Difference between revisions of "Venezuela"
Revision as of 17:54, 29 April 2014
Venezuela is a country in South America. Having a shoreline along the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, Venezuela borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east and Brazil to the south, and is situated on the major sea and air routes linking North and South America. Off the Venezuelan coast are the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Angel Falls (Churun Meru) in the Guiana Highlands is the world's highest waterfall and one of Venezuela's major tourist attractions.
Venezuela is home to the world's highest waterfall, Angel Falls and the second longest river in South America, the Orinoco. It also has the longest coastline to the Caribbean sea. Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and also has vast untapped reserves of natural gas. Ecologically, Venezuela is considered among the 20 Megadiverse countries of the planet; more than 40% of its national territory is covered by protected areas.
Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in northwest; central plains (llanos); Guiana Highlands in southeast.
Venezuela was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Colombia and Ecuador). For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry, but in 1958 a democratic process was implemented. From 1998 until 2013 the country was ruled by President Hugo Chavez.
Venezuela uses a 60 Hz and 120 V power system. The power plugs are identical to those used in North America (referred to as A and B type power plugs).
Citizens of the following countries may not require a visa to visit Venezuela for tourist purposes only for up to 90 days (a tourist-card will be issued instead): Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Iran (max. 15 days), Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Nevis, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Spain, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad & Tobago, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Uruguay. Business travellers almost invariably require a visa to be issued before entry.
In Caracas, passengers pass through immigration in the recently refurbished arrivals hall before going to baggage claim. Officers will check your passport and may ask questions. If a customs officer or anyone asks about your purpose of visit, tell them you are only there to visit, tourism. At baggage claim you will be required to match the baggage sticker on your flight ticket to the bar code on your bag before you hand over your tax form to customs officials.
There will be many individuals who approach you after your arrival offering assistance with locating a taxi or trading currency. It is best to not interact with anyone who approaches you. Even airport officials with proper identification may attempt to lead you to other areas of the airport to trade currency on the black market. When taking a taxi from the airport, always settle on a price before getting into the cab, and only use taxis that have the official yellow oval seal.
You can travel non stop from the US and most major European cities.
United Airlines links Caracas to Houston and Newark (Seasonal) weekly. American Airlines offers daily flights from Miami, San Juan, Dallas and New York JFK. Delta Airlines offers a daily flight from Atlanta. Air Canada offers a direct flight from Toronto four times a week. Santa Barbara offers daily service to Miami.
From Europe, there are non stop flights from Paris (Air France), Rome and Milan (Alitalia), Madrid (Iberia, Air Europa, CONVIASA, Santa Barbara), Tenerife (Santa Barbara), Santiago de Compostela (Air Europa -Seasonal Service-), Frankfurt (Lufthansa) and Lisbon and Oporto (TAP).
Aeropostal, CONVIASA, Avianca, Copa Airlines, TACA, Lloyd, LAN Chile and Aerolineas Argentinas provide flights to the rest of Central America and South America.
Copa Airlines has a daily service from Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia to Panama and connections to all South America, Central America and USA.
American airlines has a daily service from Maracaibo to USA.
For international departures (at Maiquetia Airport), the airport tax is Bs. 137.00 / US$53.49 (official exchange rate) and US$23 (unofficial exchange rate) and a departure tax Bs. 46 / US$21.4 (official exchange rate) and US$9.2 (unofficial exchange rate). These taxes are paid at the airport, although many airline tickets might include these taxes. Currently, many US Airlines are allowed to charge the airport tax with the ticket purchase. However, it is a good idea to keep at least $50.00 US on hand when departing from Venezuela. If the fees increase, or you are required to pay both the airport and departure tax, you can head into the main lobby area where many businessmen will eagerly buy fifty dollars for 250 bolivares fuertes, plenty to pay the bill. If you are stuck without cash, you can ask the Canada Air employees to charge your credit card and provide you with cash to pay the airport tax. Ask for 'efectivo (cash)' when employing this strategy.
For domestic flights (at Maiquetia Airport), the airport tax is Bs. 23 (BsF. 23) Aeropostal Alas de Venezuela, Santa Bárbara Airlines, Avior Airlines, Conviasa and Aserca Airlines are the major domestic airlines in Venezuela.
