Venezuela is a country in South America. Having a shoreline along the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, Venezuela borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east and Brazil to the south, and is situated on the major sea and air routes linking North and South America. Off the Venezuelan coast are the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Angel Falls (Kerepakupai Vená) in the Guiana Highlands is the world's highest waterfall and one of Venezuela's major tourist attractions.
Venezuela's economy depends heavily on oil exports. When oil prices were at record highs, Venezuela prospered and its left-wing government made many basic commodities available to the people at artificially-low prices. When the price of oil cratered in 2014, the value of Venezuela's bolivar currency plummeted and shortages of basic items in stores proliferated. Crime is widespread, there are lengthy queues for the limited supply of foodstuffs and vital medicines are scarce or unattainable. Instead of Colombians sneaking into Venezuelan shops to buy at attractive, subsidised prices, Venezuelans are departing for other countries as the shelves are bare.
Due to the extremely high inflation rate, Wikivoyage does not provide prices in the national currency, the bolivar. Prices expressed in US dollars may be shown as ranges because of the variance between low official and higher unofficial exchange rates.
Mountainous and picturesque, this region is made up of the states of Mérida, Táchira and Trujillo
|Caribbean Islands |
With more than 600 islands or smaller formations, many of the best beaches can be found here
The most populous part of Venezuela enjoys great beaches and big cities, from Caracas and the nearby commuter towns in Miranda and Vargas out to the states of Aragua and Carabobo
The immense and largely uninhabited area south of the Orinoco River, which makes up around half of Venezuela's national territory, includes rainforest in Amazonas, table-top mountains in the Gran Sabana and Bolívar state, and the flat marshlands extending out in the Orinoco Delta
|Los Llanos |
Vast open plains, home to cattle-ranching and amazing wildlife, make up of the states of Apure, Barinas, Cojedes, Guárico and Portuguesa
Stunning deserted beaches in Anzoátegui and Sucre, as well as hills and caves in Monagas state
Rich with oil from Zulia state, the northwest also boasts more beaches in Falcón and a lush agricultural countryside in Yaracuy and Lara.
- 1 Caracas – Being the capital and the largest city in Venezuela, Caracas is known for being one of the most cosmopolitan and modern cities in South America. There are lots of places to visit, such as theaters, malls, museums, art galleries, parks, well-conserved colonial architecture and even gourmet restaurants.
- 2 Coro – The first capital of Venezuela and a city of rich colonial architecture, a unique natural scenery and tourist attractiveness. Its historical downtown is considered as a cultural World Heritage Site.
- 3 Ciudad Bolivar – Stop-off point for flights to Angel Falls, and a comfortable stopover to Brazil.
- 4 Ciudad Guayana – Dominated by heavy industry, it is Venezuela´s most organized city and the main gateway to the Orinoco Delta and the Gran Sabana. It is locally still known as either Puerto Ordaz or San Félix.
- 5 Maracaibo – Venezuela's second largest city, swelteringly hot and built on oil.
- 6 Maracay – Once the capital of Venezuela, now home to the main military garrison.
- 7 Mérida – A charming university town in the Andes mountains, popular for outdoor activities.
- 8 Puerto La Cruz – The city to go to if you want to visit the beaches in Eastern Venezuela.
- 9 San Cristóbal – A leafy industrious city in the Andes mountains, bordering Colombia.
- 1 Angel Falls (Salto Ángel) — The world's highest waterfall.
- 2 Canaima National Park (Parque Nacional Canaima)
- 3 Choroní Beach (Playa Grande or El Malecon)
- 4 Los Roques Archipelago (Archipiélago Los Roque)
- 5 Margarita Island (Isla Margarita)
- 6 Mochima National Park (Parque Nacional Mochima)
- 7 Morrocoy National Park (Parque Nacional Morrocoy)
- 8 Laguna Sinamaica (Sinamaica Lagoon)
- Los Llanos (The Plains)
- 9 Orinoco Delta
- 10 La Gran Sabana (The Great Savanna)
|Currency||Venezuelan bolívar (VEF)|
|Population||30.4 million (2013)|
|Electricity||120 volt / 60 hertz (Type A, Type B)|
|Emergencies||911, 171 (police, emergency medical services, fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Venezuela is home to the world's highest waterfall, Angel Falls and the second longest river in South America, the Orinoco. It also has the longest coastline to the Caribbean sea. Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and also has vast untapped reserves of natural gas. Ecologically, Venezuela is considered among the 20 Megadiverse countries of the planet; more than 40% of its national territory is covered by protected areas.
Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in the northwest; central plains (llanos); Guiana Highlands in the southeast. Nueva Esparta islands in the northeast
- highest point
- Pico Bolivar (La Columna) 5,007 m.
Venezuela was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Colombia and Ecuador). For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry, but in 1958 a democratic process was implemented. From 1998 to 2013 the country was ruled by President Hugo Chávez, who had attempted to gain power by military coup but was elected and reelected democratically each time. Chavez transformed the political culture of the country from being dominated by a two party system to being dominated by loyalty or opposition towards him as a charismatic figure. Chavez also implemented socialist and protectionist policies during his reign, making him wildly popular among the masses of working class Venezuelans, but also crippling its economy and making him loathed by much of the upper-class elites. A 2002 coup attempt against Chavez failed thanks to the people and the most of the military opposing it. Upon Chavez' death his vice president Nicolas Maduro became president and has remained in power since. However, as Maduro lacks the charismatic persona of Chavez and the opposition led by Henrique Capriles accuses him of rigging the last elections in his favor tensions have been rising, as about half the country want him to stay in power or remove him from it respectively. Political developments for much of the 20th century were strongly influenced by the world market price of crude oil and in the 2010s petroleum is responsible for more than 90% of Venezuela's exports. The high price of petroleum following the 2003 Iraq war meant that Venezuela was able to engage in a kind of chequebook diplomacy and for some time it appeared as if Chavez' would become a regional leader. As the world market price for petroleum has fallen considerably, today only alliances with Iran, Russia, Nicaragua and Cuba remain.
Venezuela uses a 60 Hz and 120 V power system. The power plugs are identical to those used in North America (referred to as A and B type power plugs).
- January 1: New Year's Day
- January 14: Feast of the Divina Pastors
- February 12: Youth Day
- February 20: Federation Day
- March 21: Slavery Abolition Anniversary
- April 19: Independence Movement Day
- July 5: Independence Day
- July 24: Birth of Simón Bolívar
- September 8: Birth of the Virgin Mary and Feasts of the Virgin del Valle and Our Lady of Coromoto
- October 12: Day of Indigenous Resistance
- December 8: Immaculate Conception and Loyalty Day
- December 25: Christmas
Citizens of the following countries may not require a visa to visit Venezuela for tourist purposes only for up to 90 days (a tourist-card will be issued instead): Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominica, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Hong Kong, Iceland, Iran (max. 15 days), Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Korea (South) Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Nevis, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Spain, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad & Tobago, United Kingdom, and Uruguay. Business travellers almost invariably require a visa to be issued before entry.
In Caracas, passengers pass through immigration in the arrivals hall before going to baggage claim. Officers will check your passport and may ask questions. If a customs officer or anyone asks about your purpose of visit, tell them you are only there to visit, tourism. At baggage claim you will be required to match the baggage sticker on your flight ticket to the bar code on your bag before you hand over your tax form to customs officials.
There will be many individuals who approach you after your arrival offering assistance with locating a taxi or trading currency. It is best to not interact with anyone who approaches you. Even airport officials with proper identification may attempt to lead you to other areas of the airport to trade currency on the black market. When taking a taxi from the airport, always settle on a price before getting into the cab, and only use taxis that have the official yellow oval seal.
Some airlines ask passengers to show a valid Yellow fever vaccination certificate before flying to Venezuela. This is not an entry requirement, however the CDC Yellow fever vaccination recommendation is "for all travellers over 9 months of age travelling to Venezuela, except the northern coastal area. The cities of Caracas and Valencia are not in the endemic zone." A valid measles vaccination certificate may be required to board flights out of the country, but foreign tourists are usually exempted.
The main international airport is Simon Bolivar International Airport ( also known as Maiquetia airport), (CCS IATA) in the Vargas state. It is approximately a 30-minute ride from Caracas. Buses are available during the day, departing from Parque Central and Avenida Lecuna bus station next to Calle del Sur. Buses run from 7AM-6PM. A taxi ride from the airport will cost US$5-7, or US$6-8 at night. There are international flights to Maracaibo, Porlamar and Valencia, but the choices are very limited.
