1. Venezuela is a cheap destination for foreigners at the moment… as long as they are willing to negotiate in the parallel currency market.
In Venezuela, there’s an (unfortunate) exchange control that prevents the free flow of foreign currency. This creates an official exchange rate and a “parallel” one, that we called black dollar (dólar negro). A dollar-holder traveler can benefit from it: with a handful of dollars, you can get many Venezuelan bolivars, making the country particularly cheap. Though this parallel market is not legal, anywhere in the country you’ll meet people willing to do the exchange. For instance, a meal in a very good restaurant could cost 7.000 bolivares and it represents just USD$7 with the current parallel exchange rate. It’s an extremely expensive meal for a Venezuelan, considering the minimum salary is only 15.000 bolivars monthly. Similarly, spending 6D/5N exploring the Roraima (a must in the country) has an approximate cost of 200,000 bolivares (only USD$ 200 at the black market). Beware that some tour operators require the payment directly in dollars to foreign tourists to go to more remote areas like Canaima and Los Roques.
2. You can’t just improvise.
Venezuela is not the type of country where you can land without knowing where you’ll spend the night. Due to safety reasons, you can’t just wander around the cities with your backpack, looking for accommodation. You should book your hotels — at least — three days in advance. Secondly, you can’t visit the main natural landscapes on your own: you need to hire a tour operator, not only to guide you but to ensure your safety as well.
Thirdly, and going back to the exchange issue, it requires being thoughtful too. Regarding the currency of online reservations, you will have to pay a small fee at the official exchange rate. Once in Venezuela, you can then cancel the rest of the payment with bolivares that you obtain at a much convenient rate. In addition, travelers should travel with cash and change it in Venezuela… if they use their credit cards to withdraw money from ATMs, they’ll get the official rate. To make the process easier, visitors can ask tour operators for help in exchanging money and negotiating a good price.
Another aspect that needs planning is arrivals to and departures from the country. Though it’s a mistake to believe that “if you enter Venezuela, you can’t leave the country,” it is true that air tickets aren’t cheap, so you need to plan in advance. If you are traveling by land, the only option is to get in and out through Brazil, because Colombia’s border is closed. You can also get in and out via a cruise ship (from the port of Guaira, 30 minutes away from Caracas), but this is not the best option for foreigners.
3. There’s so much more to Venezuela than Caracas and Angel Falls.
Venezuela’s landscapes are stunning and adventurer travelers are doomed to falling in love with them. We have it all, including but not limited to the highest waterfall in the world (Angel Falls) and a capital city that is known as the largest open-air museum.
When you think of Venezuela, you should think of the Gran Sabana with its millenary tepuyes, the greenness of the plains, the desert of Médanos de Coro National Park. Los Roques, Margarita Island, Morrocoy National Park and the coast of Paria have nothing to envy to Caribbean or Southeast Asian beaches. If you are a mountain person, don’t miss the cold peaks of Mérida, and if you are not afraid of storms, you should definitely see the Catatumbo Lightning, south of Lake Maracaibo. Venezuela is a natural paradise!
This doesn’t mean you have to avoid Caracas either, though you have to be cautious. It’s one of the most violent cities in the world in terms of murder rate, but so are Baltimore and St. Louis (USA), Acapulco (Mexico), and several cities in Colombia and Brazil that are totally worth a visit with adequate safety measures.
When you see the love the “caraqueño” feels for the city and when you visit those places that they adore, then your whole vision will change. You must be careful: it is best if a local (a caraqueño) shows you the jewels of Venezuela’s capital, like street art and sculptures.
4. Be patient: public transportation to reach those natural wonders is not easy, but it’s manageable.
There are very few private bus terminals in the country and almost none allows to buy tickets online. So if you are in remote places, you must stand in line from dawn to buy your ticket for the same day and be willing to wait a few hours. When you arrive at your breathtaking destination, you’ll know it was worth it.
You can also find private drivers on the terminal, with whom you have to pay a little more to go to another city. Overall prices are low, in part because the price of gasoline in Venezuela is the world’s cheapest (USD$ 0.03 per liter). These private drivers are like a taxi or sharing an Uber car, because you are going with other passengers. For instance, if the price of the bus ticket is USD$1, you need to pay USD$3-4 for a seat on the private car. You pay this in bolivares and there’s no fixed price: it depends on the day and your negotiating skills. Private drivers charge what they consider fair.
5. Shortages are a daily reality, and the way you can help alleviate the demand is by bringing some products for yourself with you.
The country is going through a difficult political and economic situation and sometimes it’s not easy to access food and personal-hygiene products. You will see long lines at supermarkets: those are locals waiting to purchase goods under government-regulated prices (they can do so once a week, as long as they bring the proper ID). You will also witness the “bachaqueros,” people who sell everything at unusually high prices.
Sad, but true, you can’t simply enjoy your shopping experience in Venezuela at the moment. Travelers can buy goods, as long as they are not under the regulated prices scheme. Many travelers come prepared with an alternative: they bring all hygiene products they need and some snacks of their choice for the excursions, for example. Hotels and guesthouses will be able to serve meals, drinks and all the basic stuff, even personal hygiene products.
Regarding bringing donations for Venezuelans, it’s a sensible topic. If you are coming to Venezuela, you may bring some small items you can then give as a gift to people you meet in your journeys. A visitor should come with an open mind to understand what happens in Venezuela, living their pity and judgements on the side.
6. Do go out at night or go camping… just take safety precautions.
In the big cities, there will be plenty of excuses to go out. Most likely, locals will invite you to join them for a drink and share with you their vision of the country. For safety, just take only the necessary stuff: some local cash and a photo ID like your driver’s license. Should you go back to the hotel early in the night? Yes, definitely. Good news is that in the smaller towns, the atmosphere is always much more peaceful and secure.
Regarding camping sites, there are many locations by the beach where you set up your tent, usually near villages or kiosks. It is recommended that you are not totally alone, but you CAN do it and it’s an economical way to travel in Venezuela.
7. You must be careful in public areas, especially with people on motorcycles, but do NOT think badly of the general population.
This is true in any new country you visit, and more so in Venezuela. To prevent thefts, you must avoid showing off your personal belongings: don’t wear expensive watches or rings, and don’t hang your camera around your neck. Locals and foreigners here have to redouble safety measures when walking down the streets in Venezuela due to thieves running around on motorcycles.
Now, please don’t be afraid of Venezuelans as a whole. The worse kind of advice you can receive is “please, don’t talk much with random Venezuelans you meet on the street, because they are going to notice you’re from another country and try to take advantage of you”. This is wrong because, firstly, we recognize foreign tourists from miles away. But mostly, it’s a mistake because the essence of traveling through Venezuela is meeting its people. You will be impressed by how much they are willing to help you out.
We are “panas” and “chéveres.” These two words that you definitely need to learn before your visit mean we are friendly and nice. You’ll find we are always ready to make a joke, and at the same time willing to assist you if you get lost. We appreciate you are visiting our country, so most of us are willing to go the extra mile to be of help.