On the northern tip of South America lies a country most widely known for its diversity and variety, Venezuela. Diversity in its landscape, with the Andean mountain range that extends up 7000 kilometers off the continent’s western coast, cutting across and up into Venezuela’s northern sector. Its capital Caracas shows variety, being one of many towns and cities that dwell on the longest section of Caribbean coastline in any one country. Inland, beyond the dozens of idyllic islands, is an environment consisting of crawling flat savannahs and the humid Amazonian basin. Home to 29 million people, Venezuela is a country of colour and its diversity sets a catalyst for rich culture.
Radiocarbon dating from spear tips and flake tools has found that the earliest known inhabitants of Venezuela lived around 15,000 years ago. Followed by more ordered tribal structures and a hunter-gatherer culture that it thrived on until around 1000 AD. Though with European colonisations and conquests accommodating the subsequent 1000 years, indigenous life dwindled. In the year 1498 Christopher Columbus reached the country, sailing down its beautiful coasts and mapping out the rivers and waterways, eventually giving it the name Venezuela, translating as “little Venice” in Spanish.
The Orinico River is over 2000 kilometers long, stretching from the south of the country in Sierra Parima, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. An astonishing 33,000 litres of water is discharged per second from the mouth of the river into the ocean, a figure only surpassed by the Amazon and the Congo. It has been predicted that Trinidad Island, which is only 15 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela, will soon be attached via new land formations from the sediment being unloaded by this immense water flow.
The country’s eastern region is home to a vast river delta, the lush fertile environment being the life source of a layering of rich habitats. The Orinoco delta is 30,000 km², an area the size of Belgium and consists of hundreds of waterways and distributaries, which meander on into the Atlantic. With oscillating high temperatures and huge forest areas, this region is ideal for wide ranging mangrove communities, palms and other vegetation. These conditions are also pertinent for animal wildlife; boasting large numbers of mammals, birds and fish; such as Jaguars, River Dolphins, Toucans, Caiman and Anaconda.
The delta’s wide rivers and teeming forests are also home to a native community, the Warao, who have lived in the area for over 8500 years. Little has changed in the millenniums passed for them; their traditional hunting, gathering and fishing practices are still in use. These people have an intimate connection with the water, formed through centuries of reliance, appreciation and survival, and their lifestyle is reflective of this. They build their beautifully thatched wall-less homes on stilts high above the water and marsh for protection against floods. Being skilled craftspeople, they also build their canoes from forest wood, carving out the tree trunks with traditional techniques. Their diet consists mostly of fish and fruit and other products of the delta. The Mauritia palm, or the ‘tree of life’, is particularly important for the Warao, as almost every part of the palm can be used; its sap for a drink, its fruit to be eaten and its fibre is formed into hammocks.
The Warao people are colourful and peaceful; with their traditions and cultures embedded in the delta. Currently 36,000 strong, the Warao are thriving and welcoming to visitors. Take a canoe trip with the Warao through the tangled waterways of the delta to see the colourful wildlife and to experience the absolute tranquility of the region.
With the world’s highest waterfall and the longest stretch of Caribbean coast in any one country, the high Andean peaks and one of the longest rivers in the world; Venezuela is a nation of compelling landscape. It is in the nation’s abundance of variety and culture that draws visitors from all over the world.
What areas of the Orinoco delta would you like to explore further?