Welcome to Around Mérida
An easier destination is Los Nevados, a charming mountain village nestled at about 2700m. Jeeps to Los Nevados (US$4, four hours) leave from Mérida’s Parque Las Heroínas between 7am and 8am, and at noon in high season. Simple accommodations and food are available here, or you can walk an hour to overnight in the mucuposada and working farm of Hacienda El Carrizal.
The Parque Nacional Sierra La Culata, to the north of Mérida, also offers some amazing hiking territory and is particularly noted for its desertlike highland landscapes. Take a por puesto to La Culata (departing from the corner of 19 Cerrada and Av 2 Lora), from where it’s a three- to four-hour hike uphill to a primitive shelter known as El Refugio, at about 3700m. Continue the next day for three to four hours to the top of Pico Pan de Azúcar (4660m). Consider staying another night to explore local hot springs and swimming holes. The last por puesto back to Mérida leaves around 4pm. Some agencies in Mérida offer three-day guided Pan de Azúcar trips for US$90 per person, all inclusive. Other great hikes in the region include Pico El Águila (4118m), Paso del Cóndor (4007m) and Pico Mucuñuque (4672m).
To overnight in the parks independently, you need a permit from Inparques. Offices are located in Mérida, Tabay and Los Nevados, and caretakers stationed at park entry points also issue on-the-spot permits.
For hikers, one of the most interesting (and supersafe) off-the-beaten-path experiences is the network of trails to indigenous mountain villages, where you can spend the night in mucuposadas. Spaced a day’s walk apart, you can traipse through cloud forest, pastureland and glacial landscapes from village to village and end the day with hot showers, cooked meals and a comfy bed. Prices are US$2 per person per day for lodging and US$3 for full board. Guides aren’t necessary, but can be hired for about US$10 per day. In Mérida, the EU-funded foundation Andes Tropicales, which helped develop the network, can organize mucuposada, walking, biking or jeep tours, or consult with travelers (for free) on how to arrange independent trips; their Pueblos del Sur network (www.destinopueblosdelsur.com), helps culturally curious travelers explore the spectacular Andean villages southwest of Mérida.
One very beautiful route that’s easy to organize with public transportation includes stays at Mucuposada Michicaba, Mucuposada El Carrizal, Mucuposada San José and Mucuposada Los Samanes. From Mérida, take a bus 48km east to Mucuchíes (US$0.75, 1½ hours), a 400-year-old town, and then a jeep to Gavidia (one hour). At the end of the route, Mucuposada Los Samanes can organize your transportation or you can hike 20km to the highway and take a por puesto to Barinas.