Venezuela has road links with Colombia and Brazil. The road crossing to Brazil, not far from the frontier town of Santa Elena de Uairén, is a long way from most tourist destinations in Venezuela and so not a common point of entry. Border controls are tight and all travelers arriving from Boa Vista are expected to have visas. The Venezuelan consulate in Boa Vista is on Av Benjamin Constant.
Venezuela's main connection with Colombia is from Cúcuta to Venezuela's frontier town of San Antonio del Táchira, which itself is about 50 km from the busy Andean city of San Cristóbal. For a day visit to Cúcuta no visa documents are required but border controls are otherwise very tight with frequent searches. The border area can be dangerous and visitors are advised to pass through quickly. JUL 2012: the border controls are now very relaxed and nobody even stopped me on my way from Venezuela to Colombia nor searched my luggage. It is possible to take a local bus directly from San Cristobal to Cucuta for 25 BSF (a taxi costs 250 BSF), but note that locals do not need to stamp their passports, and the bus will not wait for you while you are undertaking the migration procedures. If you are leaving Venezuela by land from San Antonio to Cucuta, you are obliged to pay the annoying BSF 90 departure tax, so do not change all your bolivares in Venezuela. Actually, you will get better rates in Cucuta. (currently 195 pesos for 1 bolivar). You may also leave Venezuela by way of the Paraguachón-Maicao land border, located about 120 km from Maracaibo on the NW border.
Travelers in Venezuela are required to have identification, in the form of an ID Card or a passport. There are military/police/National Gaurd checkpoints on many roads, so while travelling by car or bus keep your passport handy, ideally you should keep a colour photocopy of your passport. Should your passport be stolen, this will facilitate procedures with your local consulate. The military presence is constant, yet is not usually cause for concern. That having been said, there are corrupt officials. It is wise to keep a close eye on your belongings when, for instance, bags are being checked for drugs. A soldier of the Guardia Nacional (National Guard) sometimes plants drugs to solicit a bribe or steal valuables. Penalties for drug use are severe, and the burden of proof falls on the accused. The police may also demand bribes using the same modus operandi.
There is no national railway system in Venezuela as of yet, although in the north there is one being built, which leaves three options for travel inside the country: car rental, using buses, and using cars-for-hire. Drivers in Venezuela are generally aggressive and unconcerned by traffic regulations. The traffic in Venezuela is very bad, the drivers are aggressive and all drivers want to be the first. Thus, car rental is not recommended in general. The very cheap price of gas, however, makes this option fairly economical. The expensive part of renting a car will be the insurance. The fuel price for 95 oct fuel unleaded is 0.097 BsF/liter, at official exchange, about US$0.022/liter. About US$0.09/gallon.
Do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Venezuela's traffic. The often ignored road rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic coming on to a roundabout. Drivers frequently top 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways. Laws requiring car occupants to wear seat belts are not always complied with.
Traffic lights are often ignored, especially at night, not for lack of patience, but because drivers do not like to stop theirs cars, as they can be robbed while stopped.
Be aware also that motorcycles (moto taxis) are sometimes seen transporting up to five people, usually without helmets, which adds to the dangers of the road.
When approaching a crosswalk in Venezuela, it is important to remember that pedestrians do not have the right of the way as they do in the U.S. and many European countries. If you slow down or stop at a crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross, you could cause an accident with unsuspecting motorists.
The bus system is extensive and extremely affordable (in part due to the low price of gas). Bus terminals are hectic, but it is usually easy to find a bus to any major city leaving within a short amount of time. Short bus rides (2 hours) may cost 30 BsF (30.000 Bs) (about US$7 at official exchange and US$3 at unofficial exchange rate)), and even extremely long bus rides (9 hours) will only cost 100 BsF to 150 BsF per person (equal to about $23 or US$35 at official exchange or US$10 and 11 at unofficial exchange rate). The larger buses are typically air-conditioned. In fact, they are usually overly air-conditioned, so it is worth bringing a blanket with you. Buses are an easy and convenient way to get around the country. However, proper security awareness should be exercised as robberies occasionally take place on buses in both cities and on highways. It is best to choose bus lines that use a metal detector and bag check to insure no passengers are carrying weapons of any kind.
