleferico is the beautiful Plaza de Las Heroínas. Since the Teleferico is such a tourist attraction, it is not unusual that the surroundings of this square are full of hotels, restaurants, handicraft shops, tourist guides and transportation, and everything that can be of interest for the visitor. Next to the plaza and opposite the Teleferico is the noteworthy Mercado Artesanal Manuel Rojas Guillen (handicraft market).
Avenida Universidad and Avenida Chorros de Milla
Finally, in Merida's northwest end we find a zone that has different appeals and covers a vast sector around Avenida Universidad and Avenida Chorros de Milla. This zone makes part of our Recommended Tours.
GOING OUT OF THE CITY
Merida-Apartaderos route (Santo Domingo and Pico El Águila)
The spots along this 58 kilometer route to Apartaderos are countless and in an almost non-stop succession await tourists to satisfy their most varied likes. Theme parks, different types of hotels and colonial inns, handicraft stores, trout farms, fruit and vegetables, high quality food, quiet and silent lagoons, cold hillsides covered with long-lived plants typical of the moors, pointed peaks and twisted mountain paths, churches and chapels made of stone, cosy villages, and mostly breathtaking views of deep and endless valleys that conform this daydream journey which branches off once you get to Apartaderos, either to Santo Domingo or towards Pico El Águila (Eagle's Peak). This route is a recommended one, since it makes part of the visit to Merida, despite its being lengthy.
Among the attractions along the route towards the southwest we should mention in the first place, Alexis y La Venezuela de Antier (Alexis & The Day Before Yesterday's Venezuela), a theme park that revives scenes and characters of our history, located 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from the city. On the way to Jají you may appreciate the great water fall and natural monument of La Chorrera de Las González and visit the craftsmens' town of Los Guáimaros as well as the craftsmens and musical village of La Mesa de Ejido or La Mesa de Los Indios. Jají is the only fully colonial village that remains in the country. It is just 37 kilometers (23 miles) away from Merida, and visiting it is a must.
Many of the trips to villages, mountains, valleys, sown fields, hot springs, water falls, rivers, and lakes can be taken in one day. Others need a little more time and often demand great physical condition or a 4 wheel-drive vehicle, a mountain bike, or a mule.
People from Merida respect and keep their traditions, including the gastronomical ones. As a heritage from ancient natives, chicha (alcoholic drink made from fermented maize) is still the traditional drink, as well as the bread made of that same grain. From Spaniards, stew and soup still remain a highlight of the region's cuisine, where "pisca andina", a tasty dish based on potato from the paramo (the moors), stands out. You can try it at any local cuisine restaurant. Don't forget to try the stuffed trout, garlic trout, or any other style, then finish the meal with smoked goat cheese or some "dulces abrillantados" (glazed candies), inherited from those hard working nuns of the order of Saint Clare during the colonial times. You will also find that fruit wines, such as those made from blackberries, are not to be missed!
Since Merida is a a tourist town, its cuisine covers local, national, and international dishes, and you can undoubtedly find one to satisfy your palate any time. Check out this tasty route:
FROM THE SOUTH BORDER (LA PARROQUIA-ALTO CHAMA) AND SUCRE VIADUCT, TO MIRANDA VIADUCT (CALLE 38)
At the city's south entrance, by Andres Bello Avenue, there are several well-known restaurants such as the Italian Restaurant EntrepuebloS and the pizzeria-restaurant Fuente de Soda Alto Chama, both located in La Parroquia. Nearby, in Urbanización Alto Chama, is the cafe-deli On The Run and, inside the neighborhood's shopping mall, is Azafrán Cafe. If you keep going along the same avenue, you get to Centro Comercial Las Tapias (a mall), in which Trevi Snack Bar and Sierra Cream Gelatería are located. All these establishments are frequently visited, since they are located in a densely populated area.
Near the airport, the density decreases although good places are not scarce, such as Date con Rolando and the beautiful Restaurant La Gruta inside Hotel Caribay with its international and regional menu as well as Restaurante Los Pinos , located behind the hotel. On the opposite bank of Albarregas river on Avenida Los Próceres, also known as Panamericana, is the restaurant of Hotel La Pedregosa, which serves international food that is particularly good.
BETWEEN MIRANDA (CALLE 38) AND CAMPO ELÍAS (CALLE 26) VIADUCTS
You will enjoy Restaurant Gran Balcón, in Paseo de la Feria, as well as a variety of establishments located along Avenidas 2, 3, and 4 such as Pizzería El Sabor de los Quesos , Gerardo Hamburguesas , Rincón de la Cachapa , Pollo en Brasas , Panadería El Llano , y the famous Heladería Coromoto whose Guinness record has made it a tourist attraction. Opposite the viaducts, you will be tempted by exquisite Tía Nícota and the many-sided Javi's Music Town, which brings together fastfood, soda fountain, restaurant, disco, and a video bar.
FROM CAMPO ELÍAS VIADUCT (CALLE 26) TO THE NORTH END OF THE TRADITIONAL CITY (CALLE 13)
Restaurante Club Venitalia, located between Calles 25 and 26, has an Italian and international menu for both locals and visitors. On the nearby streets and avenues you'll find Atico I Cafe and Caffe Plaza Garibaldi, the restaurants that belong to Hotel Altamira and Posada La Montaña, as well as the international Restaurante Bimbo on Calle 23. Near the Plaza Bolívar culinary highlights include Cafe Internet La Abadia , and Cafe Rodos, from where the plaza can be seen. On the east side of the plaza and next to Teleferico, several eateries like Cheo's Pizzería await you. Going to the north boundary of the traditional zone, the restaurants inside La Casona de Margot and Los Bucares de Merida inns are open to the public.
AVENIDA UNIVERSIDAD AND AVENIDA CHORROS DE MILLA
This area has ample spaces; for that reason restaurants are somewhat more scattered than those downtown. Nevertheless, you will be pleased to find timely venues such as Paseo Sierra Nevada and Kawy II Cafe.