The city was founded to facilitate the transport of goods past the Atures Rapids on the Orinoco River in the late 19th century (mostly rubber). Now the economy is supported by both national and international tourism. Also based here is the Venezuelan army and navy, conducting a continuous low level campaign against incursions and drug-runners from nearby Colombia. The climate is equatorial and the surrounding rainforests are some of the worlds least explored and most untouched. The nearby forested mountains (Tepuis) contain some of the worlds least investigated micro systems.
Two hundred kilometers to the south is one of the natural world's great wonders, the Casiquiare canal, a waterway that links South America's two greatest river systems, the Amazon and the Orinoco. This was explored by naturalist Alexander von Humboldt in the nineteenth century, though first reported more than a century earlier. The water in this link flows from the Orinoco River into the Rio Negro, tributary of the Amazon, though much more is gathered en route from numerous tributaries. Nowadays tourists can organise a trip along it from Puerto Ayacucho.
90 km to the east is the second highest waterfall in Venezuela, the 2,200 ft (670 m) Yutaje Falls. Nearby is the Yutaje Tourist Lodge with its own airstrip in the jungle. Walks and river trips can be undertaken from here in the nearby selva. Of note is the large population of greenwing macaws, Ara chloroptera. There are also jaguars, pink river dolphins, numerous monkeys and other bird life.
The inhabitants are mostly criollos – mixed indigenous and Spanish blood. There are a number of local indigenous tribes including the Yanomami,the Panare, the Bari, Piaroa, and Guajibo (also known as Jibis). There is little traffic on the river these days. There is a range of medium and low cost hotels. While the city itself is not generally considered attractive, most visitors agree that the surrounding country is magnificent.