Coming from the heat of the plains or the tropical humidity and exuberance of the rainforest, it seems all the more incredible to find permanent snow only 10 degrees from the Equator, but in the Sierra Nevada de Mérida there are five peaks of around 5,000m. The cable car from Mérida (when running) climbs 12,000 feet over more than 12km, in four stages, and is the highest and longest in the world.
The scenery has not changed much since the original Indians cleared the fields of stones to make the walls and their dwellings. Today the local farmers grow mainly wheat and potatoes in these arid conditions, and brown and rainbow trout have been introduced with great success. The most typical plant of the páramo, or steppe, is the frailejón (possibly named after the shape of a monk’s habit): the Sierra Nevada has 45 of the 300 species known to exist. Other lovely flowers often seen are blue lupins and alpine forget-me-nots. There are many small Andean villages only accessible on foot or by mule, seemingly hanging on the mountainsides.
Our preferred accommodation
City hotel - Merida city centreA charming guest house right in the centre of this colonial city, with excellent food and good client attention.
Inn/Posada - 1½ hours from MéridaBuilt in the style of a 1642 monastery, the hotel sits on the edge of an Andean valley at about 9,000 feet. Without having to venture far from the hotel one can see cobalt-blue lakes surrounded by forests of pine. The local inhabitants still use oxen to plough the impossibly steep hillsides, and stones cleared from the fields to build walls and houses.
Inn/Posada - Outskirts of MéridaA lovely family-run inn with a dozen rooms built in traditional style clustered around a central patio, and set at the top of the Pedregosa Valley above the town of Mérida. The dining room, open kitchen and sitting room are situated in the old family house with its huge fireplace and this gives the posada its very friendly feel.
Country hotel - 1 hour 20 minutes from MéridaLovely position near the village of Apartaderos with nice open views and you can walk to restaurants nearby.