Difference between revisions of "Venezuela"
Revision as of 12:47, 10 December 2007
Venezuela is a country in South America. Possessing shorelines on 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 also to be found the Caribbean island states of Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles 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 Caribbean coastline. Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and also has vast untapped reserves of natural gas. The country is also famous for its beautiful women, with more Miss World and Miss Universe titles than any other nation.
Tropical; hot, humid; more moderate in highlands
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 and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically-elected governments have held sway since 1958.
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).
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.
Continental Airlines links Caracas to Houston daily Newark weekly. American Airlines offers daily flights from Miami, San Juan, Dallas and New York. Delta Airlines offers a daily flight from Atlanta. Air Canada offers a non stop flight from Toronto twice a week.
From Europe, there are non stop flights from Paris (Air France), Rome and Milan (Alitalia), Madrid (Iberia, Air Europa, CONVIASA), 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 Maracaibo to Panama and connections to all South America, Central America and USA.
American airlines has a daily service from Maracaibo to USA.
For domestic flights (at Maiquetia Airport), the airport tax is Bs. 18816 (BsF. 18.81) 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.
From Colombia, the buses are in bad condition - NOT RECOMMENDED
Travelers in Venezuela are obliged to carry identification. There are military 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 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, 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. 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.
When approaching a crosswalk in Venezuela, it is important to remember that pedestrians do not have the right of 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 8,000 Bs (about $4 US), and even extremely long bus rides (9 hours) will only cost 30,000 Bs to 40,000 Bs per person (equal to about $15 or $20 US). 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.
If you decide to travel by bus a good option is 'Expresos Ejecutivos' they have their own terminal in a residential zone of Caracas (El Rosal), 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.
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 15,000 Bs per person for a one or two hour ride (about $8 US). 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.
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 8,000 Bs to 15,000 Bs (depending on the city). The taxis do not have meters and will charge more at night. This is normal in Venezuela and typically cannot be argued.
Local buses exist, and usually connect the terminal to the center of each city. They typically cost Bs.500 - 800, depending on the city. Bus routes usually remain a mystery to the uninitiated.
Caracas has a clean, modern and cheap metro system, currently being expanded.
Spanish is the official language of Venezuela, accompanied by numerous indigenous dialects (usually never heard except in the Amazon region). Note that English is not commonly spoken or even understood, even in the major cities (including Caracas). However, it is usually worth a try attempting to speak in English as most English-speaking locals will usually help you if they hear you, whereas care must be taken in not doing so near dodgy-looking strangers as a safety precaution.
Venezuela uses the "Bolivar", abbreviated to "Bs", as its currency. Now, the government will change the Venezuela's currency. Starting on october 1st 2007, the price will be show in Bs and BsF (Bolivar Fuerte / Hard Bolivar), and in January 1st 2008, the new currency will be used. The convertion factor is 1000, if something cost 10.000 Bs, the price in the new currency will be: 10 BsF. Due to strict currency controls in place since 2003 bolivars are not easily convertible either in or outside the country. Currently, the official rate (offered by banks and the few bureaux de change) give Bs.2150 per US dollar (2,15 BsF), but a thriving black market means the parallel rate is actually over Bs.5500 (5.5 BsF). This unofficial rate fluctuates depending on general demand for foreign exchange, inflation and political instability. You may verify this unofficial rate at: http://www.veneconomia.com/site/index.asp?idim=2 -> Exchange rate -> Securities transactions dollar. Tourists may be able to get better rates from shifty money changers loitering around the Maiquetia airport, and even at some hotels and corner stores or with friends, although this is less common since a law was passed in 2006 making the practice illegal. In any event, be careful when changing currency and on the alert for possible thieves. Currently (Oct 2007) these black market vendors offer around Bs.5500 (5,5 BsF) per US dollar or Bs.7700 (7,7 BsF) per Euro (although this is obviously subject to change).
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. 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.
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. At restaurants, tipping is usually minimal. If a 10% service change 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.
Among fast food are Arepas (the famous are Reina Pepiada and Domino), Hallacas (you can eat this on xmas), Cachapas (with a cheese called "telita" is delicious), also Empanadas (you can find them in any beach and in street stands, use your good judgement went you select a street place to eat) and the best "Perros Calientes"(Hot Dogs). The arepa is the most common Venezuelan food item. It's basically a biscuit that is made out of cornmeal and you can fill it in with any type of food that you want, carne mechada which is shredded beef and which tastes really good. It is called "comida criolla", or Creole food. For slow food, try delicious fish meals, or shrimp soup Cazuela de Mariscos. The traditional Venezuelan lunch is El Pabellón, but is not usually sold at restaurants, just in small family businesses, is mainly rice, black beans, and meat, it also has fried plantain slices. You can also find nice sweets made mainly of sugar. Venezuelan chocolate is really good, especially from a brand named El Rey. It's not that cheap compared with other venezuelan prices but it's still cheap compared to American or European prices, and certainly worth the extra expenditure.
The most popular beer brand is Polar, which is available in a low calorie version (Polar Light), light version (Polar Ice), or premium version (Solera). 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.
A popular non-alcoholic drink is called "chicha Andina," which is made from pineapple and corn flour. Maltín 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 and a vital part of local culture.
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.
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.
Working hours are usually 9:00 am to 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 5 or 6:00 pm. Most banks close at 3:30 pm, except in December when they stay open an extra hour to deal with the holiday rush.
Venezuela has its fair share of poverty and crime. 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 in 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 travellers. 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 travelling. 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 tourists to walk through poor areas or shanty towns without a local guide.
Above all, when you are in Venezuela it is very important to use common sense. If you follow the right precautions, you'll 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, most muggers in Venezuela carry firearms and don't hesitate to shoot at the slighest provocation, keep calm and give the mugger whatever he wants, failure to do so is quite often deadly, also, reporting a mugging to the police is seldom worth the trouble, it's best to forget it as muggers are only rarely caught.
Despite all the issues with insecurity, you may avoid all problems by either staying in the touristic areas or visiting the less touristic areas with someone that lives in the country.
Also, 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.
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 knowledge of hygienic food handling practices. Use common sense when selecting what to eat in the street.
Generally avoid discussing politics in public, particularly if you have strong viewpoints yourself, except with well-known acquaintances or relatives that have your trust and confidence. Politics has become a very divisive issue in recent years and you may easily offend or provoke a strong reaction from either supporters or detractors of President Hugo Chávez.
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. Don't let this offend you as a non Spanish-speaking visitor.
Venezuelans, like Colombians, 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.
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 code and use the CDMA system. Rival Telefonica Movistar, formerly Telcel, start with 0414/0424 and use both CDMA & GSM (GSM 850 Mhz). Digitel is another operator with a GSM (GSM 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. Please remember that the pay-as-you-go SIM card from Digitel is not active immediately but after few days. The cost of the card is around 80,000 Bs. Top up vouchers from 10,000 Bs. The cost of a text message abroad is 300 Bs.
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.
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 Ipostel is slow, unpredictable and not widely used. Ipostel 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.