You can travel nonstop from the US and most major European cities:
United Airlines links Caracas to Houston daily and Newark weekly (seasonal). American Airlines offers daily flights from Miami (service to other destinations ended). Air Canada offers a direct flight from Toronto four times a week.
From Europe, there are nonstop flights from Paris (Air France); Madrid (Iberia, Air Europa, CONVIASA, Santa Barbara), Tenerife (Santa Barbara), Santiago de Compostela (Air Europa - seasonal service), Frankfurt (Lufthansa) and Lisbon and Oporto (TAP). With Turkish Airlines you can fly from Istanbul with a short stopover in Havana.
Aeropostal, CONVIASA, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Lloyd, LATAM and Aerolíneas Argentinas provide flights to the rest of Central America and South America.
Copa Airlines has a daily service from Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia to Panama and connections to all South America, Central America and USA.
American airlines has a daily service from Maracaibo to Miami.
For international departures (at Maiquetia Airport), the airport tax is US$23-53.49, and the departure tax US$21.40-9.20. These taxes are paid at the airport, although many airline tickets might include these taxes.
Only American Airlines is allowed to charge the airport tax with the ticket purchase. All other international carriers do not have the capacity to include this tax in their ticket price. It is a good idea to keep at least US$50 on hand when departing from Venezuela. If the fees increase, or you are required to pay both the airport and departure tax, you can head into the main lobby area where many businessmen will eagerly buy US dollars. If you are stuck without cash, you can ask the Air Canada employees to charge your credit card and provide you with cash to pay the airport tax. Ask for 'efectivo' when employing this strategy.
For domestic flights (at Maiquetia Airport), there is an airport tax. Aeropostal Alas de Venezuela, Santa Bárbara Airlines, Avior Airlines, Conviasa and Aserca Airlines are the major domestic airlines in Venezuela.
Venezuela has road links with Colombia and Brazil. The road crossing to Brazil, not far from the frontier town of Santa Elena de Uairén, is a long way from most tourist destinations in Venezuela and so not a common point of entry. Border controls are tight and all travellers arriving from Boa Vista are expected to have visas. The Venezuelan consulate in Boa Vista is on Av Benjamin Constant.
Venezuela's main connection with Colombia is from Cúcuta to Venezuela's frontier town of San Antonio del Táchira, which is about 50 km from the busy Andean city of San Cristóbal. For a day visit to Cúcuta no visa documents are required but border controls are otherwise very tight with frequent searches. The border area can be dangerous and visitors should pass through quickly.
In 2012, border controls were fairly relaxed from Venezuela to Colombia; it was possible to take a local bus directly from San Cristobal to Cucuta. As locals do not need to stamp their passports, the bus did not wait for third-country nationals undertaking the migration procedures. Smuggling of subsidised Venezuelan goods into Columbia became commonplace before oil prices collapsed in 2014; this flow has now reversed as Venezuela has been gripped by widespread shortages of basic goods. This has led to clampdowns at the border, and crossings have been sporadically closed.
If you are leaving Venezuela by land from San Antonio to Cucuta, you are obliged to pay the departure tax, so do not change all your bolivares in Venezuela.
Travelers in Venezuela are obliged to carry identification. There are military checkpoints on many roads, so while travelling by car or bus keep your passport handy, ideally you should keep a color photocopy of your passport. Should your passport be stolen, this will facilitate procedures with your local consulate. The military presence is constant, yet is not usually cause for concern. That having been said, there are corrupt officials. It is wise to keep a close eye on your belongings when, for instance, bags are being checked for drugs. A soldier of the Guardia Nacional (National Guard) sometimes plants drugs to solicit a bribe or steal valuables. Penalties for drug use are severe, and the burden of proof falls on the accused, the police may also demand bribes using the same modus operandi.
There is only one rather short intercity rail line in Venezuela, which leaves three options for travel inside the country: car rental, using buses, and using cars-for-hire. Drivers in Venezuela are generally aggressive and unconcerned by traffic regulations. The traffic in Venezuela is very bad, the drivers are aggressive and all drivers want to be the first. Thus, car rental is not recommended in general. The very cheap fuel prices make this option fairly economical. The expensive part of renting a car will be the insurance. Fuel prices as of Aug 2018 remained fixed at 1 BsF per litre, which meant that a million Imperial gallons (4,500,000L) was worth about US$1 at black-market currency exchange rates. The Venezuelan government is looking to eliminate these generous subsidies, but any change to the status quo will incur strong political backlash.
