Venezuela Geography

What is the terrain and geography like in Venezuela?

Overview:

Venezuela is located on the northern coast of South America, between 0 degrees 5’ and 12 degrees 15 N, and 59 degrees 45’ and 73 degrees 09 W. It covers 352,150 square miles. The capital, Caracas, is situated in the magnificent Avila Mountains on the north coast at about 2,700 feet above sea level, giving the city a permanent springtime climate.

The Orinoco River and various mountain ranges, all branches of the Andes chain, divide the country into a number of distinct regions.

South of the Orinoco, which is the third longest river in South America, are located the wild and largely unexplored Guayana highlands. This area comprises over half of the area of the country and is rich in mineral resources and in developed and undeveloped hydroelectric power. In the Gran Sabana area, erosion has caused unusual formations characterized by rugged relief and flat-topped, cliff-edged mountains called "tepuis," the Pemon Indian word for mountain. These sandstone mesas form part of one of the oldest geologic regions in the world, and they have the highest percentage of endemic flora of any formations on earth. Roraima, one of the most famous of the tepuis, was the setting for "Lost Worlds." Arthur Conan Doyle never actually visited the area, so the reader cannot expect realism in his adventure story, but his characterization of the "tepuis" reflects widely-held beliefs, and the "tepuis" continue to be endlessly fascinating.

Another section of the Guayana highlands is the mysterious and remote Amazonas region, home to various indigenous groups such as the Yekuana, Yanomami, and Piaroa. Although carrying the name of the great river to the south, most of this area lies in the Orinoco drainage basin. The remaining portion of the Orinoco waters go to the Amazon, marking one of the great anomalies of nature—a river called the Casiquiare that crosses the watershed between the Orinoco and Rio Negro (which connects to the Amazon) and joins two of the great rivers of the world. It is possible to travel by water from the Orinoco through the Casiquiare and Rio Negro and to the Amazon. Legends of this route were the basis for many famous explorations by Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries.

North of the Orinoco is a great expanse of lowlands that occupies approximately one third of the national territory, known as the "llanos" or plains. During the dry season the entire area is almost desert-like. But during the rainy season, flooding rivers make the area a maze of water. Alexander von Humboldt, visiting the area in the early 1800s, referred to it as an ocean covered with seaweed. This area contains "hatos" or working ranches, some of which have turned to ecotourism. Visitors can enjoy wildlife viewing from boats or vehicles, sighting capybaras, ocelots, monkeys, tapirs, caimans, and exotic and extensive bird life—more than 350 species have been recorded in the region, including scarlet ibis, or corocoros, with their spectacular plumage. Visitors can also fish for piranha which, despite the dictionary definition, do not usually attack humans.

Spurs of the Andes Mountains run along each side of the Maracaibo basin and part of the seacoast. The bulk of Venezuela’s population traditionally has lived in these northern highlands, attracted by the temperate weather and fertile soil. The city of Mérida is very near Pico Bolivar, Venezuela’s highest mountain and a popular spot for climbing. The longest cable car (teleférico) in the world runs from Merida to Pico Espejo high in the clouds above. It can be warm and sunny in Merida and snowing on Pico Espejo, some 3,100 meters (10,170 feet) higher.

A tropical coastal plain stretches along most of Venezuela’s 1,750-mile coastline. This narrow strip of land between mountains and sea widens in the west to form the Maracaibo basin. The climate is uniformly hot and humid. The area around Maracaibo is inhabited by the Guajiro and Yukpa indigenous groups, and you can still see them in their native dress. At the Laguna de Sinamaica, there are traditional houses made of papyrus and thatch, and built on stilts in the water. When Amerigo Vespucci arrived in 1499, he came ashore at this point and named it Venezuela, or little Venice.

The Orinoco defines much of Venezuela, rising from its headwaters deep in Amazonas, and traveling 2,150 kilometers (1,335 miles) to the Atlantic in the Orinoco Delta region. As it travels east and north, the Orinoco widens, splits and reforms. The Delta is a vast region marked by islands and large rivers (small in comparison to the Orinoco), and is home to a large number of birds, making it a birding paradise. The Warao Indians inhabit this area, still using their native language and existing in a manner that has not changed greatly over the centuries.

Geography - note:

on major sea and air routes linking North and South America; Angel Falls in the Guiana Highlands is the world's highest waterfall

Climate:

tropical; hot, humid; more moderate in highlands

Venezuela Use of Natural Resources

Venezuela Environment

Climate:

tropical; hot, humid; more moderate in highlands

Terrain:

Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in northwest; central plains (llanos); Guiana Highlands in southeast

Natural Resources:

petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, other minerals, hydropower, diamonds

Natural Hazards:

subject to floods, rockslides, mudslides; periodic droughts

Irrigated Land:

4,073 Square Miles
10,550 Square Kilometers

Environmental Issues:

sewage pollution of Lago de Valencia; oil and urban pollution of Lago de Maracaibo; deforestation; soil degradation; urban and industrial pollution, especially along the Caribbean coast; threat to the rainforest ecosystem from irresponsible mining operations

Environment - International Agreements:

party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands

signed but not ratified:: none of the selected agreements

Venezuela Geography

Geographic Location South America
Total Area 352,143 Square Miles
912,050 Square Kilometers
Land Area 340,560 Square Miles
882,050 Square Kilometers
Water Area 11,583 Square Miles
30,000 Square Kilometers
Land Boundaries 3,103 Miles
4,993 Kilometers
Irrigated Land 4,073 Square Miles
10,550 Square Kilometers
Border Countries Brazil 2,200 km, Colombia 2,050 km, Guyana 743 km
Coastline 1,740 Miles
2,800 Kilometers
Geographic Coordinates 8 00 N, 66 00 W
Terrain Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in northwest; central plains (llanos); Guiana Highlands in southeast
Highest Point 5,007 Meters
Highest Point Location Pico Bolivar (La Columna) 5,007 m
Lowest Point Location Caribbean Sea 0 m
Natural Resources petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, other minerals, hydropower, diamonds
Time Zone UTC-4 (1 hour ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
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