Ever heard of a capybara? Giant Amazonian otters? How about pink freshwater dolphins? Having done zero research and armed only with the desire to spot an anaconda, Global Hobo fearlessly ventured into Venezuela’s Los Llanos, the vast swamps and flatlands that stretch east from the Colombian Andes to the Amazon jungle. With little public transport to the remote cattle ranches that cover the flatlands, it’s necessary to take a tour with one of the many tour operators based out of Merida (unless you have your own wheels). We went with Guamanchi Expeditions, which runs out of a Merida hostel of the same name, and there’re plenty of other companies to choose from. Bet on paying somewhere between $80 and $200 to get four days and three nights in a hammock with your meals included. Merida is one of the few spots in Venezuela where you’ll find other backpackers, and the more you can get to come along, the cheaper it is for everyone.
Los Llanos experiences two distinct seasons. During the wet (June to November) the flatlands turn into giant swamps, huge expanses of shallow water broken only by the odd raised road or ranch house. In the dry season (December to May) the water recedes into river systems, where the swamps become flat, dusty plains and hundreds of thousands of caiman alligators, capybaras, eagles, herons, cranes and other bird species congregate around the rivers and waterholes. You’ll go fishing for piranhas and catfish and whatever you catch, you’ll eat that night.
It’s a long drive from mountainous Merida down to the flatlands, but worth it to check out some animals you never even knew existed, plus some more famous specimens like the giant anteater and the anaconda. And watching some Russian guy called Sergei pestering said anaconda until it sinks its fangs into his calf is worth the price alone.