Do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Venezuela's traffic. The often ignored road rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic coming on to a roundabout. Drivers frequently top 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways. Laws requiring car occupants to wear seat belts are not always complied with.
Traffic lights are often ignored, especially in the night, not for lack of patience, but drivers do not like to stop the car as they can be robbed while stopped. Motorcycles (moto taxis) are sometimes seen transporting up to five people, usually without helmets, which adds to the dangers of the road.
At Venezuelan crosswalks, pedestrians do not have the right of the way as they do in the U.S. and many European countries. If you slow down or stop at a crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross, you could cause an accident with unsuspecting motorists.
The bus system is extensive and extremely affordable (in part due to the low price of fuel). Bus terminals are hectic, but it is usually easy to find a bus to any major city leaving within a short amount of time. Short bus rides (2 hours) may cost US$3-7, and even extremely long bus rides (9 hours) will only cost US$10-35. The larger buses are typically air-conditioned. In fact, they are usually overly air-conditioned, so it is worth bringing a blanket with you. Buses are an easy and convenient way to get around the country. However, proper security awareness should be exercised as robberies occasionally take place on buses in cities and on highways. It is best to choose bus lines that use a metal detector and bag check to insure no passengers are carrying weapons of any kind.
If you decide to travel by bus a good option is Aeroexpresos Ejecutivo [dead link]. They have their own terminal in a residential zone of Caracas (Chacao, Bello Campo), and baggage is checked on the buses (as in an airport). The buses are clean, safe and well-maintained, plus the drivers are trained to respect the speed limit (there are many accidents on regular buses on Venezuelan highways, most of them caused by speeding on poorly maintained roads). They are more expensive than a regular bus, but still cheap by American or European standards. You may pay with credit card and buy tickets in advance by phone. Aeroexpresos offers slightly more expensive options for many long routes that include semi-cama seating, chairs that recline extra, and allow for more comfortable sleeping on overnight trips.
For smaller towns, there may not be regular buses. In such cases, one can use cars-for-hire, called "por puestos." These are typically old and run-down vehicles, but they are affordable. They are more expensive than buses, typically costing US$5-9 per person for a one- or two-hour ride. The main problem is that they typically wait to have a full car (4 or 5 passengers) before undertaking a route. The driver will usually try to convince you to pay for the extra passengers if you want to leave right away. The cars are popular, however, and one does not usually wait long for a car to fill up. Por puestos are identifiable by signage bearing the name of the streets or destinations they typically drive along or stop at. Avoid traveling alone in a por puesto and avoid 'pirates', unofficial taxis that may intend to rob foreigners.
A large road network (which comprises approx. 82,000 km) and historically low fuel costs make Venezuela an attractive country for exploring with your own car.
Many roads are in good condition but there are also gravel and dirt roads for which an off-road vehicle is recommended – especially during the rainy season from May to October. This is why it is important to travel with a good road map (e.g. Venezuela Laminated Map by Berndtson & Berndtson) and to be well informed about distances, road conditions and the estimated travel time. On the web, the site of cochera andina publishes information on nearly 120 routes in the country.
You can rent a car, usually for US$20-50 a day, plus insurance and legal liability. This may make you think twice about renting a car, especially when considering the fact that renting a car with a driver usually costs the same.
Fuel is artificially inexpensive; there are many filling stations in the main areas. For outlying areas, you should fill the tank before you leave or take a reserve canister with you. In the mountains, fuel consumption often increases to over 15 L/100 km.
An international driver's license is needed to drive in Venezuela. Police will often ask for the license as well as for the frame or motor number during routine checks. Traffic rules generally comply with the international standard. But do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Venezuela's traffic. Be attentive when driving in Venezuela.
The often ignored traffic rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic in a roundabout. Although the maximum speed limit is 80 km/h outside the city and 60 km/h within the city (at night 50 km/h) local drivers frequently top 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways. The law obligates car occupants to drive with fastened seat belts – which is regularly ignored. If you are in a traffic jam, always other drivers will try to pass. Be aware also that motorcycles are sometimes transporting up to five people, without helmets. Pay attention at night: streets and cars as well as bicycles often have poor lights or none at all. Even "good" roads may have unexpected and deep potholes. For this reason, and for security issues in general, long-distance intercity car travel is not recommended during dark hours.
