Exploring the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela

Ahead of me stretched a flat, green savanna. Having spent a couple of days in the dense forest, the view struck me right in the heart.

I like forest; I love open spaces.

Being enveloped by the vastness of my surroundings feels liberating.

The striking landscape brought back warm memories of our stay in Guyana, a couple of years ago, where we had taken a boat to the Awarak community of Moruca. We had the privilege of meeting Uncle Basil and Aunt Doli. Everybody called them uncle and aunty, including total strangers. They ran a basic Bed & Breakfast and our stay with them had been special for a number of reasons, one of them being the connection we had felt with this elderly couple. (Read about that trip here).

While taking in the view of the Orinoco Delta, in northeast Venezuela, I realized that Moruca wasn’t all that far from here. In fact, it was nothing but an artificial border a man-drawn line not far from here that determined that now I stood on Venezuelan soil and then on Guyanese.

The delta is composed of rivers with forested islands and marches, its waterways often clogged bybora, a water hyacinth with purple flowers. Just like we had watched Awarak people paddling their dugout canoes, we here saw the indigenous Warao People moving about in the Orinoco Delta in the same manner. ‘Wa‘ means ‘canoe’ and ‘arao‘ means ‘people’.

Warao People in the Delta Orinoco, Venezuela (©photocoen)
Warao woman in a dugout canoe.
Warao People in the Delta Orinoco, Venezuela (©photocoen)
Warao kids in dugout canoe with in the back an open-sided, thatched roof Warao house.
Warao kids having fun.
Warao kids having fun.

The tranquility and peacefulness in Guyana had enraptured us. Here, the energy induced a similar feeling of serenity and magnificence. I felt an interconnection of the landscape and its inhabitants.

For the past couple of days we had been staying at the Orinoco Eco Camp, a half-hour boat ride from the mainland village of San José de Buja. We had fished for piranhas and hacked our way through the jungle, learning about the plants and trees on which the Warao people depended to eat, find cures, and built their homes. Daily boat trips with a guide had given us a feeling for Warao people’s way of life.

How and where to find drinking water in the jungle.
How and where to find drinking water in the jungle.

The indigenous people have lived here for eons in open-sided, thatched-roofed huts on palafitos – stilts on riverbanks. They have large families and primarily live on fishing and hunting. Part of it is sold so they have money to buy clothes and western-style foods in supermarkets such as pasta, rice and sugar.

Travel Guides for Venezuela

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Visiting a Warao family nearby the Delta Eco Camp.
Visiting a Warao family nearby the Delta Eco Camp.
Traditional way: Warao girl cutting sugar cane to snack on.
Traditional way: Warao girl cutting sugar cane to snack on.
Modern way: Warao woman cooking pasta.
Modern way: Warao woman cooking pasta.

From the camp we took a boat to visit the camp’s finca, just outside the forest. It provides the camp with vegetables, fruits, eggs and meat. Alfred steered the open boat through sharp curves against a strong incoming tide. Gradually the trees had thinned and the landscaped had transformed into grassy plains.

On arrival Coen had immediately been drawn to sweet little kittens that live with a family and a dozen young chickens in an open-sided hut underneath the shade of mango and other fruit trees. I had looked the other way and stood now frozen by the view of the landscape, lost in memories of our stay in Guyana.

Antonio, our guide, called out to me, bringing me back to today’s reality. I followed the group through the orchard filled with orange, mango and lemon trees. I felt happy being here. I always do when in places where organic food is grown. Antonio pointed out the fields with corn, the sweet and bitter cassava plants, and the forest cleared from low vegetation to grow cacao.

Alfredo is getting fresh fruits from the tree.
Alfredo is getting fresh fruits from the tree.

We crossed the waterway by boat and on the other side we checked out the camp’s chickens, pigs, horses and buffaloes. All are part of an initiative taken three years ago to grow more food themselves. With Venezuela sinking deeper into its political and economic crisis, many basic foods have become unavailable. People stand in line for hours to buy their weekly ration of sugar, butter, toilet paper, soap, and cornflour to make their staple bread called arepa.

The government controls the prices, keeping the ones of basic necessities low. But many are too low, and so factories stop producing because they are losing too much money. Farmers have stopped selling cows and so shortages of meat are growing as well. Through this finca, the owners Hani and Victor not only grow food for the Eco Camp but provide locals with new job opportunities. Part of the harvest goes to their families.

Water buffalo, Delta Orinoco in Venezuela (©photocoen)

Time for sunset,” Antonio announced. We returned to the boat, picking two guanabana fruits from a tree to eat with our sunset drink. Alfredo steered the boat deeper into the flat vegetation until he had found the best spot and turned off the engine.

Boat trip with the Delta Eco Camp, Venezuela (©photocoen)

“Rum punch, anyone?” Antonio asked and started to get out the plastic cups to prepare our daily cocktails – on other days it had been a cuba libre to enjoy while watching the sunset.

The rain decided to join the spectacle for a moment and so we got the full spectrum: a couple of drops, a rainbow, a bold mixture of colors across the sky from gray streaks indicating a rainstorm far away from us to dark blue and whitish clouds towering right above us. The sun appeared from the clouds, turning the sky purplish.

“Salud” – Cheers! We toasted our glasses. Uncle Basil, who had passed away about a year after we had visited him, felt nearby. “Cheers,” I said again in silence and raised my glass to salute our old friend.

Rainbow across the Delta Orinoco, Venezuela (©photocoen)
Sunset at the Delta Orinoco (©photocoen)

Practical Information on Visiting the Orinoco Delta

  • Fabricio and Ainhoa provided this stay for us. They organize tours and trips throughout Venezuela. Check out their Araguato Expeditions Website for more information.
  • The Orinoco Eco Camp is a rustic lodge on the Tigre River in the Orinoco Delta, on a half-an-hour boat ride from San José de la Buja. The camp is based on the surroundings of the local Warao People. The open-sided lodge is made of wood and thatched roofs and is built on stilts on the waterfront. The atmosphere is informal with visitors and employees spending time in the same open lounge/dining area, eating together. The set-up provides maximum opportunity to chat with Warao employees and their families who live in the nearby surroundings. During our stay a guide took us on several boat trips, e.g. to go piranha fishing and visit Warao communities. There were also kayaks that we took to for a spin ourselves. To learn more, check out the Orinoco Delta Eco Camp’s website.
  • Additional Reading: Where the Road Ends – A Boat Trip in the Orinoco Delta.

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Photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow our overland journey on Landcruisingadventure.com or on Instagram.

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