Category Archives: Venezuela Travel

Weather in Venezuela

Venezuela Temperatures

Venezuela is near the earth’s equator, so average temperatures remain the same all year round. Changes in temperature come only with changes in altitude, dropping about 5.4°F with every 1000ft increase (6.5°C per 1000m).

Since over 90% of Venezuela lies below 1000m, you’ll experience temperatures between 70°F and 85°F in most places. Still, since humidity is very high, 90°F can be oppressive, while 70°F is much more comfortable.

The Andean and coastal mountain ranges have more moderate temperatures.

Caracas Venezuela weather

Weather chart for Caracas, Venezuela

Weather in Caracas

Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, follows the contours of the narrow Caracas Valley on the Venezuelan coastal mountain range that borders the Atlantic Ocean. Caracas sits at elevations between 760 and 910 meters above sea level. So the weather is quite a bit cooler and more pleasant than it would be at sea level (I think it’s no accident that many tropical cities are built at elevation, though it’s also true that the elevation historically offered protection from invaders).

The annual average temperature is approximately 23.1 °C (74 °F), with the average of the coldest month (January) 21.1 °C (70 °F) and the average of the warmest month (May) 25.0 °C (77 °F). In the months of December and January heavy fog may appear, in addition to a sudden nightly drop in temperature, at times reaching 7 °C (45 °F) or less. This odd weather is known by the natives of Caracas as the Pacheco. In addition, nightly temperatures at any time of the year are much lower than daytime highs and usually do not remain above 20 °C (68 °F), resulting in very pleasant evening temperatures.

Caracas actually gets hailstorms on rare occasions. Lightning storms are common between June and October (the wet season).

Venezuela Seasons

Venezuela does not have the typical “four seasons” found in northern climates. Instead there are only two seasons, dry and wet. Dry season runs approximately December to May, and wet season the rest of the year.

The tourist industry likes to refer to wet season as the “green season”, while the term “dry season” is to some extent a misnomer, since even dry season gets more rain that many non-tropical countries get in winter.

When to Visit Venezuela

Most visitors to Venezuela find the dry season from December to May to be more pleasant, especially for outdoor activities like hiking, camping and climbing. In the cities it may not matter that much.

Venezuela is of course famous for its waterfalls, particular Angel Falls, so travelers should be aware that the waterfalls are much more impressive during the wet season. Furthermore, it can be difficult to reach the falls by boat during the dry season, and while the falls can also be reached by car, getting there by boat can be fun and exciting.

In Merida, the weather is best October-June. The Orinoco River area can be more humid and a bit warmer, and the mountain areas will generally be at least 10 degrees F/5 C cooler (and much colder at high elevations). No matter when you go, be sure to take a sweater – the evenings are cool most of the year.

Visiting Venezuela During Holidays

Venezuelans love to travel during the holidays, especially the Christmas season (from early December all the way to mid-January), Carnaval and Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday). During these times all modes of transportation can be booked solid, and hotel rooms can be impossible to find. So if you plan to visit at these times you must book well in advance. Some tourists prefer to stay away during these times to avoid the crowds and noise.

On the other hand, witnessing the festivals and parades that go on during holiday times can be fun. So it’s really a matter of personality and preference.

Beautiful Photos of Venezuela’s Páramo Highlands

The páramo are the Andean highlands of Venezuela. This ecosystem is found in the high elevations, between the upper forest line  at 3,000 meters elevation and the permanent snow line at 5,000 meters. The páramo is cold, with animals uniquely adapted to the temperatures, such as the woolly donkey pictured below. These areas consist mostly of valleys, grasslands, lakes, and occasional patches of forest. It is a harsh environment: wet, windy, and receiving a high degree of ultraviolet radiation due to the elevation.

These photos are by a California-born agroecologist named Mason London. He provides us with a look at the paramos of the Venezuelan state of Merida.

Life in Caracas: lavish malls and BMW dealerships, amid poverty and crime

Plaza Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela

Plaza Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela

I enjoy reading the San Francisco Chronicle, but I recently discovered an Alternative Daily called “BeyondChron” that bills itself as “The voice of the rest.”

Eli Rosenberg, a writer for BeyondChron, wrote a piece back in 2006 that described in precise terms the constant diverging realities of Caracas, Venezuela. He wrote about the haphazardly placed skyscrapers and glittering shopping malls, surrounded by the “ranchos” or ghettos in the hills.

