With more beauty queens than anywhere else and the highest waterfall in the world, Venezuela sure is easy on the eye. Christopher Columbus described the south-east of the country as “paradise on earth”.
Venezuela offers amazingly diverse experiences, from delving into the Amazon rainforest to taking a dip in the gently lapping Caribbean sea. In the west is Los Llanos, the great plain where local flora and fauna – such as scarlet ibis and Orinoco crocodile – share their territory with cattle and llanero cowboys.
Further west, at Mérida, you can be whisked off your feet by the highest cable car in the world as it glides up through the mist-swirled peaks of the Andes. Pull on your hiking boots and march out onto the grassy trails of the páramo and the highland pastures studded with wild flowers.
In the east, where Venezuela meets Brazil and Guyana, the Gran Sabana – watered by the mighty cascade of Angel Falls – soars to the flat-topped tepui, including Roraima, the 'lost world'.
A stop on your Venezuelan itinerary should certainly be Mochima National Park on the coast, where you can hire a boat and chug round the clusters of islands until you find a deserted cove where you can drop anchor and spend a day padding across your own beach. Or perhaps head to the spectacular Los Roques archipelago, with miles of pristine white-sand beaches and crystal-clear water.
Venezuela is generally considered to be a year-round destination. The dry season (December to April) is more pleasant for travelling but the mighty waterfalls in the Gran Sabana of the south-east look more impressive during the wet season.
Simon Bolivar International Airport (CCS) is 27km from Caracas
Most Venezuelans use buses to get around and services between major centres are regular and cheap. Go for servicio ejecutivo or bus-cama for extra comfort. Shorter distances are covered by large cars known as por puestos, carros or carritos which ply a fixed route and leave when full. Renting a car (and filling it with petrol) is cheap in Venezuela but driving standards are poor. Several airlines offer domestic flights. Venezuela is not a good place for cyclists.
Venezuela isn’t short of accommodation but there are almost no hostels or organised campsites. Posadas (family-run guesthouses) are a good bet if you’re on a budget as many of the cheaper hotels rent out rooms by the hour. At the top end, Caracas and Isla de Margarita have the most options. Note that walk-in prices are usually cheaper than those online. Only the most expensive hotels accept credit cards.
Arepas are a national favourite – dense disks of white maize flour that come baked or fried with a variety of fillings and sit heavy on the stomach. Pabellon criollo is a robust plate of shredded beef, often accompanied by plantanos (cooking bananas), caraotas negras (black beans) and rice. Orinoco river fish are a delicacy, but best enjoyed close to the source. Coffee drinking is an art form; a zingy negrito (espresso) will kick start your day, but ask for it ‘sin azucar’ (without sugar) if you don’t share the nation’s sweet tooth.
Check with your GP or local travel clinic about vaccinations and malaria prevention. Yellow fever and dengue fever are a risk. Crime is a problem in Caracas: try and leave your money and valuables somewhere safe before walking the streets. Venezuelans go a bit Wacky Races behind the wheel so take extra care when crossing the road and never assume that drivers are going to stop.
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