• Venezuela
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  • Venezuela
    © Petr Perepechenko / Getty Images / iStockphoto
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Discover the Andes and Angel Falls of Venezuela

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
Located on the northern border of South America, Venezuela is a country largely undiscovered and undervalued by tourists, despite its array of vastly beautiful landscapes and tropical animals. A wonderful tourist destination due to its sheer natural diversity, visitors can experience everything from the depths of the Amazonian rainforest to the idyllic Caribbean beaches. There are 43 national parks in total and a multitude of indigenous animals including, but not limited to: jaguars, bears, armadillos, sloths and anacondas. Guests can bathe the waters of Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall; marvel at one of the world's largest rivers, the Orinoco; or embark on a challenging trek in the Venezuelan Andes. It is a must-see for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. That said, it is not just the beautiful scenery that gives Venezuela is vibrancy. The capital city, Caracas, is host to a number of museums and churches as well as some great shopping centres. However, it is advisable to check the latest travel advice before you travel to Venezuela, as Caracas and other major cities have a history of violent crime and can be dangerous at times.

FCO advice (last updated 6 March 2014): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to within 80km (50 miles) of the Colombian border in the states of Zulia, Tachira and Apure. All but essential travel to the remainder of Tachira state is advised against as there are active drug traffickers and illegal armed groups operating in this area and there is a risk of kidnapping. Most major cities - Caracas, Merida, San Cristobal, Valencia and Maracay - are experiencing political demonstrations. Some of these have been violent and there have been injuries and deaths. It is obligatory for all people travelling to Venezuela to hold travel and medical insurance.

Our Editorial team's advice

Tours in Venezuela are readily available in all major areas, from the exploration of the Guyanese Massif to the glorious Carribean coastline. Tours can be privately organised if you'd prefer, but qualified guides are on hand for groups of tourists as well, and come highly recommended.
See the true beauty of Venezuela with walks on Mount Roraima, a swim in Salto del Angel (Angel Falls), horseriding in Los Llanos, canoe trips to the Orinoco delta, diving in the Los Roques park, or lazing around on the white-sand beaches. The options are endless. Backpackers might like to buy a hammock to pitch on the beach or in the forest; in our experience it can be a handy portable bed.
With regards to safety and security, it is always advisable to remain alert. Keep belongings hidden at all times, and try not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. For the latest information on where and when it is safe to travel, see our travel updates.

pros

  • +The country is a condensed version of almost all of South America's natural wonders: Amazonian forest, the Andean mountains, savannahs, plateaux, rivers and waterfalls and finally the paradise-like beaches and coral islands in the Caribbean sea.
  • +The country's natural heritage is very well preserved (43 national parks).
  • +The tourism routes are well-used: on foot in the Guyanese massif (Mount Roraima), by canoe in the Orenoco delta and by boat in the Los Roques water park.

cons

  • -Cultural heritage is limited: No pre-columbian sites.
  • -The torrential storms that strike during the rainy season turn roads into bogs.
  • -Security conditions aren't brilliant.
  • -The road network isn't of the best quality.

Traditions

Venezuela is a young, cosmopolitan country: 70% of the population is under 30, and it is Latin America's most mixed-race country. A large number of immigrants from Europe, the Antilles, the Equatorial region, Peru and Columbia came to Venezuela during the petrol boom. It is a society of contrasts, mixing insolent riches and extreme poverty, a very americanised lifestyle (baseball is the national sport) and traditions inherited from the Spanish conquistadors (corridas). Predominantly Catholic, the Venezuelan people are not in reality full-time pracitsing Christians, and devotions for Saints are often confused with similar acts of faith from Hatian voodoo and Brazilian santeria. Amongst the Indian groups are the Caribbeans, the Arawaks, the Chibchas and the Tupis-Guarnis. Their culture was profoundly changed by the work of missionaries, as their lands were coveted by those looking for gold, forestry companies, miners and oil companies and drug traffickers. The most famous are without doubt the Yanomamis, a semi-nomadic people who live on horseback on the Brazilian border. The Great Plains of Venezuela are the domain of the llaneros, cowboy guardians of the flock who love to use their lasso. Rodeos are an excuse for huge barbecues (asados) where the riders, wearing white linen suits, stetsons and boots, dance the joropo to the sound of the harp and the harmonica. In the land of the Miss (Venezuela has a neverending love of Miss World and Miss Universe), the cult of Beauty and appearance hold a primary role. Venezuelans are amongst the world's biggest consumers of makeup, beauty and deodorant products. Plastic surgery does wonders. All women swear by their eyeliners and shiny, brightly coloured lipsticks. They never hesitate to dye their hair blonde and go to the gym religiously. Men, who are just as fashionable, make a lot of effort and expense in preening before going for dinner in town. They take great care in filing their nails, even varnishing them sometimes, spray a ridiculous amount of aftershave onto themselves and spend time doing and redoing their hair in front of the mirror, whilst maintaining their macho image! Generally speaking, Venezuelans like having fun, particularly around Carnival time, dancing to the sound of drums and the conga and drinking streams of rum.

Food

Venezuelan cuisine is extremely varied. Depending on where you choose to dine, you could just as easily find a hamburger on your plate as you could piranha and amazonian bugs. Pabellon Criollo is the national dish, made with diced beef, onions, tomatoes and coriander and served with white rice and black beans. Arepa is also a speciality and certainly worth a try; it is a thick corn biscuit topped with either ham and cream cheese, chicken and guacamole, pieces of beef or tuna. Cheesy pastry sticks called tequenos are a popular starter, or empenadas, which are turnovers filled with cheese, meat or fish. Dessert-wise, exotic fruit: papaya, mango, watermelon, guava and pineapple are extremely popular.

Souvenirs

Popular locally are handmade goods such as goajiros rugs, hammocks, multicoloured woven covers, amazonian baskets, and ceramic goods. You can also find CDs and tapes of typical Venezuelan music: salsa, merengue and latin jazz. Dark rum and coffee are readily available are extremely high quality, so definitely worth investing in. Shops, in general, are open from 9am until 1pm and from 3pm to 6pm, Monday to Saturday. In Caracas, shopping is available on the Boulevard Sabana, the Plaza Venezuela, in the Ciudad Tamanco shopping centre or in the Paseo Las Mercedes.