Venezuela is a country on the northern coast of South America with diverse natural attractions. Along its Caribbean coast are tropical resort islands including Isla de Margarita and the Los Roques archipelago. To the northwest are the Andes Mountains and the colonial town of Mérida, a base for hiking Sierra Nevada National Park. Caracas, the capital, is to the north.
With an increasing popularity in South American travel, Venezuela has defined itself as a top destination for many tourists. The last century has certainly brought Venezuela into modern times, having profited much on its leading oil production industry. And naturally tourism has become, in the last decades, a major player in the country's economy. Great strides have been being made in the development of resorts and accompanying services. Air travel is becoming easier and easier, with frequent, and often quite affordable, connections to North America and Europe. It is a country that is familiar with political upheavals and poverty, and some travelers may express a certain anxiety in travelling in such foreign environment. But it is quite, as long as you follow basic safety precautions, as you should on any other holiday.
Venezuela can make all of your dream holidays a reality: from hiking up mountains covered in eternal snow, to riding down rivers on rafts in the Amazon rainforest, and even simply lazying about on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The top attractions of this country include; the world's tallest waterfall, Angel Falls; the magnificent snow-capped Andean mountain range; Caracas' urban jungle; the pristine beaches along the coast or on Isla Margarita; the Orinoco river delta; the ancient Gran Sabana plateau; and the savannas of Los Lianos.
Caracas Currency :
Bolivar Fuerte Driver's License : International license recommended. Depending on the rental company, you must at least 21 to 25 years old, and have a credit card. Electricity : 110 V, 60 Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 6 months beyond intended stay, a tourist card and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -4:30hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Federal Republic with a congressional system. Land size : 912,050 km2 Language : Spanish and the Venezuelan dialect, called Castellano. National Airlines : Aeropostal, Avensa, Avior Population : 26,814,843 approx Religion : Roman Catholic 96%, Protestant 2%, other 2% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : November through February
Venezuelans really enjoy their protein food. Beef, chicken make up most meals, as do the occasional pork dish. Most meals are served with fried plantain and rice. Frying and grilling are the preparation methods of choice. Fish is also a staple along the coastal towns, such as trout, red snapper, dorado and catfish. Here is a sampling of traditional Venezuelan dishes: arepas are fried corn pancake, usually stuffed with breakfast fare or meat or chicken; empanadas are deep-fried cornmeal pastries, also filled with chicken, meats or seafood; and other stuffed food goodies include cachitos, cachapas and hallacas. Venezuela's national dish is the Pabellon Criollo, a wonderful mix of shredded beef, black beans and cheese.
Desserts and sweets abound, like various types of rice puddings, mango jelly, churros and tropical ice creams. Exotic fruits are grown easily in Venezuela, such as mango, papaya, avocado, coconut, passion fruit, and guava are just a few. From these, delicious juices and nectars are pressed.
A glass of sugar cane juice with lemon or coconut milk is just about the most refreshing drink on a hot day. Local rum is ever popular, as are rum cocktails. Venezuelan coffee, produced particularly from the western part, is quite appreciated by connoisseurs.
Culture The Venezuelans are a complex mix of several ancestries, dating back 16,000 years. The majority of the population is of Mulatto-Mestizo descent. With the arrivals of European settlers, African slaves and other waves of immigration, the rest of the population today consists of Caucasians, Africans and Indians. With still 31 indigenous Indian groups, many organizations have been established to fight for their survival at the hands of land developers. And while the bigger cities have mostly assimilated to European culture, Venezuela has retained a strong folkloric culture, rooted deeply in symbolic icons which personify their cultural roots.
Art takes many forms in this wonderful country, from music, to dance, writing and painting, and many more. And most forms all have been greatly been influenced by Modernism. In literature, many writers gained popularity through political essays following the move for independence. Venezuelan architecture also saw great changes, the first in the 1870s, and second in the 1950s, due to all the new oil wealth that was invested in the renovation of Caracas, making it today one of the most modern cities in the world. Kinetic art, sculptured works that include motion, has sprouted with popularity.
Just about everywhere you go, music usually fills the air, with Latin, African and Indigenous rhythms. Venezuela's most traditional music style is called the Gaita, made up of improvised rhyming vocals, accompanied by four-stringed instruments and maracas. You will usually ear it at the many festivals and especially at Christmas time. Another similar traditional style is the Joropo, and its dance, of the same name, is considered the national Venezuelan dance. Merengue and salsa have gained much popularity in Venezuela.