If you decide to travel by bus a good option is 'Aeroexpresos Ejecutivos' they have their own terminal in a residential zone of Caracas (Chacao, Bello Campo) (  ), baggage is checked on the buses (as in an airport). The units are clean, safe and well maintained, plus the drivers are trained to respect the speed limit (there are many accidents on regular buses on Venezuelan highways, most of them caused by speeding on poorly maintained roads). They are more expensive than a regular bus, but still cheap by American/European standards. You may pay with credit card and buy tickets in advance by phone. Aeroexpresos offers slightly more expensive options for many long routes that include semi-cama seating, chairs that recline extra, and allow for more comfortable sleeping on overnight trips.
For smaller towns, there may not be regular buses. In such cases, one can use cars-for-hire, called "por puestos." These are typically old and run-down vehicles, but they are affordable. They are more expensive than buses, typically costing 40 BsF per person for a one or two hour ride (about $9 US at offical and 5 at unooficial). The main problem is that they typically wait to have a full car (4 or 5 passengers) before undertaking a route. The driver will usually try to convince you to pay for the extra passengers if you want to leave right away. The cars are popular, however, and one does not usually wait long for a car to fill up. Por puestos are identifiable by signage bearing the name of the streets or destinations they typically drive along or stop at. Avoid traveling alone in a por puesto and avoid 'pirates,' inauthentic, unofficial taxis that may intend to rob foreigners.
Travel within cities is usually via taxi. Taxis are more expensive than any other form of transport, but still affordable when compared to North American or European equivalents. A ride across town will usually cost 20 BsF to 120 BsF (depending on the city). The taxis do not have meters and will charge more at night. This is normal in Venezuela, however all prices are flexible in the Venezuelan economy, so it is a good idea to negotiate the fare for the ride up front. Tipping is not expected and not necessary. The driver considers the tip as part of the fare he is charging and will factor that into his negotiations.
Local buses exist, and usually connect the terminal to the center of each city. They typically cost BsF 2 - 4, depending on the city. Bus routes usually remain a mystery to the uninitiated and you can try to read the signals in he windows (going to --- coming from).
Caracas has a modern and cheap metro system (although it is crowded and a bit dirty!), currently being expanded. While armed robberies are almost unheard of in the metro, pickpocketing is rampant. Typically, delinquents will aim to distract the passenger and then another member of the group will remove the wallet, or bag in the opportune moment. Its best to keep bags in front of you and avoid unsolicited contact with strangers.
The web page for the metro is: 
A large road network (which comprises approx. 82,000 km) and historically low fuel costs make Venezuela an attractive country for exploring with your own car.
Many roads are in good condition but there are also gravel and dirt roads for which an off-road vehicle is recommended – especially during the rainy season from May to October. This is why it is important to travel with a good road map (e.g. Venezuela Laminated Map by Berndtson & Berndtson) and to be well informed about distances, road conditions and the estimated travel time. On the web, the site of cochera andina publishes information on nearly 120 routes in the country.
You can rent a car, usually for 20 - 50 dollars a day, plus insurance and legal liability. This may make you think twice about renting a car, especially when considering the fact that renting a car with a driver usually costs the same.
The fuel cost (unleaded) is: 0.097 Bs/liter, about 0.022 US$/liter - 0.09 US$/gallon - 0.03 €/liter (at official rate) and 0.01 US$/liter - 0.045 US$/gallon - 0.013 €/liter). There are many gas stations in the main areas. For outlying areas, you should fill the tank before you leave or take a reserve canister with you. In the mountains the gas consumption often increases to over 15 litres / 100 km.
An international driver's license is needed to drive in Venezuela. Police will often ask for the license as well as for the frame or motor number during routine checks. Traffic rules generally comply with the international standard. But do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Venezuela's traffic. Be attentive when driving in Venezuela.