I really enjoyed his piece, and I’m reprinting it here, along with some photos that I added:

Life in Caracas

by Eli Rosenberg

Caracas, while home to nearly a fifth of Venezuela’s 26 million inhabitants, is a city so poorly conceived in design that it appears to have sprung up from the ground, without warning, overnight. Nestled in a long and narrow valley, it is a tangled urban agglomeration of towering skyscrapers, cluttered streets, curving highways, world-famous shopping malls, and of course, ranchos that blanket the hills surrounding the city, covering every inch of exposed land as if they were fighting for daylight.

Stacked haphazardly on top of each other, the red cinder block and tin-roof dwellings of the ranchos can be seen from the valley floor, serving as a constant reminder of the harsh reality that many buying Versace or Polo in the air-conditioned cool of a mall try to forget, but are forced to acknowledge upon leaving; que peligroso (how dangerous) they’ll say, glancing fearfully at the hills, adding even que feo (how ugly). They’ll show you the golf course too, the golf course and country club in the middle of the city that Chávez is trying to take away. He would take away our golf course! They’ll say, with the indignation of a child who hears the word no for the first time.

The division between rich and poor is even more blatant in Caracas than in other parts of the country; consecutive city blocks often alternate between these two constituencies, and on many streets, bright and modern apartment buildings, circled by tall electric fences, stand in stark contrast to much smaller, crumbling brick buildings which surround them.

Yet in parts of Caracas, it is also deceptively easy to forget the fact that more than half of the people in Venezuela live in poverty, and that a quarter of the population lacks the means to eat adequately. In a shopping mall in Caracas, one could be in any wealthy region of the world; unabashedly extravagant, they are filled with the global chains of the world’s upper class- designer clothes, first-rate electronics, and endless shoe stores on par with any upscale mall in the United States. These malls are located in neighborhoods of BMW dealerships, “American” styled and themed bars, and areas where it is possible, even preferable, to pay for apartments in dollars. It is hard to believe that such contradictions could simultaneously exist in such close proximity, with such scarce middle ground.

Millenium Mall in Caracas, Venezuela

Millenium Mall in Caracas, Venezuela

Eating at one of the slick restaurants or glamorous bars of Las Mercedes, one could easily be in Los Angeles, and the similarities between the two cities are frightening; the blatant discrepancy between classes, the complete ill-conception and lack of planning, and the flaunting of wealth and almost psychotic emphasis on material goods and beauty. There were even mass riots of the poor in Caracas in 1989, called El Caracazo, which seemed to frighten the wealthy caraqueños perpetually, to a similar effect that the Rodney King riots had on the citizens of Los Angeles. And then there are the malls.

The wealthy in Caracas seem to embrace this retreat into irreality, flocking in hordes to lavish shopping malls, where some spend all day perusing the designer outlets, paying American prices to eat at American chains like TGIF and Cinnabon, listening to the American pop music that is piped into the cool air. These are the places they will recommend to you if you ask them where to visit in Caracas, these are what make Caracas the best city, they ‘ll say, if not in Venezuela, then the world.

Never mind the fact that you can get a good meal for a fraction of the price outside or that you could probably take a vacation here for the same amount of money spent in an afternoon at the mall. Maybe the outside world really does disappear the moment one enters a mall; how could poverty exist side by side with such profusion of wealth?

2. The other side of the coin

Boasting one of the highest murder rates on the continent, Caracas is an undeniably dangerous city. Upper-class neighborhoods surrounded by heavily-fortified walls and guard stations give some areas of Caracas the appearance of a war zone, and it is generally accepted that one does not walk around the city at night, with the exception of a few small areas in the wealthiest districts, conveniently surrounding the upper-echelon malls. Yet the ever-present paranoia of the upper-class in Caracas is almost more palpable than the danger here; I could not count the number of times that I was told to be careful in Caracas, and cautioned that Caracas is peligrosisimo (very dangerous), and sucio (dirty) too, deemed by many not even worth visiting because of this.

Caracas street vendor sells watches

A street vendor displays a stopwatch souvenir of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez weeks before plans to turn back the country's clocks by half an hour.

The small hotel I stayed at was located in an area called La Candelaria, a busy neighborhood near the central district of the city. Contrary to what I had been told, the area compromising the center and capital of the city was by far the most interesting part of the city. The streets surrounding Plaza Bolívar teemed with action during the day, alive with street vendors who covered the sidewalk for blocks on end, selling clothes, food, used books, household items, and pirated CDs to the masses of people who passed hurriedly by. This was dense urban living at its finest: the currents of people, the noise and smog, the movement on every street and corner, the hustle and struggle of everybody moving to the chaotic clockwork of modern city life.