Good sign-posting is only found on the main roads. Common and especially important road signs are:
- Curva peligrosa: "Dangerous curve"
- Sucesión de curvas: "Winding road"
- Reduzca velocidad: "Reduce speed"
- Conserve su derecha: "Keep right"
Travel within cities is usually via taxi. Taxis are more expensive than any other form of transport, but still affordable when compared to North American or European equivalents. The taxis do not have meters and will charge more at night. This is normal in Venezuela, however all prices are flexible in the Venezuelan economy, so it is a good idea to negotiate the fare for the ride up front. Tipping is not expected and not necessary. The driver considers the tip as part of the fare he is charging and will factor that into his negotiations.
Local buses exist, and usually connect the terminal to the city centre. Bus routes usually remain a mystery to the uninitiated and you can try to read the signals in the windows (going to-coming from).
Caracas has a clean, modern and cheap metro system, which is being expanded. While armed robberies are almost unheard of in the metro, pickpocketing is rampant. Typically, delinquents will aim to distract the passenger and then another member of the group will remove the wallet, or bag in the opportune moment. Its best to keep bags in front of you and avoid unsolicited contact with strangers.
Spanish is the official language of Venezuela, accompanied by numerous indigenous languages (usually never heard except in the Amazon region). Outside of Caracas, English is not commonly spoken or even understood, and even within Caracas it is usually only spoken by the younger generations.
- Angel Falls in the Guiana Highlands and Canaima National Park.
- Los Roques with its crystalline beaches.
- Los Llanos and its spectacular wildlife.
- Mérida and its breathtaking Andes scenery.
- Caracas, the true urban jungle.
Exchange rates for bolívar soberano
As of January 2019:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Venezuela's currency is the Bolívar Soberano (Sovereign Boliviar, ISO code VES), launched on 20 August 2018, which replaced the Bolívar Fuerte (BsF) at a rate of 100,000:1. The Bolívar Fuerte had replaced the old bolivar on January 1, 2008 at the rate of BsF 1 to 1000 old bolivars. The Bolívar Soberano is the first currency in the world to be based on a cryptocurrency (the petro, a government made cryptocurrency backed on Venezuela's oil and mineral reserves). The change was expected to do little to curb inflation, and actually led to the rate going over 48,000% a year.
Bolivars are not easily convertible either in or outside the country. Banks (and the few bureaux de change) give Venezuelan currency at the official rate, but there is a thriving parallel market that trades for higher rates. These unofficial rates fluctuate depending on general demand for foreign exchange, inflation and political instability. Within the "parallel market" there are various exchange rates: the tourist, the black market (a bit higher but dangerous and uncomfortable), and the bonds brokerage one (high amounts in government bonds, when on sale). That highest one, which appears as reference on certain internet pages, is the government dollar bonds rate, inaccessible unless you buy thousands of dollars in government bonds through a Venezuelan brokerage firm. This last one determines the rate of the black market one and the tourist one. The black market should be avoided unless you are sure of the honesty of the people changing currency for you. They may be scammers, thieves or even police disguised as traders. The safest parallel exchange is the tourist rate which is normally provided by higher-level people in the tourism industry (hotel managers, posada owners, etc.) The rates vary around Venezuela and from week to week. The tourist rate rarely varies in time. Once you change you cannot change back to euros or dollars unless the tourist operator that exchanged for you is nice enough to take it back.
There are widespread shortages of food and basic goods in the shops; many essential medications are becoming unattainable.
Current parallel market rates and prices can be found in these pages. (As access to the website is restricted in Venezuela, you may try searching for "dolar paralelo" or using this link. You may also consult on this page for the raw data.) However, the inflation rate is so high that not even these websites will always stay accurate - reports have abounded about Venezuelans using WhatsApp groups to set rates and prices. Venezuelan currency is also traded on eBay outside of Venezuela at various price points between the parallel black market rate and the official government rate and are marketed as a collectible item than as spending money for travel. Buying before departure will provide some spending money until you can find somebody trustworthy to exchange money in Venezuela. The difference between exchanging on the black market and the official government exchange rates is huge.