The often ignored traffic rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic in a roundabout. Although the maximum speed limit is 80 km/h outside the city and 60 km/h within the city (at night 50 km/h) local drivers frequently top 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways. The law obligates car occupants to drive with fastened seat belts – which is regularly ignored.If you are in a traffic jam, always other drivers will try to pass. Be aware also that motorcycles are sometimes transporting up to five people, without helmets. Pay attention at night: streets and cars as well as bicycles often have poor lights or none at all. Also note, that even "good" roads may have unexpected and deep potholes. For this reason, as well as for security issues in general, long-distance interurban car traveling is not recommended during dark hours.
Good sign-posting is only found on the main roads. Common and especially important road signs are:
Spanish is the official language of Venezuela, accompanied by numerous indigenous dialects (usually never heard except in the Amazon region). Outside of Caracas, English is not commonly spoken or even understood, and even within Caracas it is usually only spoken by the younger generations.
Venezuela's currency is the Bolivar Fuerte (BsF), which replaced the old bolivar on January 1, 2008 at the rate of 1 BsF to 1000 old Bs.
Due to strict currency controls in place since 2003 bolivars are not easily convertible by official means neither in or outside the country. Currently, the official rate (offered by banks and the few bureaux de change) give 6.3 BsF per US dollar, but there is a thriving Parallel Market that trades for higher rates that are closer to the real value of the BsF. The unofficial black market rate fluctuates depending on general demand for foreign exchange, inflation and political instability, and is the rate at which prices of everything in the country are based upon (except those goods that are price-fixed, e.g. sugar, rice, coffee).
Within the "Parallel Market" there are various exchange rates: the tourist, the black market (a bit higher but dangerous and uncomfortable), and the bonds brokerage one (high amounts in government bonds, when on sale). That highest one, which appears as reference on certain internet pages, is the government dollar bonds rate, inaccessible unless you buy thousands of dollars in government bonds through a Venezuelan brokerage firm. This last one determines the rate of the black market one and the tourist one. The black market should be avoided unless you are sure of the honesty of the people changing currency for you. They may be scammers, thieves or even police disguised as traders. The safest parallel exchange is the Tourist Rate which is normally provided by higher-level people in the tourism industry (Hotel managers, posada owners, etc). The rates vary around Venezuela and from week to week. The tourist rate rarely varies in time. Once you change you cannot change back to euros or dollars unless the tourist operator that exchanged for you is nice enough to take it back.
For review the black market price, please go to: www.lechugaverde.com or http://www.dolarparalelo.org/
Green lettuce (Dollar) = Lechuga verde European lettuce (Euro) = LEchuga Europea
Is a funny use of words, because the government said: It is forbidden to speak about black market or parallel market. Then... green lettuce, european lettuce...
Most Venezuelans will advise that you not even think about coming to visit unless you have a local friend in the country who can help you navigate the currency system. At the "official" exchange rate, $100 = 630 BsF (which will buy you 2 pizzas at most restaurants). If you change dollars at the "parallel rate" (which is an illegal but integral part of daily life in Venezuela), $100 = 7000 BsF (as of January 2014) which would buy you a more reasonable 8 pizzas at most restaurants). Although the parallel rate is technical illegal, it is a critical element of life for the locals as it represents one of the only ways that they can actually save money since the Bolivar is subject to 30%+ devaluation per year.
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, American Express and Diners Club are usually accepted at upscale restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. Merchants always ask for ID before making a credit card transaction (a passport will suffice). ATMs exist all over the country. They hand out only Bolivars and at the official exchange rate of 6.3. Maestro Debit Cards are the most accepted but Visa Debit Cards are often not accepted, and some ATMs also ask for the last two digits of Venezuelans' ID numbers as an added security precaution, causing problems for foreigners with no ID number tied to their bank account, in such a case try entering the relevant digits of your PIN number (first two or last two digits), for some ATMS a simple double zero (00) will do just fine. Be aware that not all the ATMs accept foregin credit cards, at current Banco Provencal (BVPP) and Mercantil accept foregin credit cards allowing a limited cash withdrawal (600 BsF).