In what appeared to be an impromptu speech, a man talked loudly about the virtues of the revolution into a microphone set up in Plaza Bolívar to the sparse crowd gathered there it seemed for other reasons, some restlessly tossing popcorn at pigeons, others nodding off on the benches around the huge statue of Simon Bolívar. A man gave me a “No a la Guerra!” sticker as I sat down. In Caracas political graffiti is everywhere, large government posters hang from office buildings showing giant profiles of Chávez, and a few beautiful murals cover the city’s walls.

A few blocks from the center, El Capitolio is the district where the National Assembly meets, where the building that houses the Supreme Court is under renovation, and where El Palacio Miraflores, the presidential palace is located. Palacio Miraflores, the site of the 2002 coup in which Chávez was removed from office for roughly 48 hours, sits on streets that are blockaded on all ends, streets that you are now forbidden from even walking down.

Caracas is a place that feels like it is at war with itself; fighting between two extremes, the city burns with conflict. Chávez clearly has his support in those who believe he can narrow the immense gap between those who reside in tall apartment buildings of Altamira and those who can only watch from their hillside shanties, but despite the programs, initiatives, the constant talk and emphasis, the task remains as necessary as the distance formidable.

Squid Fishing in Venezuela

Venezuela fishing town

The Venezuelan fisherman's home town

Geraldine is a young British woman who has done a lot of travelling in Latin America and written about it in her great blog, Mole’s Eye View. She traveled through Venezuela as well, and wrote some interesting posts about it. In one, she wrote about her experience squid fishing in Santa Fe, Venezuela.

She had a great time, though she only caught one small squid, while the fishing guide was pulling them up hand over fist. It sounds so messy with the ink spraying everywhere.

Here’s Gerlandine’s story:

Squid Fishing in Santa Fe, Venezuela

Out of the six people who the evening before had wanted to come squid fishing, only two of us made it. It was worth every bit of the early morning. Speeding across the water as the sun rose made me wonder why I didn’t get up early more often. But then it’s not everywhere that you can share the sunrise with schools of sardines and a dozen dolphins.

The three of us sat for two and a half hours with fishing lines poised for a bite. The art (or lack of it in my case) of catching squid is not all that different to other types of fishing, but there is no bait. I’m a big fan of that as it means you never know how many times you got a bite but were too skill less to snap the line quick enough to claim the fish.

Squid in a bucketWith squid fishing you cast out the line, wait for it to reach the sea bed and then keep pulling the line to attract the attention of any squid who may think that the hook is a sardine. When the squid engulfs the hook, that’s when you snap the line and bring in the catch.

Our fisherman deftly handled his two lines and kept bring up squids that squirted ink all over the boat as they hit air.

It took me two long hours to get my first and only calamari. Luckily, our fisherman gave us all the squid he’d caught as well as some mackerel from another boat we passed on the way back in, otherwise our evening barbecue wouldn’t have fed more than a small child.

I don’t think I’ll be quiting city life to live off the land…

Coromoto, the Venezuelan Ice Cream Parlor with 860 Flavors

Venezuelan ice cream parlor with 860 flavors

"I chose a scoop of avocado and a scoop of sweetcorn... it's amazing." Customer Marjorie Castillo

Reprinted from the BBC Online, with some photos added from various sources

You might imagine that the shop selling the largest number of ice-cream flavours in the world would be in Italy or perhaps the US, but in fact it is in the Venezuelan city of Merida, as Will Grant discovered.

After looking in the windows of a couple of ice-cream parlours but finding nothing more exciting inside than strawberry and vanilla, we eventually find Coromoto, opposite a church.

The neon sign outside, with the words “Guinness Book of Records” written in pink, is an instant give-away but, once through the doors, it becomes even clearer that this is the place.

At first glance, the counters of brightly coloured ice cream look perfectly ordinary.

Close up, the flavours are anything but.

The selection includes chilli, tomato, gherkin, onion, mushrooms in wine, garlic, and cream of crab.

Coromoto was set up in 1980 by a Portuguese immigrant, Manuel da Silva Oliveira.

The owner does not come in much any more and has left the running of the place to Jose Ramirez.