Because the government banned speaking about the black market (mercado negro) or parallel market (mercado paralelo), people refer to it as the lettuce market and to the foreign currencies as sorts of lettuce: American dollars are referred to as green lettuce (lechuga verde) and euros are known as European lettuce (lechuga europea)
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, American Express and Diners Club are usually accepted at upscale restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. Merchants always ask for ID before making a credit card transaction (a passport will suffice). ATMs exist all over the country. They hand out only bolivars at the official exchange rate. Maestro debit cards are the most accepted but Visa debit cards are often not accepted because they are a "fee-scam" for the sellers (appears as "Debit" for the buyer and as "Credit" for the seller), and some ATMs also ask for the last two digits of Venezuelans' ID numbers as an added security precaution, causing problems for foreigners with no ID number tied to their bank account.
It is best to carry small change rather than large bills as many traders, in particular taxi drivers, rarely have change. Tipping taxi drivers is not customary and can appear strange. Be a little wary of cab drivers as almost all of them are exploiting tourists, particularly from the airport to Caracas. Use only the official airport taxis (black Ford Explorers), which have a vending spot inside the airport. Buy your ticket there, first checking the fee according to the destination displayed on the counter, not asking the teller or the cab drivers directly. You can also get airport pick-up but it would be more expensive (mostly luxury hotels). For a safe taxi service in Caracas, you can use "Teletaxi", which you can set by phone (+58 212-9534040). Please ask the fee by phone before ordering the service.
At restaurants, tipping is usually minimal. If a 10% service charge is included then some extra small change can be left on top of the total, or if not included then a tip of only 10% is customary.
Hammocks and some dark wooden handicrafts can be found throughout Venezuela, as well as gaudy painted statuettes of big-busted women. Some areas such as Falcón state have a tradition of excellent glazed pottery.
Food and drink
Fine Venezuelan rum, chocolate and cigars are on sale at the airport.
Arepas, thick corn tortillas which are split and stuffed with myriad fillings, are the quintessential Venezuelan dish. The most famous variations are the "reina pepiada" (shredded chicken salad with avocado) and “domino” (stuffed with black beans and shredded white cheese). Hallacas (Venezuela's homegrown version of the tamale, with meat, olives, raisins covered in cornmeal and wrapped in plantain leaves to be steamed) are a popular Christmas dish. Cachapas (corn pancakes often topped with a salty cheese called "telita" or "queso de mano"), empanadas (savory pastries) and the ubiquitous "perros calientes" (hot dogs) are popular street food. For slow food, try delicious fish meals, or a shrimp soup known as “cazuela de mariscos”.
The traditional Venezuelan lunch is pabellón, and consists of rice, black beans, and meat, with a side of fried plantain slices. The above dishes are known as "comida criolla", or Creole food.
Venezuela is a leading producer of fine cacao beans and Venezuelan chocolate can be excellent. The El Rey brand has consistent quality.
To some tastes, especially those who prefer stronger and complicated beers, Venezuelan beers may seem thin and watery. The most popular beer brand is Polar, which is available in a low-calorie version (Polar Light), light version (Polar Ice), or premium version (Solera). Zulia and Regional are other beers available throughout the country. Whisky is very popular among Venezuelans, particularly for special events. Venezuelan-made rum is generally dark and of very good quality. Among the best is the "1796" brand from Santa Teresa. It is a Solera rum. Others popular brands of rum are Pampero "caballito frenado" and Cacique.
Venezuelans are heavy drinkers and will often go through a case of beer during vacation days, starting before breakfast, only to carry on with a bottle of rum or whisky come nightfall.
A popular non-alcoholic drink is called "chicha Andina," which is made from rice or corn flour.
Malta or Maltin is a carbonated non-alcoholic malt drink sold alongside regular soft drinks, although it is also manufactured by the Polar company.
Venezuelan coffee is excellent, but make sure you are asking for proper coffee (machine-made, 'de la maquina'), otherwise you might be served a 'negrito' or 'guayoyo', which can be anything from weak filter coffee to coffee-smelling brown water.
In Caracas, there is a good selection of 5-star hotels, although these are predictably expensive. At tourist spots elsewhere in Venezuela, guest houses or B&Bs, known as posadas are usually the best option, each with an individual style and usually offering breakfast or dinner if requested. Posadas can vary enormously in price and quality. Youth hostels are very scarce.