It is best to carry small change rather than large bills as many traders, in particular taxi drivers, rarely have change. Tipping taxi drivers is not customary and can appear strange. Be a little wary of cab drivers. There have been reports of cab drivers exploiting tourists, particularly from the airport to Caracas. Use only the official airport taxis (black Ford Explorers) going up to Caracas or get airport pick-up (mostly luxury hotels). At restaurants, tipping is usually minimal. If a 10% service charge is included then some extra small change can be left on top of the total, or if not included then a tip of only about 5% is customary.
Hammocks and some dark wooden handicrafts can be found throughout Venezuela, as well as gaudy painted statuettes of big-busted women. Some areas such as Falcón state have a tradition of excellent glazed pottery.
Food and drink
Fine Venezuelan rum, chocolate and cigars are on sale at the airport.
Arepas, thick corn tortillas which are split and stuffed with myriad fillings, are the quintessential Venezuelan dish. The most famous variations are the "reina pepiada" (shredded chicken salad with avocado) and “domino” (stuffed with black beans and shredded white cheese). Hallacas (Venezuela's homegrown version of the tamale, with meat, olives, raisins covered in cornmeal and wrapped in plantain leaves to be steamed) are a popular Christmas dish. Cachapas (corn pancakes often topped with a salty cheese called "telita" or "queso de mano"), empanadas (savory pastries) and the ubiquitous "perros calientes" (hot dogs) are popular street food. For slow food, try delicious fish meals, or a shrimp soup known as “cazuela de mariscos”.
The traditional Venezuelan lunch is pabellón, and consists of rice, black beans, and meat, with a side of fried plantain slices. The above dishes are known as "comida criolla", or Creole food.
Venezuela is a leading producer of fine cacao beans and Venezuelan chocolate can be excellent. The El Rey brand has consistent quality.
To some tastes, especially those who prefer stronger and complicated beers, Venezuelan beers may seem thin and watery. The most popular beer brand is Polar, which is available in a low-calorie/no-flavour version (Polar Light), light version (Polar Ice), or premium version (Solera), which actually bears some semblance to real beer. Brahma and Regional are other beers available throughout the country. Whisky is very popular among Venezeulans, particularly for special events. Venezuelan-made rum is generally dark and of very good quality. Among the best is the "1796" brand from Santa Teresa. It is a Solera rum. Venezuelans are heavy drinkers and will often go through a case of beer (admittedly of the aforementioned watery kind) during vacation days, starting before breakfast, only to carry on with a bottle of rum or whisky come nightfall.
A popular non-alcoholic drink is called "chicha Andina," which is made from rice or corn flour.
Malta or Maltin is a carbonated non-alcoholic malt drink sold alongside regular soft drinks, although it is also manufactured by the Polar company.
Venezuelan coffee is excellent, but make sure you are asking for proper coffee (machine-made, 'de la maquina'), otherwise you might be served a 'negrito' or 'guayoyo', which can be anything from weak filter coffee to coffee-smelling brown water. Some types of machine coffee are: cafe con leche(a milky coffee) marrona(a little stronger) negrito(black)
In Caracas, there is a good selection of 5-star hotels, although these are predictably expensive. At tourist spots elsewhere in Venezuela, guest houses or B&Bs, known as posadas are usually the best option, each with an individual style and usually offering breakfast or dinner if requested. Posadas can vary enormously in price and quality. Youth hostels are very scarce.
Keep in mind that the beds in many hotels (mostly up to the mid-range levels) are nothing more than mattresses on concrete slabs that resemble box springs. Depending on what your sleep preference is, they may not be the most comfortable for you. Something for you to consider when looking for a hotel to stay at.
There are great universites throughout the country, both private and public ones. Caracas is the city with most universities, including the Venezuelan Central University (Universidad Central de Venezuela, UCV) which has 60,000 students and is a architectural attraction in its own right since being awarded World Heritage Site status by the UN in 2002.
Venezuela is becoming increasing popular as a destination for learning Spanish. Merida is normally the destination. Jakera Spanish school was voted by the Language industry as one of the top three Spanish schools world wide (LTM awards). Cela Spanish School on Margarita Island offers intensive Spanish courses in different levels. Excursions and activities on Margarita Island are included in the Spanish course.
