Venezuela holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
The official language in Venezuela is Spanish. There are also a number of indigenous dialects, but these are rarely spoken outside of the Amazon region. English is not commonly spoken. The young generation living in the big cities tend to speak basic English, and many people within the tourist industry have a basic grasp of the language. However, a Spanish phrasebook will come in handy.
The official currency is the bolivar fuerte (BsF), which replaced the old bolivar in 2008. The bolivar fuerte is strictly controlled, making it hard to exchange. However, all banks and some bureaux de change exchange US dollars, pounds sterling and euro. There are a number of illegal money changes which offer fluctuating exchange rates but tourists are advised to stick to the banks when exchanging money. All banks have ATMs which accept foreign cards. Changing BsF into other currencies can be difficult, so relying on card and carrying minimal cash is advised.
A stamp for a 90-day stay is issued on arrival to citizens of the United Kingdom. Officials will simply ask visitors the purpose of their visit and a tourist card will be issued. Anyone travelling for business or work purposes will need to obtain an appropriate visa before arrival.
Thanks to the country’s proximity to the equator, the average temperatures vary little throughout the year. The exception to this is in the mountain regions, which can see temperatures as low as 15°C in the peaks. However, most of Venezuela is low lying, with temperatures remaining between 21°C and 29°C all year round.
Simon Bolivar International Airport, also known as Maiquetia Airport, is the main international airport in Venezuela. Located just outside of the capital of Caracas, with buses frequently running from the airport to the city, this is the main destination for the majority of European flights. International flights do run to Maracaibo and Valencia, but services to these airports are limited and can be more expensive.
There are currently no direct flights from London to Venezuela; however, a number of airlines fly directly to mainland Europe. Venezuela also has numerous daily flights from North America, meaning it is possible to fly into New York and then on to Venezuela. Air France fly direct to Caracas from Paris, while Alitalia flies from both Rome and Milan. EasyJet, Thomas Cook and Jet2 all fly to these European hub cities from London-Gatwick.
Flying with a budget airline to Charles de Gaulle, Paris, then taking a direct flight to Venezuela is advisable. Flying direct to New York from London and then onto Venezuela means more options in terms of flight dates, but is usually the most expensive way of getting here. Booking early is advisable. From the airport, there is a free bus into the capital which runs until late, so although taxis are available, they are not always necessary.
With roads linking Venezuela with both Colombia and Brazil, driving into the country is an option. Border controls are strictly enforced and border control officers frequently search vehicles. It is also possible to get a bus across the border, but such buses wait at immigration while all passengers’ passports are stamped.
Domestic flights are generally cheap and there are many connecting the major tourist spots with the capital. Buses are cheap and the network is extensive. Road conditions vary widely, but petrol is inexpensive and renting a car gives visitors the chance to head off the tourist trail.
The air network has services between the major cities. Caracas is the main hub for domestic flights but there are a number of airlines that fly to San Antonio del Táchira, Valencia and Barcelona. Aeropostal, Aserca and Laser all fly to these cities, and as competition is strong, checking a number of different airlines is advisable as there are some good deals to be found online. Flights aren’t daily, but they are reasonably frequent and service is reliable.
The bus network is extensive and extremely cheap. This makes the confusing timetables and often hectic bus terminals worth it. Buses run daily to pretty much all destinations and even the most remote towns have some form of service. For journeys longer than a few hours, air-conditioning is standard. Aeroexpresos Ejecutivos offers a comfortable, clean service, with tickets available by phone using a credit card.
Car hire in Venezuela is reasonably priced and the cheap petrol makes it an economical option. Drivers should be aware that traffic can be bad across the country and that insurance may not be included in the rental price. Road rules are largely ignored by locals, so it is advisable to drive with caution. Driving is on the right and the road network, while not very well maintained, is extensive.
For those looking to experience the culture of Venezuela, Caracas is a must-visit, with many regional festivals and numerous museums. There’s also no end of arts and crafts markets here, making it a great place for shopping. Caracas is also home to the Universidad Central de Venezuela Stadium, where baseball fans can take in a game.
Visitors looking to escape the urban jungle and see some wildlife can head to one of the most famous rainforests in the world, the Amazon Rainforest. This steamy, UNESCO World Heritage site is home to any number of animals, with more being discovered constantly.
The country also boasts many stunning beaches on the Caribbean coastline, the longest coastline in any single nation in fact, and is home to a staggering 600 offshore islands. With sandy beaches and turquoise waters, the coast is a popular tourist spot. Margarita Island and Los Roques are both popular destinations, but it’s hard to find a bad place along this stretch.
Coro was originally the first capital of the country after emerging from the collapse of grand Colombia in 1830. As a result, the city is rich with colonial architecture; so much so that the historical downtown area is considered a Cultural World Heritage site.
Mérida, a town found in the Andes Mountains, is also known for its sights, all be it of a different kind. With stunning scenery, it is the perfect place for those looking for outdoor activities, with hiking especially popular here. As a university town, it also has its fair share of nightlife, so visitors can rest their feet in one of the many bars after a tough day on the mountains.