The beds in many hotels (mostly up to the mid-range levels) are nothing more than mattresses on concrete slabs that resemble box springs. Depending on what your sleep preference is, they may not be the most comfortable for you. Something for you to consider when looking for a hotel to stay at.
There are great universities throughout the country, both private and public. Caracas is the city with the most universities, including the Venezuelan Central University (Universidad Central de Venezuela, UCV) which has 60,000 students and is an architectural attraction in its own right since being awarded World Heritage Site status by the UN in 2002.
Before the current instability, Venezuela was becoming increasing popular as a destination for learning Spanish, with Mérida as the top destination. Cela Spanish School on Margarita Island offers intensive Spanish courses in different levels. Excursions and activities on Margarita Island are included in the Spanish course.
Working hours are usually from 8AM to noon and from 1PM to 5PM, or from 9AM to noon and 2PM to 6PM. (8 hours per day, and 1-2 hours of lunch time). Most banks close at 3:30PM, except the ones located at shopping malls (as Sambil, CCCT, etc.) work after 3PM but probably will make a little charge by the transaction. Also in December when they stay open an extra hour to deal with the holiday rush.
Venezuela has its fair share of poverty, corruption, and crime. Venezuela has one of the highest homicide rates worldwide. It is necessary to be vigilant when in crowded cities, as pickpockets and muggers may be around. Most sections of large cities are not safe to walk at night. Stay in populated areas. Always travel by vehicle at night. The outskirts of many cities are very poor and crime-ridden, and are not appropriate for tourists. When in doubt, ask local inhabitants or taxi drivers whether an area is safe or not. In general, if one looks like a (presumably wealthy) tourist, these sections of town should be avoided. It is advisable not to wear expensive jewellery or watches. Take care with using the cellphone, taking pictures and unfolding maps in crowds. Pretend you know where you are going even if you aren't sure.
Always ride on a legal taxi (Yellow plates). The white plates taxis are not legal and may be dangerous.
Additionally, be wary of corrupt officials (police and National Guard). Some officials may demand bribes or otherwise extort voyagers. Keep watch of your belongings at all times. Despite all these recommendations, you are usually quite safe in Venezuela if you apply a little common sense, and avoid looking overly wealthy when travelling. Women with big purses should not walk around alone. Tourists should avoid walking long distances in the towns and cities unless you know where you are going. Where possible arrange vehicle transport. It is not advisable for female tourists to walk through poor areas or shanty towns without a local guide. It is greater risk of rape or sexual assault if they walk through these areas.
Above all, when you are in Venezuela it is very important to use common sense. If you follow the right precautions, you'll probably have no problem. Don't look at anybody the wrong way, and don't look too wealthy.
If you get mugged, don't resist, and avoid eye contact. Most muggers in Venezuela carry firearms and shoot at the slightest provocation. Keep calm and give the mugger whatever he wants. Failure to do so is quite often deadly. Also, reporting a mugging to the police is seldom worth the trouble: it's best to forget it as muggers are only rarely caught.
Despite all the issues with insecurity, you may avoid most problems by either staying in the touristic areas or visiting the less touristic areas with someone that lives in the country.
Also, Venezuela has an interesting policy towards cannabis. You may possess up to 20 g, but anything more can get you thrown in prison for a long time. Even though this policy is quite liberal, you should keep all cannabis use private, if just to not have unwanted attention drawn towards you.
Avoid long distance car travel at night, since many highways are insecure then. Venezuelans are usually ready to help you if you have a problem. However, they probably won't dare to stop for you in the dark, as they would have good reason to fear being assaulted.
The Venezuelan-Colombian border hosts more frequent kidnappings, and cross-border violence. Therefore, several governments discourage travel anywhere near the border.
You may have some diarrhea issues adjusting to the foods and liquids in Venezuela. You should preferably buy bottled water and not drink from the tap, but iced drinks and salads are generally fine (depending on the water supply quality of your native country). Be careful with expired foods and cheeses that are many days old.
You usually find street vendors by highways, who sell food and who don't always have much knowledge of hygienic food handling practices. Use common sense when selecting what to eat in the street. Mind, that fresh food and mayonnaise may go bad fast due to the local climate.