Seasonal changes

Jose is exactly what an ice-cream parlour manager should look like.

A friendly man in his 40s, his white and purple shirt is spotlessly clean, and his black moustache is perfectly groomed.

“Mr Oliveira was tired of working for the big ice-cream companies,” Jose says, “and decided that he could make more interesting flavours on his own.”

The first attempt was avocado.

Heladeria Coromoto in Merida Venezuela

Heladeria Coromoto is mentioned in the Guiness Book of World Records for being the ice-cream parlour in the world with most flavours.

“It’s a tough one to get right because avocados are so rich,” says Jose. “Mr Oliveira wasted around 50kg of ice cream trying to perfect it.”

Coromoto sells about 60 flavours on any given day, but changes the flavours according to the seasons.

On one wall, a list of its specialities is made out of engraved wooden slats.

Besides the standard options like chocolate and rum-and-raisin, there are plenty of exotic fruits: guava, papaya, mango and passion fruit.

There are several vile-sounding flavours among the 860 as well: eggs, macaroni cheese and sardines-in-brandy being a few of the more bizarre examples.

And there are a lot of oddly named ones too like British Airways, Andean Kisses and I’m Sorry, Darling.

One of them, Viagra Hope, is bright blue like the pills.

I have to ask what is in it, and am relieved to hear it is all natural: honey and pollen.

“Different people like different things,” said the shop’s manager.

Jose, manager of Coromoto ice cream parlor in Venezuela

"Of course, being Venezuela, there are plenty flavours made with rum." Jose Ramirez, manager of Coromoto

“Personally I’m a fan of the fruit flavours but many customers prefer the alcoholic choices like Cointreau, cognac or vodka-and-pineapple.

“Of course, being Venezuela, there are plenty made with rum.”

In the back room

Ushered behind the front desk, I get the chance to glimpse what most visitors to Coromoto never see: the ice cream being made.

As we walk behind the scenes, I imagine scenes of an ice-cream version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, complete with a mad inventor pouring strange solutions into test tubes.

However, a bit disappointingly, I am led into an airless room where two vast ice-cream mixers are whirring away. On one of the machines, a big tub of raisins is waiting to be added to the concoction inside.

In the other, a vanilla-coloured mixture is being turned but – as I suspected – it is not vanilla.

“Es cafe,” says the girl keeping an eye on the machines – coffee flavour.

Now it is my time to try a few.

‘Muy picante’

“What is the house special?” I ask Jose.

He chuckles and says “pabellon criollo” – a traditional Venezuelan meal of beef, rice, plantain, cheese and black beans, which Coromoto has replicated in ice cream.

Jose fixes me a small scoop of each flavour – and yes, they do beef-flavoured ice cream in Coromoto – topping it off with a half-scoop of chilli flavour.

Ice cream flavors at Coromoto ice cream parlor in Venezuela

The house special is made with several flavours including beef and cheese.

“Muy picante,” he warns me, but I foolishly nod… I’m sure it’s not that hot… and gulp it down in one.

Once my eyes have stopped watering and I have got my breath back, I manage a smile at Jose, who is laughing and saying, “I told you so!”

Clearly Coromoto’s flavours live up to their names.

To put out the fire on my tongue, I go for the plantain flavour which is incredibly realistic. As is the cheese, which I would not at all recommend.

Perhaps some things, like cheddar, should not be made into ice cream.

Finally the beef. Despite my misgivings, it is rich, sweet and meaty. I can’t quite believe it, but I seem to actually like beef-flavoured ice cream.

Back on the shop floor, the customers are enjoying their choices on what is a stiflingly hot day.

“I chose a scoop of avocado and a scoop of sweetcorn,” says Marjorie Castillo, who lives in Caracas.

“It’s amazing. The avocado tastes just like avocado and the sweetcorn like sweetcorn.”

Her 14-year-old niece, Marvery, concurs. “It’s exotic, divine,” she says.

“You’ve only got 858 flavours still to go,” I tell her.

“I know,” she says, giggling into her ice-cold treat. “But I’m sure I can do it. One flavour at a time!”

Lonely Planet guide out of date on Venezuela

News crew at Catia La Mar beach, Venezuela

News crew at Catia La Mar beach, Venezuela

In a blog post titled “Lonely Planet or off the planet?”, Cowboy in Caracas complains that the 2007 edition of Lonely Planet’s Venezuela guide is woefully out of date, whether as a result of poor research, or political bias. He writes:

From Caracas the nearest beaches are west of the airport in Catia La Mar or east of the airport in the direction of La Guaira.

