Before Venezuela dissolved into complete chaos, Merida struck me as a city where I'd like to live one day. You might think that it was the beautiful women and vibrant nightlife, but what actually seduced me was that, in a strange way, it reminded me of my hometown.
Although I was raised 6,500 km away, in a country and culture vastly different from that of Venezuela's, arriving in this city cradled by mountains gave me an incredible sense of nostalgia for where I grew up. Only this time, it was the Andes mountain range instead of the Coast and Cascade Mountain Ranges.
But enough about me.
Let's talk about the city.
Merida Isn't Like Other Venezuelan Cities...at least, it wasn't
Historically, Merida has had a much different vibe to it than Caracas or Maracaibo. It was much more...wholesome (relatively...we are still talking about Venezuela here). It was cleaner, felt safer and more hospitable. It also had (and still has) a visibly younger population than many other places in the country, owing to the fact that it's home to a ton of universities.
Some may be surprised to learn that, up until the late 2000s, it was also quite a tourist hub for adventure tourism, like mountain biking and whitewater rafting.
It was somewhat of a refuge from the crime, pollution and violence plaguing many other Venezuelan cities.
But that was then.
What is it like now?
Merida, Venezuela 2017-2018
It could be argued that Merida retained a sense of normalcy longer than other major Venezuelan cities. Up until about 2014, crime rates weren't as high as other large cities and you could still find essentials on grocery store shelves. But then violent clashes between students and government supporters began riling up. Around the same time, shortages in the form of food and medicine got worse and, predictably, crime rates starting to rise.
Aside from its picturesque mountain surroundings, there is now little that distinguishes it from all of the other Venezuelan cities rotting from the inside out.
Is it safe to visit?
As little as 5 years ago, I would have said yes. I would have said take the same precautions you would in, say, the old center of Bogota. I'd say don't go out after dark or, if you do, make sure you go in a group and get a secure taxi directly to and from wherever you're heading.
Now? Not so much.
A secure taxi no longer exists in this country, nor does a safe time of day to take a walk. Police can't be trusted. In fact, they're more likely to give you problems than any other group of people.
This isn't to say that Merida hasn't always had crime problems. Like all of Venezuela, crime rates have always been on the high end of the spectrum. The difference is that 10 years ago you didn't have to have balls of steel to travel on foot after 8pm.
I'd put your Merida travel plans on hold for the time being, unless you have a very specific reason you need to be there.
Girls in Merida, Venezuela
I know some of you naughty bastards that read my sight won't be able to resist the pull of danger, and may find yourself planning a trip to Venezuela. I also know that most readers of my site will be interested in hearing about the women.
You'll be pleased to know that they don't disappoint. In fact, Merida is often regarded as having the most beautiful women in the country. Gotta love university towns.
But before you think you've found the eden of South America, you should know that the girls you'll find here are very similar to the one's you'll find in Colombia. Physically, at least. Personality wise I find Venezuelan girls much more worldly and palatable - they're just more interesting to talk with.
If you really can't resist the pull of risk and adventure and decide to head to Merida, it helps to know a few people on the ground to show you the ropes. Latin American Cupid will work best for making connections with women before you touch down in the city.
It's a shame that Merida has been consumed by the same problems facing the rest of Venezuela. It was bound to happen. My own dreams of spending a few months here have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.
On a somewhat brighter note, Peru was in a similar situation as Venezuela not too long ago, with an incompetent government, crime, poverty and murder rates through the roof. And it was able to turn itself around in spectacular fashion.
But it took 30 years.
If nothing else it goes to show that no matter how bad things get in Venezuela, there is always a way out of trouble. Unfortunately, these things take time.
We can only hope that Merida and the rest of Venezuela doesn't give up hope. I don't think they will. It's a proud nation full of proud people and with a bit of organization, they'll be able to turn things around and leave a future for the next generation.
One day I'll return to this beautiful city. I hope I won't have to wait too long to do so.
Until next time,