2022 update: travel to Venezuela is currently not advised due to civil unrest.
Take a bold step off the beaten backpacker trail and travel to Venezuela, where gas is cheaper than water, warm guesthouses replace your usual hostels, and incredibly diverse scenery will give you goosebumps all over. You can enjoy the beautiful Caribbean beaches of Margarita Island or plunge deep into the jungle to get a glimpse of the world´s tallest waterfall, Angel Falls.
Venezuela is a bit more difficult to navigate than its South American sisters. Your guidebook of choice will prepare you to some extent, but it might not touch on the rather touchy subject of money.
The national currency is the bolivar fuerte (Bs.F), which is named after the famous liberator Simon Bolivar, and current official exchange rates (late 2017) with the US dollar are at a rate of around BsF 10 to US$1. This rate is artificially high and is not sustainable due to high rates of inflation. As a result, dollars are in huge demand on the flourishing black market, as Venezuelans who have their savings in bolivares find their money being worth less and less each month; it is safer to keep their savings in a more stable currency. Because the government does not allow its citizens to exchange bolivares for US dollars at banks, these dollars must come from outside the country.
As of late 2017, the typical black-market rate is 3,000 bolivares to one US dollar. It’s unlike any other black market you are likely to experience, as you can exchange your money at hotels, travel agents, border crossings and bus stations at this rate with no problems at all. Don’t change money on the street until you’ve at least checked to see what rate your hotel or local tourist office is offering, as rates are usually better at established business. This isn’t always true though; street rates tend to vary more so you might find a good deal. It’s generally safe and certainly widely practiced to exchange your money on the street. Colombian pesos and Brazilian reals can also be exchanged at favourable rates at border crossings. Check your maths and bring enough cash to cover your entire stay, as ATMs and credit cards will automatically exchange at the official rate and your trip will cost twice as much!
Venezuelans tend to be friendly, and you might find yourself caught up in conversations with locals eager to hear about your home, your travels, and what you think of their country. Do not leave without eating a cachapa (a huge thick corn pancake folded over and filled with spongy cheese or ham), and an arepa (a small corn pancake filled with your choice of meat, veggies, and spices), and drinking a tiny cup of coffee purchased on the street from a thermos-toting vendor.
Do make sure to read up on safety as Venezuela (especially Caracas) is dangerous in terms of petty theft. Take the usual precautions, and eat an early dinner as most businesses and even restaurants are closed by 6pm and you will find the streets eerily empty.
Getting to and from Venezuela
Most travellers to Venezuela do not require a visa, and visitors are typically permitted stays of up to 90 days. International flights arrive in Caracas and Margarita Island; cheap options are available from Europe but flights from the US are quite expensive.
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International bus services connect Venezuela with Colombia (two crossings to all major cities) and Brazil (one crossing that continues south to Manaus). There’s also a connection by boat to the nearby island nation of Trinidad.
Getting around Venezuela
Bus travel in Venezuela is cheap and comfortable, though not as good quality as in other South American countries. Long-distance buses tend to be overly air-conditioned but comfortable, and generally cost US$2-3 per hour; when calculating how long your trip will be, add about 25% to the given duration as a rule of thumb. When travelling by bus, always keep your passport handy because there are frequent checkpoints where you will be asked for ID and possibly searched.
Domestic flights should be booked through a travel agent and paid for in cash to take advantage of the black-market rates.
The most common flights for visitors are between Caracas and Margarita Island, and between Caracas and Canaima.
Venezuela travel resources
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This page was written by David Wodka.