Working hours are usually from 8:00AM to 12:00PM and from 1:00PM to 5:00PM, or from 9:00AM to 12:00PM and 2:00PM to 6:00PM. (8 hours per day, and from 1 to 2 hour(s) of lunch time). Most banks close at 3:30PM, except the ones located at shopping malls (as Sambil, C.C.C.T, etc) work after 3:00PM but probably will make a little charge by the transaction. Also in December when they stay open an extra hour to deal with the holiday rush.
Venezuela has its fair share of poverty and crime. Venezuela has one of the highest homicide rates worldwide (). It is necessary to be vigilant when in crowded cities, as pickpockets and muggers may be around. Most sections of large cities are not safe to walk at night. Stay in populated areas. Always travel by vehicle at night. The outskirts of many cities are very poor and crime-ridden, and are not appropriate for tourists. When in doubt, ask local inhabitants or taxi drivers whether an area is safe or not. In general, if one looks like a (presumably wealthy) tourist, these sections of town should be avoided. It is advisable not to wear expensive jewelry or watches. Take care with taking pictures and unfolding maps in crowds. Pretend you know where you are going even if you aren't sure.
Always ride on a legal taxi (Yellow plates). The white plates taxis are not legal and may be dangerous.
Additionally, one must be wary of corrupt officials (police and National Guard). Some officials may demand bribes or otherwise extort travelers. Keep watch of your belongings at all times. Despite all these recommendations, one is usually quite safe in Venezuela if they apply a little common sense, and avoid looking overly wealthy when traveling. Women with big purses are recommended not to walk around alone. Tourists should avoid walking long distances in the towns and cities unless you know where you are going. Where possible arrange vehicle transport. It is not advisable for female tourists to walk through poor areas or shanty towns without a local guide. It is greater risk of rape or sexual assault if they walk through these areas.
Above all, when you are in Venezuela it is very important to use common sense. If you follow the right precautions, you'll probably have no problem. Don't look at anybody the wrong way, and don't look too wealthy.
In the sad event you do get mugged, by all means don't even try to put up resistance and avoid eye contact. Most muggers in Venezuela carry firearms and don't hesitate to shoot at the slightest provocation. Keep calm and give the mugger whatever he wants, because failure to do so is often deadly. Reporting a mugging to the police is seldom worth the trouble; it's best to forget it as muggers are rarely caught.
Despite all the issues with insecurity, you may avoid most problems by either staying in the touristy areas or visiting the less touristy areas with someone that lives in the country. Most Venezuelans will not advise you to even visit the country unless you have a friend who can help you navigate safely through Caracas and deal with currency exchange. With the economic situation getting worse and worse, violent crime has branched out beyond the big cities (Caracas, Valencia, Barquisimeto) to more tourist-driven places including Puerto Ordaz, Merida, and Margarita. Still, most of the natural areas are quite safe.
Venezuela has an interesting policy towards cannabis. You may possess up to 20gr, but be forewarned that anything more can get you thrown in prison for a long time. Even though this policy is quite liberal by American or British standards, you should keep all cannabis use private, if just to not have unwanted attention drawn towards you.
Avoid long-distance car traveling at night, since many highways are not secure at that time. Venezuelans are usually ready to help you if you have a problem. However, they probably won't dare to stop for you in the dark, as they would risk being assaulted by doing so.
You may have some diarrhea issues adjusting to the foods and liquids in Venezuela. You should preferably buy bottled water and not drink from the tap, but iced drinks and salads are generally fine (depending on the water supply quality of your native country). Be careful with expired foods and cheeses that are many days old. You usually find street vendors by highways, who sell food and who don't always have much of hygienic food handling practices. Use common sense when selecting what to eat in the street. Mind, that fresh food and mayonnaise may go bad fast due to the local climate.
Most Venezuelans are laid-back regarding racial issues, since white or creole persons blend naturally with natives and Afro-Venezuelans in everyday life (education, living, politics, marriage). So the word "negro" can be used regardless of who's saying it, or who is being referred to in this way. Expressions like "negrito" or "mi negro" are often used as a term of endearment. You could hear someone calling "negra" to a woman, regardless of the race of the person. And in general, Afro-Venezuelans don't find it offensive, as they are simply variations on the Spanish word for "black". Similarly, don't be offended if someone calls you "flaco" (thin) or "gordo" (fat) as these may also be used fairly indiscriminately, and often as a term of friendliness.
