South America's Lost World
No matter your feelings on Venezuela's egomaniacal leader Hugo Chavez, it's hard to ignore the rich geography and extreme biodiversity found within this mostly unexplored nation. Paradisiacal and filled with palm trees, the Caribbean beaches are a short drive from the high Andean peaks and the piranha-filled Amazonian waters. The country's chaotic capital is Caracas, home to fashion models, skyscrapers, fine museums, and restaurants. If you are looking for crowds, don't bother with Venezuela's empty white sand beaches at Macuto, Isla de Margarita, or the Los Roques archipelago. Make your base in Mérida for views of the 13,000-foot-high (5,000 meter plus) Andean peaks and indigenous villages. Tabletop mountains, lush tropical jungle, and isolated tribes lurk around every corner of the La Gran Sabana in the south. Considering that the landscape of Canaima National Park is what Arthur Conan Doyle based his Lost World on, it is no wonder that the adventure and mystery are finally filling up eco-lodges. Most will combine trips here with Angel Falls, the highest waterfall on the planet. A blossoming eco-tourism destination, the Orinoco Delta to the east combines mangrove forests, canals, and rare flora and fauna, much of which is endemic to the region.