Venezuela is a beautiful country, surrounded by nature, unique people and charming places. The truth be told, the political and social tumultous situation the country is passing through hurts me inside as it was my own. I’ve had the chance to travel to Venezuela twice, one in 2011 and the last one in 2016.
My bonds to the South American country are very strong for I have a lot of loved people in my life that are from Venezuela. It’s indeed one of the countries that have left the deepest of marks in me. Such is the case that people often tell me that I have a Latino Spanish accent. Well, I wonder why!
Venezuela, the land of happiness
My willingness to show the beauty of Venezuela crashes with the insecurity that media insists on dumping on our daily lives. Nothing further from reality, I’m not going to say Venezuela is not a dangerous country and that there’s not insecurity in the streets but my eagerness to show the beautiful places of Venezuela would win the statistics.
I already dedicated an emotional post to Venezuela, an open letter that came from inside but this time I would like to share more useful tips that will help you if you want to visit Venezuela some day.
I want to stay realistic and at the same time give you some tips about safety in Venezuela and show you the other side of Venezuela that’s not promoted. Close your eyes, breathe and start to read below as if you didn’t know anything about the country. One, two, three.
Useful information to travel to Venezuela
Before you go
- The country’s entire name is República Bolivariana de Venezuela in tribute to Bolívar, liberator of five South American countries. Don’t worry about forgetting the name, you’ll see a statue of him in every plaza of Venezuela.
- It’s not Caribbean-warm weather all over the country. Climate changes from the jungle, desert, Llanos to Los Andes. The weather is so diverse in Venezuela that you’ll have to carry with you both the slippers (cholas), to visit the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen in my life, and warm clothes to climb the highest peaks of Venezuela, located in Merida.
- The little economy that’s left is based on gas. Nowadays, nothing is produced in the country because the wrongly called “Socialism of the 21st century” killed the national production chain by encouraging the import of foreign like products from their allies in exchange of gas. This means a litre of gas is cheaper than a litre of water. You can fill the tank with 30 cents of a dollar, yes, the whole tank!
- Shortage is real. At 2017 date, 48% of Venezuelan population is poor and 90% of Venezuelans can’t afford food. I’ll give you an example so that you can have an idea: the minumum wage is $27, an egg carton costs $3 and one chicken $2.30. How can they live that way? However, the situation for the tourist is easier because we own foreign currency and crisis ends when crossing the border to leave the country.
Best time to travel to Venezuela
Climate is stable all year along but is divided in two seasons, the dry season from November to April and the humid, from May to October. It changes from region to region and it depends more on the height of the place you visit than on interior and coastal places.
The Andes area is the coldest in the country, Merida for instance is at 1,600 metres and its highest peak—Pico Bolívar—is at 4,978 metres. In Maracaibo, on the other side, the average temperature is 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 degrees Farenheit) and, wait for it, to a humidiy of 80% (you melt, instantly).
I recommend visiting Venezuela in humid season especially if you want to visit Parque Nacional Canaima in its glory. If you can’t go in humid season as it happened to me, Salto Ángel (Angel Falls) is still beautiful but not as impressive. However, it has its advantages as going up the water saults that are dry and observe tepuyes in the distance.
Travel to Venezuela
How to get there
Airlines that operate from Europe to Venezuela are Air France, Avianca and American Airlines, often stopping by in those countries. From Latino America and the United States Copa Airlines is also available.
I don’t suggest flying with Conviasa, a very corrupted government airline. Even if Venezuela is one of the countries with more abundant reserves of oil in the world, Conviasa affords to rent planes from other companies. They are usually late and leave people stranded at international airports for several days.
The rest of the companies had to stop flying to Venezuela because the government didn’t pay for their services anymore. There’s an alternative to flying:
Travel from Colombia to Venezuela
For a while the border of Venezuela with Colombia remained closed because—according to the President of Venezuela—”bachaqueo” (smuggle from Venezuela to Colombia) was hurting the economy. How sad it is that he forgot he’s a Colombian himself and that Venezuelans and Colombians are and will always be brothers and sisters.
Today the border is open but I don’t recommend you to cross it especially if you have European or American passport for police and guards will want to “matraquearte” (steal from you). I heard several stories and I lived it in flesh that Venezuelan guardias nacionales ask for money; from 20 a $50 or everything you have to let you in (and this is not only at the borders)
In my case I had to fly from Colombia to Venezuela in 2016 because the border was closed. It was more expensive but we avoided incoveniences or troubles in the border. Options to go to Venezuela by land are:
Travel by bus from Colombia to Venezuela
The safest border crossing point in Venezuela is the one from San Antonio de Táchira to Cúcuta. Even so, everyone including Venezuelans, have to often bribe Venezuelans guards to get in.
The crossing point Maicao – Maracaibo is not safe mainly because guajiros, the indigenous people that own La Guajira, a part of Colombia and Venezuela operate bands to steal as you get in both countries.
Travel by bus from Brazil to Venezuela
The crossing point from Boavista to Santa Elena de Guairén and Ciudad Guayana (Puerto Urdaz) is very frequent since it’s used by Venezuelans that go to Brazil to buy food. Even if it’s very expensive for them to buy in Reals, it’s a chance to get supplies.
Requirements to travel to Venezuela
European passport holders: Europeans can travel to Venezuela without a visa up to 60 days.
United States passport holders need a visa to travel to Venezuela.
Latin America passport holders: everyone from these countries can travel to Venezuela without visa up to 60 days except from Guyana, Suriname, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti.