The sheer diversity of the country means that around 40 per cent of its territory is named as protected areas. Even the Venezuelan Central University in Caracas is a World Heritage site due to its stunning architecture.
One of the best-known landmarks is, of course, the Andes Mountains. Stretching some 7,000kms, this range can be found in the northwest of the country. The scenery here is simply breathtaking and many outdoor sports are available. With a number peaks to be scaled, the highest being Mount Aconcagua at 6,962 metres, the Andes draw many travellers in their own right.
Another must-see landmark is Angel Falls. Found in the Guayana Highlands, the world highest waterfall plummets some 979 metres from the top of a shelf in Canaima National Park. Unsurprisingly, it is a huge tourist attraction, and it’s possible to see it in all its glory by helicopter.
Ciudad Bolivar is the most popular staying point for those flying to Angel Falls. A lively tourist town, it boasts good nightlife and plenty of hotels. Guayana itself is largely uninhabited, but is home to the Orinoco River, the second longest river in South America. This area also boasts the Amazon Rainforest along with sites such as the Tabletop Mountains. Trips are available to all of these landmarks, many of which have to be seen to be believed.
Los Llanos in the northeast of the country is a stretch of plains that is well known for its wildlife. It is the ideal place for tourists looking to get back to nature.
While the rest of South America boasts the tango as its most famous export, there is no doubt that Venezuela’s best known export is oil. Despite this, the country has numerous spots that are perfect for nightlife and local music.
Caracas is the undisputed queen of nights out. Being the capital, it boasts many music venues to cater for all tastes and numerous clubs where revelers can dance the night away. Clubs such as Transnocho Lounge and Le Terezzadel Ateneo are known haunts of the ultra hip crowd; however, Samoa offers mainstream music and good cocktails.
Merida, in the Andes, is a popular university town. Unsurprisingly, it has a reputation for being the place for nightlife. With plenty of bars and clubs, along with the novelty of partying in the Andes, it’s a hit with tourists and locals alike.
El Maní es Así is a long-running bar that is easily the best place to experience traditional salsa music. Found in Caracas, it is home to a varied crowd. Tourists come to admire the dance and locals come to show off their moves. After one or two of the intricate cocktails, many visitors join in.
Teatro Trasnocho Cultural might not be the ideal spot for those looking for a traditional theatre experience, but it is well worth a visit. Known to push the boundaries of traditional theatre, it showcases up-and-coming talent and new works by local playwrights.
Although there are cinemas across the country, it is rare to find a film that hasn’t been dubbed into Spanish. Some alternative cinemas show local films with English subtitles though.
There are a number of local dishes that can be tried across the country, with both the big cities and small towns offering a taste of the traditional cuisine. Arepas, a thick corn tortilla that is split and then stuffed with any number of fillings, is a staple on many menus. A variety of variations of this tradition meal have sprung up in recent years, such as the reina pepiada, a tortilla stuffed with chicken and avocado, or the domino, a tortilla stuffed with white cheese and topped with black beans.
Hallacas, a mixture of meat, raisins and olives, covered in cornmeal and steamed in plantain leaves, is an interesting take on a traditional tamale dish, often served around Christmas, although it can be found throughout the year in many restaurants. Cachapas are pancakes made with corn and topped with telita, a salty cheese.
Street food is common across Venezuela, with empanadas, a variety of savory pastries often stuffed with meat, and perros calientes, spicy hot dogs, being the most commonly served items. For a sit-down lunch, Venezuelans often have pabellón. This is a rice and meat dish featuring black beans and plantain slices.
Venezuela is also famous for producing some of the best cacao beans in the world, meaning the local chocolate comes highly recommended. El Rey is a well-known brand that is a must-try for tourists. The local rum is also world renowned. It tends to be very dark and potent, with a number of bars serving their own special blends. Venezuelan coffee can also be described as dark and potent, and a cup of the local stuff is a must-try for lovers of caffeine.
With the longest stretch of Caribbean coastline anywhere in the world, Venezuela makes finding a stunning beach resort easy. However, Anzoátegui is renowned as one of the most pristine beaches and has the benefit of being fairly deserted all year round. Sucre is a beautiful, secluded resort that is ideal for those wanting to get away from it all.
With so many deserted beach resorts stretching along the coastline, finding somewhere to really be alone is simple. City breaks are also popular, but a trip to the stunning Angel Falls is a great way to spend a day for two. A helicopter ride over the falls at sunset will really make it a holiday to remember.
Canaima National Park is a great place to visit with the family. There are wildlife spotting trips and child-friendly hiking and cycling trails, making it a great place for kids to experience the jungle in comfort and safety. There are plenty of resorts along the coast too that offer family-friendly holidays, with plenty to keep the adults entertained.
With the Andean peaks within its borders, Venezuela attracts many adventure sports enthusiasts. Canaima National Park offers thrill-seekers hiking, kite-surfing, snorkelling, scuba diving and windsurfing. Visiting for a few days is recommended to really experience all the park has to offer.