Merida (Venezuela)

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Merida is a city in Venezuela.

It is a great base city to explore the Venezuelan Andes, and one of the safest cities in the country. Hitching out of Merida is unbelievable easy, and it's almost silly to pay to sit in a bus when they could experience the beautiful landscapes from the bed of a pickup or flatbed truck for free.

If you're heading towards Barinas (or Valencia, Maracay, Caracas, essentially all points east) on the TransAndino Highway, catch a bus from the city center (av 4, calle 19) to "El Pedregal" and hop off at the last stop. This gets you well out of town and increases your odds of a long distance ride. If you're really broke and can't even afford 3bsf for a bus outta town, you can also catch out from "La Vuelta de Lola". If you get stuck in Barinitas, take a moto taxi to Barinas, then use local transport to get you to the highway out of town.

If you're headed for San Cristobal or Maracaibo, you'll probably want to catch a city bus to El Ejido and start thumbing it from there.

While you're in the city, check out Universidad de Los Andes. Sometimes the students can sneak you in for a free meal at the cafeteria, hook you up with tickets to ride local buses for free and generally show you around. Also, there is a comedor publico that serves free food. Just ask around about times. From Thursday thru Saturday, there is a giant outdoor market called Soto Rosa. You can easily find work at one of the many stands selling fruit and veggies, and there is such an abundance of food that you can leave the market with as much produce as you can carry without spending a dime. Vendors will discard produce for having even the slightest blemish. Literally a scavengers' paradise! Especially Saturday after 2pm.

Personal experience:

I've left Merida for camping trips with up to six people plus our gear and never waited more than fifteen minutes. I can't remember all the names of the little towns, lakes, hotsprings, and crazy churches built of stone, but ask around in Merida and you'll get a million suggestions. People are super friendly here and during the school year the city is bustling with college kids from all over the country. If you're looking for travel mates, head into the mountains to La Culata, where artesanos hawk their wares to obnoxious Maracucho tourists. Artesanos are always on the move and know how to travel cheaply.