Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Maracaibo, lightning capital of the world

Maracaibo, lightning capital of the world

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A lightning strikes over lake Maracaibo near the stilt houses of Chamitas in Catatumbo, Venezuela, on September 11. AFP

Maracaibo, lightning capital of the world

One firebolt after another illuminates a stilt-house settlement where the Catatumbo river flows into Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo, the lightning capital of the world.

Holder of the Guinness World Record as the place with the highest concentration of lightning, South America’s largest lake receives an average of 233 flashes per square kilometre every year, according to NASA – thousands per night.

A scientific and tourist curiosity, for the water-logged communities of Zulia state in Venezuela’s northwest the phenomenon is known as the Catatumbo “lighthouse” which for centuries has helped them navigate their boats through the darkness.

There is no thunder, just lightning – a silent spectacle to be enjoyed about 300 nights per year, peaking in September.

On clear nights, the flashes paint striking patterns across the Milky Way in a sky so full of stars one does not need a telescope for constellation gazing.

Some are so fast they escape the human eye. Some zigzag more leisurely through the sky, or collide with other bolts.

In a boon for stargazers but a harsh reality for locals, the near nightly display is made all the more spectacular by the almost complete absence of light pollution.

There is no electrical grid here, and the few generators that still work are idle due to a critical lack of fuel occasioned by Venezuela’s economic crisis.

Only rarely is there the faint glow of a small home generator, or a beam from a fisherman’s flashlight.

The foreign visitors who used to come to Zulia have been staying away due to the global coronavirus pandemic and Venezuela’s economic problems.

Oblivious to the scientific interest in the phenomenon, Marianela Romera – a fisherwoman of 40 whose worn face makes her look much older – says that the lightning “shows us where to go.”

NASA says Lake Maracaibo has a unique geography and climate ideal for the development of thunderstorms.

Located along part of the Andes mountains, storms form at night as the cool mountain breeze clashes with the warm, moist air over the lake.


  • Joy as Koh Ker Temple registered by UNESCO

    Cambodia's Koh Ker Temple archaeological site has been officially added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on September 17. The ancient temple, also known as Lingapura or Chok Gargyar, is located in

  • Cambodia set to celebrate Koh Ker UNESCO listing

    To celebrate the inscription of the Koh Ker archaeological site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the Ministry of Cults and Religion has appealed to pagodas and places of worship to celebrate the achievement by ringing bells, shaking rattles and banging gongs on September 20. Venerable

  • Ream base allegations must end, urges official

    A senior government official urges an end to the allegations and suspicions surrounding the development of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, now that Prime Minister Hun Manet has addressed the issue on the floor of the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA 78). Jean-Francois Tain, a geopolitical

  • CP denied registration documents by ministry

    The Ministry of Interior will not reissue registration documents to the Candlelight Party (CP). Following a September 21 meeting between ministry secretary of state Bun Honn and CP representatives, the ministry cited the fact that there is no relevant law which would authorise it to do

  • Manet touches down in Beijing for high-level meetings

    Prime Minister Hun Manet arrived in Beijing on September 14 for his first official visit to China, where he is slated to attend the 20th China-ASEAN Expo and meet other leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping. Upon his arrival, Manet laid a wreath at the Monument

  • Cambodian diaspora laud Manet’s UN Assembly visit

    Members of the Cambodian diaspora are rallying in support of Prime Minister Hun Manet’s forthcoming visit to the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA 78) in the US’ New York City this week. Their move is an apparent response to a recent call by self-exiled former