A horrible tragedy hit this coastal area in December, 1999. Some estimates of the dead were as high as 50,000 inhabitants. The massive landslides wiped out not only humble dwellings but even multiple-story apartment buildings. Ship containers were washed into the ocean and survivors had to be evacuated in helicopters and military landing craft. Hardest hit was the area east of the airport.

A drive from Caracas along this eastern area today reveals a completely different picture. Some beaches are larger than before as the landslides pushed the coast maybe a hundred yards further into the ocean. A six-lane road covers a part of the coast where before one had to take a slow drive through a coastal town. Flowers, bushes and trees fill the brilliant yellow curbing that divides much of the way. In other places the cement dividers are painted in pastel colors. Long walls are covered with colorful mosaics. Hanging from the lampposts are decorative and bright drums and maracas, seahorses and crabs—illuminated at night.

The beaches have new restaurants and stands for vendors. And, the beaches are packed this week with visitors.

Catia La Mar from the air. Clearly there is quite a lot of development.

Catia La Mar from the air. Clearly there is quite a lot of development.

Now read what the 2004 edition of LONELY PLANET had to say about this area:

After the 1999 events, “The whole area from La Guaira to Naiguatá became a sea of ruins,…. Macuto, Caraballeda and Naiguatá, once thrilling seaside resorts for ‘caraqueños,’ were turned into ruined ghost towns, and remain much the same. It will take decades before the urban fabric is fully rebuilt, if ever.”

In 2004, the authors of LONELY PLANET’s Venezuelan guide saw no hope—possibly forever—for the region. But it didn’t take decades to restore the area. It didn’t even take half a decade…

A few days ago, a visitor showed me his 2007 edition of the book. LONELY PLANET doesn’t seem to be aware of what has happened here. The same words of the 2004 edition are basically repeated, although now the book at least gives the names of a few hotels in the region, something they didn’t do in 2004.

I suppose one can forgive the authors for not being able to foretell the future in 2004 (although progress was already happening), but to repeat their mistaken forecast in 2007 was a case of blindness.

Life in Maracaibo, Venezuela – Part One

Colorful colonial houses of Maracaibo, Venezuela

Maracaibo is the second largest city in Venezuela, 500 km west of Caracas, with a population of three and a quarter million. In recent years, many people have moved there from Caracas to escape the unchecked crime in the capital.

The city of Maracaibo sits on the shores of Lake Maracaibo; it’s the capital of the beautiful and agriculturally productive Zulia state. Separated from Caracas by distance and geography, Maracaibo has been shaped in unique ways by its isolation and its overwhelming physical feature, the lake. 13,000 square kilometers in size, the lake cuts a huge teardrop shape out of Venezuela’s northern coast.

Map of Venezuela. See Maracaibo at the upper left.

Map of Venezuela. See Maracaibo at the upper left.

For 390 years of the period of Spanish settlement, Maracaibo could only be reached by ferry across the immense lake. The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge, named after a hero of the War of Independence, was completed in 1962. It spans Lake Maracaibo; 5.5 miles (8.7 km) long, it is the longest pre-stressed concrete bridge in the world.

Bridge across Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela

Bridge across Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela

The people of Maracaibo – known as Maracuchos – are proud of their city, their culture, and of Zulia. They sometimes think of themselves more as people of Zulia than Venezuelans.

Maracaibo is known for its colorful houses, warm weather, the unique indigenous lake villages and canoe traffic still found on the lake, the famous bridge across the lake, its own style of Afro-Venezuelan folk music called gaita Zuliana, its unique dialect (the people speak quickly and roughly and use the Castilian “vos” plural), and for generally being culturally different from Caracas in every way.

A floating church on Lake Maracaibo

A floating church on Lake Maracaibo

The Source of Maracaibo’s Wealth

If I’ve made Maracaibo sound like some backwater lake village, forgive me. In fact it is a bustling, modern metropolis, with modern towers lining the lakeshore. With its remote location, this might seem unlikely, except for one fact: oil.

I’ll write specifically about this in Part Two, so stay tuned.

A gaita zuliana band in Venezuela

A gaita zuliana band in Venezuela

Venezuela: Beautiful Sights, Rude People?