Geography Located just above the equator, Venezuela is situated in north eastern part of South America. Both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean lap at the extensive coastline. The capital city of Caracas can be found in the so-called Central region. Regions can vary greatly in altitude, from sea-level along the coast, to 2,500m in the Guiana Highlands and up to 5,007m in the Andes mountains.
Venezuela is an incredible phenomenon of diverse geographical regions, creating very different and independent eco-systems. Among them are grasslands, rainforest, evergreen forests, tropical islands, massive mountain ranges, giant plains, great water basins and the planets most ancient plateau. Most scenery will take your breath away.
History Archaeological discoveries date back the first traces of mankind to around 14,000 BC, giving birth to a diversity of tribes, but still remained rather primitive in their development. More concrete findings, relating to still existing Indians tribes, date back to around 6,000 BC and 2,000 BC. The main Indian influences are the Caribs, the Arawaks and the Otomaks.
Christopher Columbus sighted Venezuela on his third voyage of discovery. While navigating along the Orinoco River, he soon realized the magnitude of his discovery. After seeing the stilted houses of the Indians, the land was called' Venezuela, which means little Venice. The Spanish settlers soon arrived, searching for gold, as well as cultivating and farming. As with the fate of most of the Caribbean islands, the Indians and soon black slaves were used to toil the land.
A second push for independence began around the year 1820 by Simon Bolivar, first led by Francisco de Miranda. Bolivar was successful and liberated what was known at the time as Gran Colombia, in 1821, which encompassed Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. All three where later divided into the present countries in 1830. The decades that followed were marked by military dictatorships, and political and civil war uproars. A certain amount of stability was only achieved with the discovery of oil, bringing in large wealth, but only for the few. Much of the masses remained in complete poverty. In 1958, the country had its first free democratic election, making Romulo Bertancourt the first presidents. The political atmosphere remains uncertain at times.
Nature With such a diversity of landscapes, the country's flora and fauna also has become just as varied and exotic. This can be easily explained by the fact that several different eco-systems can be found within Venezuela, such as grasslands, great plateaus, rain forests and desert landscapes. Also we must remember that this continent remained isolated from any other land for millions and millions of year. Many species are endemic, at least those who have survived, to this continent.
Hundreds of mammal species, 5 reptile species and 1,200 bird species can be identified in Venezuela. Most impressive of all of these are the jaguar, puma, howler monkey, sloth, rare giant otter, caiman, boa, anaconda, condor, macaw, toucan, and the rare nocturnal oilbird. Venezuela's plant life is as exotic, with cacti, bromeliads, orchids, lichens, and some species of ferns, rare flowers, palms and fruit trees.
Sports If you go along the coast, or on the tropical Margarita Island, you will find all the water sports activities found at any other sun destinations. Among the possible activities, you will find jet skiing, water-skiing, paragliding, surfing and windsurfing, sailing or boating, and banana boat rides. Depending on your chosen destination, several companies offer fishing excursions, where you may catch red snapper, marlin, sailfish or yellow fin tuna. There are spectacular coral reefs and some shipwrecks worth exploring while snorkelling and scuba diving.
The incredible mountain ranges, like the Venezuelan Andes, offer incredible mountaineering, trekking, horse riding, paragliding, hangliding, mountain biking, rock-climbing, rafting, kayaking and hiking experiences. Several places specialize in extreme sport or adventure excursions, such as Merida, Caripe and Gran Sabana. Venezuela offers in total 43 different national parks to play in and discover the natural beauty. Golfers can also take a swing on beautiful golf courses, mostly found in big resorts and major tourist destinations.
The Venezuelans are crazy about baseball and soccer. Many professional associations exist and every tiny park will have local games as well.
Banks & Money
Venezuela's legal tender is the Bolivar, and is locally referred to as the Bolo. The US dollar is the easiest foreign currency to exchange in Venezuela. Usually, you can only change cheques or foreign currency at exchange offices, not banks. Before travelling to more remote areas, make sure to always carry enough Bolivares on you, as there may not be exchange offices in smaller towns.
In the larger cities, most major credit cards are accepted, but a surcharge of up to 10% is often applied. ATMs can also be found in more populated areas and they can be used with debit or credit cards to withdraw money.