Most Venezuelans are laid-back regarding racial issues, since white or creole persons blend naturally with natives and Afro-Venezuelans in everyday life (education, living, politics, marriage). So the word "negro" can be used regardless of who's saying it, or who is being referred to in this way. Expressions like "negrito" or "mi negro" are often used as a term of endearment. You could hear someone calling "negra" to a woman, regardless of the race of the person. And in general, Afro-Venezuelans don't find it offensive, as they are simply variations on the Spanish word for "black". Similarly, don't be offended if someone calls you "flaco" (thin) or "gordo" (fat) as these may also be used fairly indiscriminately, and often as a term of friendliness.
Differences between Brits, Americans, or Europeans are not perceived by most Venezuelans. Hence, you can expect to be called "gringo" even if you are, say, Russian. Don't let this offend you as a non Spanish-speaking visitor.
Venezuelans, like Colombians, Nicaraguans and Panamanians, have a very amusing way of pointing to objects by pouting their lips and lifting their chin, so don't assume that people are blowing kisses to you when you ask for directions.
Another important point to be kept in mind is that the Venezuelan society is severely split between "Chavistas" (those who support President Chavez) and "anti-Chavistas" (those who oppose to him), so it is strongly advisable not to talk about him and/or his politics unless you are sure on which side your Venezuelan friends are.
Venezuela has international country telephone code 58 and three-digit area codes (plus an initial '0'), and phone numbers are seven digits long.
Area codes beginning with '04' - e.g. 0412, 0414, 0416 - are mobile phones, while area codes beginning '02' - e.g. 0212 (Caracas), 0261 (Maracaibo) are land lines.
A single emergency number 171 is used in most of the country for police, ambulance and firefighters.
The international phone number format for Venezuela is +58-(area code without '0')-(phone number)
- To dial to another area code: (area code starting with '0')-(phone number)
- To dial to another country: 00-(country code)-(area code)-(phone number)
- Directory enquiries/information (in Spanish): 113
- Emergency service for mobile phones: (in Spanish): 911 (Movistar), 112 (Digitel), *1 (Movilnet)
Public payphones use prepaid cards which cannot be recharged but are easily available in shopping centers, gas stations, kiosks, etc. Phone boxes are common in the cities and do not accept coins. The vast majority are operated by the former state monopoly, CANTV, although some boxes operated by Digitel or Movistar do exist, particularly in remote areas. CANTV prepaid cards can be used only in their booths.
More popular today are the ubiquitous 'communication centers' or clusters of phone booths located inside metro stations, malls, or like a normal store in the street. Most of these communication centers are operated either by CANTV or Movistar, and offer generally cheap phone calls from a normal phone in comfortable booths equipped with a seat. A log is made of all your calls and you pay when exiting the store.
Many street vendors or buhoneros also offer phone calls from portable (antenna-based) land lines set up at improvised stalls. Callers are charged by the minute.
Mobiles operated by Movilnet, a division of CANTV, start with the 0416/0426 code and use the CDMA 800 MHz system and GSM/HSDPA 850 MHz. Rival Telefónica Movistar, formerly Telcel, start with 0414/0424 and use both CDMA & GSM/HSDPA (GSM/HSDPA 850 MHz). Digitel is another operator with a GSM/HSDPA (GSM/HSDPA 900 MHz) network and its numbers start with 0412. It is possible to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card for Digitel's GSM phones, but make sure your phone is unlocked. A pay-as-you-go Digitel card is working straightaway when bought from any official retailer.
Movilnet phones are not able to send text messages to most European networks. A Digitel phone may send a text message to almost any European network; Movistar may let you send a text message to any European network but is less reliable than Digitel for this purpose.
You may use your phone with a foreign SIM card in roaming. Check: www.gsmworld.com or call to your operator for roaming information to Venezuela. Movilnet and Movistar will require quad-band phones for European users, Digitel will work with any European phone. Tourists from other than European countries should check their phones if the phone will work with the above bands.
Internet cafés are increasingly common, often incorporated in the above-mentioned 'communication centers'. Even small towns usually have at least one spot with more or less decent connections.
Venezuela's state-owned postal service is slow, unpredictable and not widely used. Post offices are few and far between, although they are still probably your best bet for sending postcards back home. For mailing within Venezuela, courier services such as MRW, Domesa and Zoom are the most popular. These usually guarantee next-day delivery!