Divided into upper and lower courses by the Ature and Maipures cataracts, the river is navigable for most of its length. Dredging permits oceangoing vessels to reach Ciudad Bolívar, c.270 mi (435 km) upstream. The major cities on the river are Ciudad Bolívar and Ciudad Guayana, which developed in an industrial zone in the late 1960s; the river is now crossed by large bridges at both cities.
Christopher Columbus probably discovered the mouth of the Orinoco in 1498, and Lope de Aguirre, the Spanish adventurer, seems to have traveled most of its length in 1560. In 1799, Alexander von Humboldt, the German naturalist, explored the upper reaches, but it was not until 1944 that an aerial expedition sighted the source area in the remote highlands. Further explorations in 1951 and 1956 located two rivulets now considered the headwaters.
See H. Acebes, Orinoco Adventure (1954).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Latin American and Caribbean Physical Geography