If you are from another country that’s not listed above, check if you need a visa to travel to Venezuela.
Security in Venezuela, is it safe to travel around Venezuela?
As I’ve said before, I can’t omit data on criminality in Venezuela. I can only tell you about my experience visiting the country.
To start with, you will soon realise about the Venezuelan paranoia, a common characteristic of Venezuelans that is present in their daily lives. It’s an automatic embedded gift that consists in thinking ahead of time about what could happen or go wrong. The insecurity in the country and the fact that most Venezuelans have had a first-hand experience of kidnapping or armed robbery justifies it, however, most of the time they are protecting you of what could happen. Venezuelans are always be there to take care of you.
Having that in mind, there are some things one needs to know about safety:
- Avoid certain situations like walking at night in the centre of any city which ironically are the unsafest places.
- No “dar papaya” (don’t give papaya) as it’s said in Colombia which means not to leave it easy for thieves to take advantage of you. Don’t know show any valuable item such as cameras, mobile phones or money.
- Become camouflaged. They are so used to warm weather that a few people go with shorts and sandals. Look around you and analyse how you are dressed up and if you are an easy target according to that.
- When taking a taxi only take the so-called de línea or trusted ones. It’s very normal to give the plate number to a friend in case something happens and to inform that you arrived home safely.
I actually have a story on Venezuelan kindness that I would like to share with you. I will always remember that one time when I was going back home from Venezuela in 2011. I was at Maiquetía airport in Caracas, got to the desk to proceed with the check-in and I was told, “everything is allright, you just need to pay the fee to leave the country”.
I had forgotten about the fee! I only had 20 bolívares, 10 euros and a credit card I couldn’t use because of the inflation. There was no other way to take my next flight but to beg for money all around the airport. Almost crying I approached people telling them I needed the money to get to Spain. I don’t remember how much it was but it would be something like 15 euros at that time and I got them in just 30 minutes!
Is it cheap to travel around Venezuela?
I could say that it is cheap to travel around Venezuela right way but the truth is that it always depends on the exchange rate to which you transfer your euros or dollars. There’s the official exchange rate, with which you are losing 99% of your money and the paralell or black market, illegal but more than normalised.
If you bring foreign currency and money is exchanged to the normal rate, everything will seem cheap to you, even if that represents half of the salary of an average Venezuelan.
Tips on how to use your money in Venezuela
The high inflation in the country (3,000% to 2017 date) makes bolivar—the local currency—to be hiper devalued. There are two exchange rates for the tourist, the official and the so-called black one.
- Don’t pay with your credit card. Never! Example: I’m going to buy something which value is 3,800 bolívares (around $1). If I pay it with my credit card instead of cash I’ll be paying $316 because the official exchange rate will be applied. Please check DolarToday for an update on the exchange rate (it changes every single day).
- Don’t withdraw money for the same reason.
- In order to exchange money do it with somebody you trust. Most Venezuelans own a bank account abroad. That way you could transfer the money to that account and they can give you the bolívares in hand. In fact, this is their way to save money in a strong currency for theirs is devalued day by day.
- The dollar is always better valued than the euro. Bring dollars with you to the extent possible.
- There’s no mandatory vaccine to travel to Venezuela but it’s recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever if you go to the jungle.
- When I went to Venezuela in 2016 and half of the world was alarmed by news on Zika, I met a lof of people that had been infected by Zika and Chikungunya and affirmed it was just a flu that and symptoms went away by resting and taking ibuprofen.
- Travel with a health insurance to Venezuela: although public health is free it has its restrictions and medicines’ scarcety is a reality.
The beauty in Venezuela: my top 3
Time has come to show you my reasons to travel to Venezuela. I list my top three destinations in Venezuela, the places that impressed me the most. There are so many beautiful places in Venezuela and it’s hard to choose but another day I’ll dedicate another post for it. For now, my top three places to visit in Venezuela are:
Merida – Los Andes
Merida is the first place I arrived to, my first destination in South America by 2011. I must admit that looking through the window and seeing myself surrounded by mountains is what amazed me the most in this beautiful city.
The capital of the state with the same name is Merida. Merida is something else, it hooks. The rythm of big cities like Caracas or Maracaibo stay behind, far behind. Merideños or gochos are considered the most peaceful and honest in the country. Gochos are calm, welcoming and respecful, for some reason they breathe Andean air.
The city is the reflection of their character, student-like, calm and safer than the rest of Venezuela. Merida is a student and party city and an important spot for nature lovers. Going up the longest cable car in the world, climbing its peaks, river rafting or parachuting in Tierra Negra are some of the adventures you can find.
La Guayana – Parque Nacional Canaima
Canaima lagoon is where I’ve felt the tiniest in my life. Enormous nature surrounds you and being able to contemplate is a luxury. Its waterfalls hit hard to the compass of a pure and unspoilt environment. To swim in its waters is the synonym of feeling free and being certain that we live in an unique planet.
Overflying Salto Ángel (Angel Falls) has been one of the best experiences of my life. Although I went during humid season and the waterfall was no more than a trickle of water, observing those tepuyes that are thousands of years old was a privilege. I felt like in the movie UP but I flew free, without a house but with imaginary colourful balloons.
Parque Nacional Morrocoy
That pristine water, that first time I saw the Caribbean Sea, was in my dear Venezuela. My braids moved to the rythm of the wind and salsa music. I was happy before such beauty.
I really hope natural beauties of Venezuela will be available and affordable for everyone in some years and that tourism gets back in a country that needs it more than ever.