Differences between Brits, Americans, or Europeans are not perceived by most Venezuelans. Hence, you can expect to be called "gringo" even if you are, say, Russian. Any person who looks Asian is automatically "chino" - this is also a friendly term of endearment. Don't let this offend you as a non Spanish-speaking visitor.
Venezuelans, like Colombians and Panamanians, have a very amusing way of pointing to objects by pouting their lips and lifting their chin, so don't assume that people are blowing kisses to you when you ask for directions. Neiter, do not be offended if people stare at you, remember, you may look different, and maybe stranger . The fact is, you can appear to be in the spotlight for a short period of time, only to be ignored after the other person satisfy his/her curiosity.
Another important point to be kept in mind is that the Venezuelan society is severely split between "Chavistas/PSUVistas" (those who support Ex-President Chavez and his Political Party) and "Anti-Chavistas/Caprilistas" (those who oppose PSUV; Capriles is the main Opposition candidate), so it is strongly advisable not to talk about him and/or his politics unless you are sure on which side your Venezuelan friends are.
Venezuela has international country telephone code 58 and three-digit area codes (plus an initial '0'), and phone numbers are seven digits long.
Area codes beginning with '04' - e.g. 0412, 0414, 0416 - are mobile phones, while area codes beginning '02' - e.g. 0212 (Caracas), 0261 (Maracaibo) are land lines.
A single emergency number 171 is used in most of the country for police, ambulance and firefighters.
The international phone number format for Venezuela is +58-(area code without '0')-(phone number)
Public payphones use prepaid cards which cannot be recharged but are easily available in shopping centers, gas stations, kiosks, etc. Phone boxes are common in the cities and do not accept coins. The vast majority are operated by the former state monopoly, CANTV, although some boxes operated by Digitel or Movistar do exist, particularly in remote areas. CANTV prepaid cards can be used only in their booths.
More popular today are the ubiquitous 'communication centers' or clusters of phone booths located inside metro stations, malls, or like a normal store in the street. Most of these comunication centers are operated either by CANTV or Movistar, and offer generally cheap phone calls from a normal phone in comfortable booths equipped with a seat. A log is made of all your calls and you pay when exiting the store.
Many street vendors or buhoneros also offer phone calls from portable (antenna-based) land lines set up at improvised stalls. Callers are charged by the minute.
Mobiles operated by Movilnet, a division of CANTV, start with the 0416/0426 code and use the CDMA 800 MHz system and GSM/HSDPA 850 MHz. Rival Telefonica Movistar, formerly Telcel, start with 0414/0424 and use both CDMA & GSM/HSDPA (GSM/HSDPA 850 MHz). Digitel is another operator with a GSM/HSDPA (GSM/HSDPA 900 Mhz) network and its numbers start with 0412. It is possible to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card for Digitel's GSM phones, but make sure your phone is unlocked. A pay-as-you-go Digitel card is working straightaway when bought from any official retailer. The cost of the card is around 20 VEF (new bolivares). Top up vouchers from 10 VEF. The cost of a text message abroad is 0.3 VEF. Please note that from Movilnet phone you are not able to send a text message almost to any European network. A Digitel phone allows to send a text message to almost any European network (tested) and Movistar may let you send a text message to any european network but is not reliable as Digitel for this purpose.
You may use your phone with a foreign SIM card in roaming. Check: www.gsmworld.com or call to your operator for roaming information to Venezuela. Movilnet and Movistar will require quad-band phones for European users, Digitel will work with any European phone. Tourists from other than European countries should check their phones if the phone will work with the above bands.
Internet cafes, often incorporated in the above-mentioned 'communication centers' are increasingly common, and even small towns usually have at least one spot with more or less decent connections.
Venezuela's state-owned postal is slow, unpredictable and not widely used. Postal offices are few and far between, although they are still probably your best bet for sending postcards back home. For mailing within Venezuela, courier services such as MRW, Domesa and Zoom are the most popular. These usually guarantee next day delivery! For International mailing, DHL-Cantabria, FEDEX, Zoom, and MRW are best.