Venezuela is at the northern tip of continental South America. It shares borders with Brazil to the south, Colombia to the west, and Guyana to the east. Spain’s long campaign of South American colonization began in Venezuela in 1522, and it was here that the first permanent Spanish settlements were constructed.
The country achieved independence under the leadership of Simon Bolivar, who won the battle of Carabobo in 1821, and now gives his name to the unit of currency. The country’s economy is based upon its large reserves of oil and natural gas. This has made it of particular interest to the US, one of Venezuelan oil’s biggest customers. The recent election of the socialist Hugo Chavez as leader, and his criticisms of US policy have created a tense political climate.
Geographically, Venezuela offers a great deal of variety. It has a long Caribbean coastline whose warm waters are ideal for snorkelling, an area of rainforest that is northernmost part of Amazonia, and also the northern extension of the Andes. The country’s geographical trademark is ‘Angel Falls’, the highest waterfalls on earth.
Spanish is the official language of Venezuela, but differs slightly in pronunciation from standard Spanish. Venezuelans call their language Castellano. There are 30 native tongues spoken in the rural areas of the country. If interaction with rural locals in necessary, an interpreter is recommended. Even in the big cities and hotels, English is rare. For this reason, it is a good idea to carry a phrasebook, and try to learn some basics.
As of the 13th of October 06, 1 USD will buy you 2,908.7 Venezuaelan Bolivars, 1 Euro will buy you 3,639.0 and 1 Pound Sterling buys 5,394.7 Bs. It can be extremely difficult to buy Bolivars in one’s home country. It is much more common to take US dollars and exchange them in a bank once in Venezuela. Many hotels and restaurants accept dollars although whether they give you a fair exchange rate or not is another matter. The exchange rate is volatile, as inflation depends very much on the whims of the international oil markets.
Venezuela is in a tropical latitude, but depending on the different regions’ altitude, the climate can seem more alpine or temperate. In the regions below 800 metres, average temperatures are between 25 and 28 degrees Celsius, and average rainfall is around 1000ml, most of this falling the rainy season between May and November. In the temperate region that includes most major cities, there is more variation, between 12 and 25 degrees Celsius and 750ml of rain. In the mountainous areas between 2000 and 3000 metres, temperatures are between 8 and 12 degrees Celsius, and the highest areas are covered with permanent snowfields.
In 1937 pilot Jimmy Angel landed his aircraft on the plateau atop Auyan Tepuy in search of gold. He didn’t find gold, but he did find the highest waterfalls on earth. The water drops 978m metres, providing a dramatic natural wonder that can be seen from the plains for miles around. The Falls are fairly remote, but if you like to see them, the cheapest and simplest way to do it is to book a tour from the nearest town, Ciudad Bolivar. You can expect to pay upwards of $250 for a tour.
The falls are located in the spectacular Canaima National Park. This is an area of plains which suddenly changes to dense jungle, then gives way to forested flat topped mountains, of which Auyan Tepuy is the tallest. The park contains many rare examples of flora and fauna, and is a popular destination with eco-tourists.
Magarita Island in the Caribbean sea is a popular destination with Venezuelan tourists. Playa el Agua is a beautiful sandy beach surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops. From here, you can snorkel or windsurf in the warm waters. La Asuncion, the island’s capital has an impressive array of architecture from Colonial times, including the colourful cathedral in the city square.
Each indigenous tribe has a unique style of craft, which make fitting and beautiful souvenirs. Handmade jewellery and clothing, especially Alpagartos, the traditional footwear of the Campesinos, are the most popular items.
In Caracas, head to the shopping centre San Ignacio. You will find an array of bars and lounges packed with the city’s youth. Merida, a popular destination among travellers and a university town, has an active nightlife, with a variety of clubs and bars, including a US style sports bar, called Gradas Sports Bar.
Driving in Venezuela can be a nerve shredding or exhilarating experience, depending on the sturdiness of your composition. The official speed limit on most roads is 80km per hour, although this is barely enforced. Road signs giving right of way, and even traffic lights are interpreted by Venezuelans as mere suggestions, and as often as not are ignored. When driving in Venezuela, remain alert at all times and be on the look out for traffic approaching you from unexpected directions. However, the roads are generally in good condition (except in the mountainous areas) and petrol is cheap and readily available.
Food and Drink
Venezuela’s traditional foods are usually corn or wheat based, and you will be able to find them in most restaurants. The favourite meats are beef and chicken, and fish (particularly red snapper) and shellfish on the coast. A common meal worth trying is ‘Arepa’. This is a corn based pancake eaten at breakfast with egg and tomato or as a snack filled with various meats or cheese. Venezuela’s national dish is Pabellón Criollo. This is made from strips of beef cooked with black beans, banana, cheese and rice. Venezuela’s agricultural sector is based on Coffee production, and it is drunk everywhere and by everyone.
- +58 (0)212 507 8815 (Caracas) or
All car hire locations in Venezuela
- Arturo Michelena International Airport
- Barquisimeto International Airport
- Cumaná (antonio José De Sucre) Airport
- Del Caribe Santiago Mariño International Airport
- Escuela Mariscal Sucre Airport
- General Jose Antonio Anzoategui International Airport
- General Manuel Carlos Piar International Airport
- Josefa Camejo International Airport
- La Chinita International Airport
- Maiquetía (simón Bolívar Internacional) Airport
- Maturín Airport
- Puerto La Cruz Airport
- San Tome Airport