Climate An impressive variety of climate can be found within this country, from tropical humid to alpine, due to it diverse eco-systems, elevations and topography. However, the temperature within each climate varies very little during the year. The seasons are defined by the difference in rainfall. Winter, the rainy season, usually last from May through November. The warmer coastal zone has an average yearly temperature of 27° C and is noted for the lowest annual rainfall within the country. By contrast, the coldest zone found in high altitude, like in the Andes, usually averages around 8° C. The capital, Caracas, has an average annual temperature of 22° C.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The international code for Venezuela is 58 and every region has individual codes as well. You will find that the telephone network is quite modern and efficient, but international call rates can be very expensive. Compare long-distance rates with calling cards first, usually calling cards may give you a better deal.
If you wish to use the postal system, do note that a letter going to North America or Europe can take a minimum of 10 to 15 days, when the letter does make it to its destination that is.
You will find basic internet set ups in most resorts, or in internet cafés usually found in major cities. There are several domestic newspapers and magazines, some daily, some weekly. Venezuela has 4 national television channels and satellite television is commonly found in most hotels.
Health In Venezuela you should always drink bottled water and ask if the water used to make ice cubes was purified water. You should not have any problems with Venezuelan food, but gastro-intestinal complaints, known as the turista, can occur in the first few days. On that note, public toilets can be hard to come by and it is always a good idea to carry a small amount of toilet paper with you. Make sure to protect yourself from the sun, especially in high altitudes. Remember, you are near the equator and the sun rays are much more powerful then what we are accustomed too.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines though are highly recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever. Less frequented areas of Venezuela may also be prone to Cholera, Dengue fever, Diphtheria and Malaria. If you plan an adventure trip, it may be a good idea to get inoculated.
Official Holidays January 01 - New Year's Day March/April - Good Friday, Easter April 19 - Declaration of Independence May 01 - Labor Day June 24 - Battle of Carabobo July 05- Independence Day July 24 - Bolívar's Birthday October - Columbus Discovery of America December 25 - Christmas Day
Safety Although Venezuela is safer than many other South American countries, the rate of criminality is rather high, particularly in Caracas. Tourist areas are safer of course but certain precautions need to be taken.
Use good judgement, keep money and travel documents well hidden in a money belt and take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels. Always lock your hotel door or your rented car. Never leave any luggage unattended and be inconspicuous with jewellery, cameras, or anything of value. Walking at night is not advised.
Shopping Local and indigenous arts and crafts are the ideal purchase to make, as the few duty-free shop prices and selections are usually comparable to what can be found at home. Except for stores and shops, it is customary and expected to bargain with street merchants and sellers located at outdoor markets.
One of the most traditional and beautiful souvenir are the beautiful and colourful handmade masks. Other great buys include the intricately weaved hammocks, called chinchorros, woven baskets, hats, and handbags, jewellery, and colourful ceramic pieces.
Taxes & Tips The departure tax of around US $73, per person, is payable at the airport when leaving.
All goods and services are subject to a 12% sales tax, and an additional 1% tourism tax is usually added to hotel rooms, plane tickets, tours, etc. Restaurants add a 10% service charge to your bill but it is customary to leave an additional 5%. Also, porters, bell mans and chambermaids should be tipped as you would at home. However it is not necessary to tip your taxi driver since chances are you will be overcharged, as taxis are not metered and fares must be negotiated.
Transportation If you are arriving on the mainland, chances are you will land at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas. Flights to Isla Margarita arrive at Caribe Santiago Marino International Airport. Short flights between destinations are easy and affordable with small charter companies. Ferries from Puerto La Cruz, Cumana, and La Guaira travel to Margarita on a daily basis.
The many transportation options make travelling within Venezuela a breeze. Car, motorbike, or scooter rentals are available but can be expensive. Some towns and cities favour the use of bicycles, such as Merida. One of the best and most affordable ways to see this country is by long-distance bus. Two important notes: motoring across Venezuela can sometimes require crossing borders into neighbouring countries, so make sure you have all necessary documents and an empty tarjeta de ingreso (entry form) with you. Also, police checkpoints (alcabalas), are very common and are used to check ID and documentation. Again, always carry your passport and tarjeta de ingreso (entry-card).
Local buses, taxis, por puestos and Caracas' modern metro system make up the transportation choices when you wish to travel within a city or town. Bus fares are very affordable but the service has greatly deteriorated in the last years. Taxis in Venezuela are not metered, so always negotiate a price before departure. Private cars often operate as illegal taxis (piratas) and should be avoided. Official taxis have yellow licence plates which read Libre or Taxi. Por puestos are minivans operating as shared taxis, their prices are somewhere in between a bus and a taxi ride.