Best known these day’s for its taunting, outspoken leader Hugo Chavez, Venezuela is worth visiting for many reasons including the world’s highest waterfall, the longest and highest cable car, pristine tropical beaches and a bustling capital. Those on a hedonistic ride can find steaming parties on the beaches and in the capital’s hub, while a variety of water sports will also delight. However, crime rates are high and political turmoil makes it difficult to travel to some parts of the country. Stay away from the protests, no matter how intriguing, and act like a tourist in-the-know regardless of how lost you are.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: The world’s highest waterfall - Angel Falls, the longest and highest cable car, beautiful women, a bustling capital, lip-smacking local food, tropical fruit and juice, fine rum, Carnival, exquisite beaches, good diving sites, the novelty of skiing in the tropics.

What’s Not: Nagging beggars, pickpockets and muggers, pickpocket and muggers (with firearms), political turmoil, corrupt police, crazy local drivers, decaying long-distance buses, the heat!

When to Go

Those planning to visit Venezuela might find it difficult to pack. There are four temperature zones based on the altitude.

The lowlands including Maracaibo and Ciudad Bolívar have a tropical climate (75°F to 95°F), so be prepared to sweat a bucket.

The subtropical zone where the capital is located sees a moderate climate with an average temperature ranging between 50°F to 77°F. The weather is chilly to freezing in the cold zone and the permanent snowfield in the high mountain areas.

Ideally, the dry season from December to April and is the best time to explore the country, while the rainy season from May to December can be avoided.

Getting There & Away

The country is well-connected to the rest of the world by many means of transport. There’s an international airport in Maiquetía, about 40 minutes from Caracas, providing flights to and from Europe and the USA. Long-distance buses operate to main destinations in South America, while local buses are also available. However, long-distance bus rides can be awful as most buses are in a shabby condition. Venezuela is accessible from Colombia and Brazil via road links. Driving in the country can be nerve-wrecking as local drivers tend to be aggressive and reckless.

Health & Safety

The country has always suffered from political turmoil. Tourists need to be careful not to wander around when protests and demonstrations take place. In the big cities, violent crimes are a major problem. Keep a low profile and travel like a low-budget tourist, even if you aren’t one. Pickpockets and muggers swarm main tourist spots and in the worst case scenario, they carry guns. Keep calm and give everything you have if attacked by these law-breakers. Walking alone on the streets can be very dangerous. Act like you know where you are, even if you don’t have the slightest clue. There are no major health risks, but be careful when you buy food on the street.

Food & Hospitality

Itineraries

Those up for a quick bite should try cachapas, a popular pancake-like snack made of maize, with a variety of mouth-watering toppings; and lip-smacking perros calientes, local Venezuelan-styled hot dogs. The most common food is arepas, biscuit made out of cornmeal with fillings of your choice. Opt for pabellón criollo, a traditional dish which is a plate of rice, shredded beef and stewed black beans, if light snacks don’t fill up your stomach. Order a glass of real fruit tropical juice or get boozed up on Venezuelan high quality rum. Malta, brewed from barley, is also a good choice if you aren’t much of a drinker.

The country’s infrastructure is good in the major cities, and a number of five-star hotels can be found in Caracas. Most coastal cities boast fully-equipped resorts while new developments are in progress in the less-touristy areas.

Highlights

Caracas: a modern capital with old world charms. Explore San José and La Pastora and visit the country’s Botanical Garden and Del Este National Park, a UNESCO Heritage site.

Maracay: the city is so green it was named ‘Garden City’. Visit a local opera house and watch exciting shows at La Maestranza César Girón bullfighting ring.

Puerto La Cruz: gateway to a number of beaches in eastern Venezuela, this city is ideal for fun-loving tourists. Beautiful beaches, girls in bikinis and hopping parties. Need we say more?

Cumaná: a town of various colonial architectural marvels. Wander around a large old Spanish fort and visit the Maritime Museum.

Ciudad Bolívar on the banks of the Orinoco River is a popular stop-off point on a visit to Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall and the country’s attraction número uno.

Llanos region: boasts impressive rodeo and Joropo shows, the national dance. There are many rivers in Llanos where you can spot egrets, parrots, monkeys and alligators.

Activities

Angel Falls: go on an exciting motorised canoe trip to the foot of Angel Falls. The waterfall is located in the wilderness, where cars cannot access. But if a canoe ride is too wild for your liking, opt for a scenic flight instead.

Trekking: Venezuela’s highest peaks in Mérida such as the Pico Bolívar or the Pico Humboldt will excite enthusiastic hikers. A hiking newbie can hire equipment and experienced guides.

Cable car: hop on the world’s longest and highest cable car (teleferico) which runs for nearly eight miles from Mérida to the top of Pico Espejo, providing access to a number of mountains.

Beaches: the coastal town of Puerto la Cruz is a major hub for heading to other secluded beaches by boat. Laze around in the sun and mingle with other beach loungers.

Skiing: how does skiing in the tropics sound to you? The Cordillera de Mérida offers the only permanent snowline in the country where you can enjoy the slopes and rub shoulders with other ski bunnies.

Festivals & Events

A country of colorful celebrations and fun festivals, Venezuela boasts a variety of interesting events for spirited tourists.

January: La Paradura del Niño is celebrated to glorify the baby Jesus. Witness an interesting procession of the baby on a huge handkerchief that parades around town.

February: it’s Carnival time! Enjoy the five-day celebration with colorful parades and dances.

March: is devoted to Semana Santa, the day of the Christian Messiah’s crucifixion. Locals virtually ignore the religious significance and flock the beaches for fun.

May: La Cruz de Mayo or the Day of the Holy Cross is a festive open-air event featuring interesting dances, traditional songs and plenty of food.

July: expect to see lots of parades on Venezuela’s Independence Day.