Surface area : 912050.0 km2
Population : 25700000 inhabitants
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.
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.
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.
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.