Angel falls in Venezuela

Angel falls in Venezuela

In a recent discussion on the Thorn Tree travel forum, a traveler with the nickname of Lobito says that he has traveled to every South American country with the exception of Guyana and Surinam, and finds that while the geography of Venezuela is stunning, the people are consistently rude.

He continues:

I also have during all my travels never met people who were so ignorant, uneducated and rude not only towards foreigners but to each other. At the same token I have met some very friendly locals who would go out of their way to help me.

Just to give you two examples during my travel in Venezuela.

A woman in a bus wants to breastfeed her baby. A man in front her reclines his seat to the degree that there is no space left for the baby. The woman asks the man to lift up his seat a bit. The man says: No, I want to take a nap.” That’s it; for the next 2 hours he remained in this position – I hope he slept well. We could not believe it. A teenaged boy sitting next to me also expressed his disgust and I was happy that he realized what was going on here. This is what I call “rude’ and it has nothing to do with cultural level etc. Actually it may occur elsewhere but in Venezuela it happened far too often.

Next I enter a bus and there is only one seat left. A man has his shopping bag on it and part of his body spread out while his arm is dangling out of the window. The driver asks the man to make space. He refuses. He is then asked to remove his bag; he slowly complies but does not move his body one inch. I had to sit next to this guy uncomfortably for one hour until he left.

I observed dozens of similar incidences; I must say this has never occured to me anywhere in South America. I have talked to other Venezuelans about this and some agreed that there is a problem. The only explanation I have is lack of education and ignorance. 

Just go to a beach in Venezuela and see the litter left behind by the locals; they don’t even realize there is a problem. At the same time you see modern highways with crews cleaning up the litter thrown out from cars, modern shopping centers absolutely spotless next to houses where the garbage piles up on the walls.

I agree that there are countries in SA with lower levels of literacy and with more poverty. As travellers we all accept this.

In Colombia I had once a conversation with a very poor man who was working in a mine: he knew more about Spanish history than I did. Something like this impresses me.

After all the negative comments Venezuela offers a few destinations such as the Angel’s Falls which are worth the trouble. 

I arrived in Caracas early afternoon, passed immigration quickly and changed money at the airport downstairs at one of the car rentals. The black market rate was BF 3.0 for 1 US$ – the best I could get at the beginning of August (supposedly it is BF 4.0 now). I noticed right away that food prices are high: a hamburger for BF 22, meals BF 30 and up.

I then walked over to the domestic terminal to get a flight to Puerto Ordaz (100 km from Ciudad Bolivar). Waiting in line at ASERCA a supervisor came out and a woman and I asked him about seat availability; he said “none today” and turned to chat with his friends totally ignoring us. The woman walked away but I waited another 10 minutes and managed to buy a ticket for BS 338 which I found to be rather expensive. The 4 p.m. flight was delayed by 90 minutes due to problems with the brakes as we could see; nobody told us anything. Upon arrival in Puerto Ordaz I decided to look for a hotel because it was now dark. The taxi-driver suggested several places in the $ 150 – 200 range (this is an oil-rich area with business travellers) but I had a list for posadas and got the last room in one of them for $ 85 which was listed for $ 25 in my guide.

Next day I went to Ciudad Bolivar by bus and it was extremely hot (all year round). I also found that the three days Angel’s Falls tour costs now BF 1,500 (US$ 500 for me or nearly $ 700 if charged to a credit card). I must say the trip was worth the trouble (not necessarily the money). Beware that after 6:30 p.m. Ciudad Bolivar is almost totally deserted.

After the tour my next destination was Cumana at the Caribbean coast (buses as usual deep freezers; take your winter closing while the temperature outside is 35 degrees Celsius). Shortly after dark the first power outage hit us and the town was locked down. Power came back shortly before midnight and the water started flowing again for a well deserved shower. I then spent several days in Santa Fe to explore Mochaima Park. I must say I have never seen so much garbage and trash floating in the water than at Venezuelan beaches. It was totally disgusting to be in such a beautiful place and the locals could not care less.

