The Llanos is the geographical and spiritual centre of Venezuela and holds a special place in the heart of even the most urbane Caraqueño. A region of wide skies, slow rivers, and plains stretching to every horizon, it is home to hard-working cowboys who have raised cattle here on horseback for a dozen generations.
In the dry season the plains of the low Llanos are baked dry and dusty, but when the rains return to the Andes the meandering rivers spill over to flood and regenerate the land. The annual pattern of flood and drought creates a special ecology which makes this one of the great wildlife areas of South America.
Wildlife and birds
There are huge numbers of birds, with as many different species as Britain and the USA put together: bright red scarlet ibis, roseate spoonbills, elegant sunbitterns, prehistoric hoatzin and many many more. Animals typical of the region include giant and collared anteater, several armadillo species, anaconda (many over 30ft in length), deer, giant otter, spectacled caiman, Orinoco crocodile, howler monkey, jaguar, puma and ocelot.
Many people's favourite is the capybara, the world's largest rodent, which can be seen in great numbers in protected areas. There are freshwater dolphin in the rivers, arrau turtle, small numbers of manatee and, of course, large numbers of piranha fish.
Places to stay
Special conservation ranches are the best places to see the wildlife of the Llanos. A typical day starts with a morning safari, by boat or vehicle with a local tracker-guide, returning for lunch and a siesta at the ranch, followed by a mid-afternoon safari, then drinks and dinner. Night safaris are provided on some days. Rooms are to comfortable standards.
The drier season (October to April) is probably the best time to visit. At this time the increasing drought drives animals and birds together in great numbers around the few remaining sources of water. Even so, we have been very impressed with the numbers of animals and birds we have seen in the wetter months, when they are dispersed but more active. An 8ft long giant anteater looks pretty impressive going about its business even under a cloudy sky!
The culture of the Llanos is a special one. The llaneros are proud of their hard lives, the true cowboys live close to nature from cradle to grave. They break in fresh horses each year, releasing them to run wild when the rains come. Their rich folklore is revealed in legends and stories, and in poignant songs accompanied by the strum of the cuatro guitar or the lilting rhythms of the Venezuelan harp.