Welcome To The Beacon Of Maracaibo (AKA The Lightning Capital Of The World)
The sky in a special spot of north-western Venezuela looks like it’s being struck by lightning from the underworld. It strikes, and strikes again… but no thunder follows. The dark storm clouds block out the sky, zapping incessant sparks along the horizon, in a way that looks like a movie and feels like a different world. This is the Beacon of Maracaibo, also known as Catatumbo Lightning.
What is Catatumbo Lightning?
Also known as Venezuala’s “eternal thunderstorm”, Catatumbo Lightning doesn’t actually fire nonstop… but it comes pretty close.
Around 150 times per year in Venezuela, the lightning storms can last as long as nine hours per day, with up to 28 strikes per minute! Scientists believe that a mix of cold and warm air currents that occur right where the lightning forms causes the storm. The lightning strikes occur around three miles above the surface of the water, and may be connected to environmental methane.
Because lightning needs heat, humidity, and lots of wind, this area provides an environment for the perfect storm. The northern Andes surround the lake and allow the unique cooling, heating, and wind patterns to make their magic a couple miles above the water.
The “perennial lightning” is almost never followed by thunder, and happens right at the spot where the Catatumbo River meets the Maracaibo Lake in northwestern Venezuela
Has It Really Been Going On “Forever”?
For at least a few centuries, the Beacon of Maracaibo has been flashing consistently and gloriously in the place where lightning never stops. However, there was a brief period where it was inactive. During the first four months of 2010, the lightning completely stopped. Researchers think that it could have been because of the drought that plagued the region at the time.
How To Witness The Catatumbo Lightning
If you’re a lightning enthusiast (yes that’s a thing) you might want to take a little trip to Venezuela to check out this incredible phenomenon.
If you are lucky enough to make it to this obscure intersection of river and lake, make sure to remember that the lightning storms start at different times each day. Obviously, you’ll get the best bang for your buck at night, where the bolts of lightning brighten the sky.
The Beacon of Maracaibo has high times and low times, and is an incredible show to witness both daytime and nighttime. The best times to see the storm show is the wet season from May to November, with a strong peak in activity in October. During this time, you may be lucky enough to see up to 26 lightning flashes every single minute!
Where To Stay
This is where it gets even more electric: the hotel prices at the lightning capital of the world are as low as $16/night USD. Can you imagine how magical this experience could be? Night after night watching lightning storms without rain and thunder? Sounds like the experience of a lifetime to me.
You have a range of options when it comes to where to stay to witness the Beacon of Maracaibo. Of course there are higher end options, but you can also do a two-star hotel with very minimal amenities, and save your money for better seats on the plane.
Best Times & Places To View The Lightning
The best time to view the lightning is from May to November, with a peak in October. The best place to sit and watch the storm is the area of the Zulia River, in the small village of Ologa.
This quaint little settlement has just 46 stilt houses and is home to around 60 fishing families. Fortunately there’s the entertainment of the lightning storm because suffice to say there’s not much else to do in the area.