Prices were a bit more acceptable and the sea food was very good. After 3 days I got tired of the power outages and lack of water and moved on to Puerto la Cruz before boarding a Maracaibo bus to Valencia 8 hours away. Half way to Caracas the bus had a total hydraulic failure and stopped in the middle of the two-lane highway. The traffic chaos was imminent and it was getting dark. Nobody knew what was going on, the police arrived, someone tried to fix something but the only one who had a light was I. And suddenly the driver and the police took off (probably to the next bar) and left 60 passengers behind. Finally at 11 p.m. a new bus arrived and we finally got to Valencia at 3 a.m. – something I wanted to avoid. The city had 160 murders in July and a taxi-driver got killed out of nowhere just the day before as I could read in the newspaper the next morning. Out of desperation I was willing to spend any amount of money just to get some safety. The taxi-driver took me to a 4 star hotel which was full. Next a 5 star hotel who were not interested in letting me in, several more locked up places and finally a hotel for $ 60 in a tiny room with at least functioning bathroom.

The next day I paid BF 30 for the ride to the terminal to board a bus to Chichiviriche. A Spanish couple suggested to forgo Choroni because it was overcrowded by local vacationers, expensive and noisy; they also were robbed in the area and the woman lost her passport. But Morrocoy National Park was not much better with hundreds of ignorant people pulling their ice-chests filled with 6 packs and dumping their trash everywhere they went. The beaches were littered with garbage and bottles were floating in the warm beautiful blue waters of the islands. What a pain!

2 days of nightly power outages (which at least stopped the permanent loud music until someone hooked up his system to a generator and kept us awake until 3 a.m.) were enough for me. I moved on to Marracay where I spent a boring week-end. I wanted to visit the Rancho Grande research place in the mountains but the bus driver the terminal did not want to let me off and suggested a taxi. I said “thank you”.

The last day I took the bus to the La Bandera terminal in Caracas and for BF 100 (not negotiable) got an official taxi-driver who drove me safely to the airport. Three hours later I arrived in Miami, went to the Best Western Airport hotel where for less than $ 100 I had a clean large room with everything in it (refrigerator, microwave, etc) and the best breakfast (included) I had for a long time. And I thought Miami was a place to avoid.

In summary it was an interesting trip. I would have visited Merida if I had had more than the 14 days but I am not sure if I am returning soon. In the whole I spent over $ 1,500 with moderate accomodation and a few restaurant visits.

I did not talk about politics because that is a different topic.

However, a woman by the name of AnaSauvalle responded with the following:

I think it all depends on the individual experience. I’ve travelled all over South America and Venezuela was unquestionably my favourite. All the people we met were so friendly, we met hardly any tourists, were welcomed by locals who were happy to discuss the country, its politics, way of life etc. Nor did we spend much money. I agree there is virtually no infrastructure for tourists – for us that was just what we wanted.

On the other hand, I went to Peru, absolutely hated it, found the locals really rude, everyone trying to rip you off, the country so expensive to name a few points, yet when I wrote an account the same way you have I was inundated with as many responses from people who agreed with me as those who didn’t.

Sometimes it’s just a question of luck……..

To anyone who is wondering whether or not to go my advice is do it.

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Casas de Antaño in Maracaibo, Venezuela

 

Casas de Antaño in Maracaibo, Venezuela

 

I recently came across TravBuddy.com, where people share travel advice. There was a long series of blog posts by a group that traveled all through Latin America. Unfortunately their stay in Venezuela was brief and there were only two posts from there. There are some nice photos, however. I couldn’t find the author’s name, but I have included links and written summaries of here:

Maracaibo, Venezuela, December 4 2007:  A hectic town with loud talkers and generous people.

Caracas, Venezuela, December 6 2007:  Just another big capital, with a historic center and a lot of Chavez propaganda.

Afro-Venezuelan Cultural Festival

Afro-Venezuelan musicians

Afro-Venezuelan musicians

Global Exchange is offering a three day tour to Venezuela to visit the Afro-Venezuelan Cultural Festival, to take place from June 20, 2009 – June 30, 2009.

From their website:

“Despite their overwhelming contribution to the everyday life and culture of Venezuela, coastal Afro-Venezuelan communities continue to face racial and economic divisions that prevail from the days of colonization… Travel to Venezuela with Global Exchange during the San Juan Festival — 3 days that celebrate San Juan, the patron saint of the descendents of freed slaves, and a time the African heritage of all Venezuelans is celebrated — and learn about the realities of Afro-Venezuelan communities on a delegation to Venezuela that is a blend of culture and politics, introducing you to a side of Venezuela rarely heard about in the United States.”

Whether or not you agree with Global Exchange’s politics, it sounds like an interesting opportunity. The cost is $1550 not including airfare, and includes accomodations, meals and travel to activities within Venezuela.