Exotic and grand, the Orinoco River is home to a vast array of species, fauna and flora and a diverse ecosystem. In addition to the fact that it is among the largest river systems in Venezuela, it is also the fourth largest in the world in regards to discharge of water.
It has been traversed by famous explorers like Columbus, Raleigh and Humboldt. It sparkles in the sun with its low hanging, high rooted banyan trees while providing a home to the dangerous anaconda. Beneath the waters of the serene system of tributaries, lies another world full of rich resources, animals and raw potential.
The Orinoco River is 1,330 miles in length, making it one of the longest in South America. Over three quarters of the river lies in Venezuela and the balance of it in Columbia. The river itself is divided into four sections starting from the Atlantic Ocean known as Delta Amacuro, Lower Orinoco, Middle Orinoco and Upper Orinoco.
The Upper Orinoco is its headwaters originating on the Delgado Chalbaud mountain. Middle Orinoco is close to 500 miles long and travels along the Venezuelan Colombian border, ending at the Meta River. Lower Orinoco is close to 600 miles long and flows to Piacoa. The balance of the river is the Delta Amacuro measuring close to 9,000 square miles and dumping into the Atlantic. It is important to note that from its mouth, the Orinoco extends hundreds of tributaries throughout Venezuela.
Orinoco is Spanish for ”a place to paddle”. Indeed, it has been for many of the world’s greatest expeditions. Columbus documented his third expedition to the Orinoco in 1498. What is amazing about its history is that not until the mid-nineteenth century did its source get explored.
The river’s delta was explored in the 16th century by such explorers as Diego de Ordaz, Ambrosius Ehinger and Antonio de Berrio. Because Sir Walter Raleigh could not resist the search for the legendary city of El Dorado, he also sailed the river during this time. Alexander von Humboldt was credited with his work in the Orinoco basin itself, documenting on the wide array of plants and animals.
In the middle of the 20th century, there began oil mining. With the iron ore deposits as well, the Orinoco has become a source and reason for economic development. It has helped several regions around the river become highly populated and civilized.
The Orinoco is home to such animal anomalies as the giant otter, the anaconda and the boto river dolphin. There are also over 1000 species of fish found in the river. The infamous black spot piranha makes its home there along with the cardinal tetra fish. A small portion of the fish are even endemic to the Orinoco. Rounding out the odd, but wonderful animal life in the river is the Orinoco crocodile. It is said to be one of the rarest reptiles.
Slithering through the countries of Venezuela and Columbia, the Orinoco finds its home. Despite hundreds of years of exploration, commercialization and development, it still possesses all of its original natural beauty and splendor.