Venezuela, like all of South America, has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but history and politics aside, Venezuela and its capital Caracas, still remain great tourist destinations for those seeking something a little off the beaten path, a little more rugged, and a little more lively.
Caracas (population around 5 million) on first sight is an architecturally uninspiring, sprawling urban center with looming concrete buildings built during the 70s dominating the landscape. Still, once in the grip of the city, visitors will find examples of colonial architecture mixed with a growing modern influence. Caracas has a well-known—and well-deserved—reputation as being dirty, but it is the people themselves that give the city its life and energy. Full of life, smiles, and a passion for good times, Caraquenos possess a warmth and friendliness that is not often found in large cities such as this. Another reputation that Caracas has is for having a high crime rate, and this too is a well-deserved reputation. Even in the nicer neighborhoods, locals use much care at night when leaving the house after 9 PM. Taxis are the safest means of transportation, although during the day, the subway is a cheap, clean, and efficient means of navigating the city. For the tourist, Caracas presents a variety of cultural experiences for all visitors. Not to be missed are:
Iglesia de San Francisco—the beautiful 16th century church where Simon Bolivar anointed himself “The Liberator” from the Spanish, and later held his funeral. Probably the best monument to colonial architecture in the city.
Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas—Caracas’ modern art museum, boasting works from such masters as Bacon, Picasso, Miro, and many Venezuelan contemporary masters as well. Perhaps the best modern art museum in South America.
Parque Los Caobos-a beautiful old park featuring huge trees planted to celebrate Venezuela’s independence, and a large working fountain help to transport visitors back to the Colonial years.
Visitors to Venezuela should not spend all their time merely in Caracas. . .not when the country offers so many other amazing opportunities to explore the beauty and friendliness of this land.
Isla Margarita is another destination worth checking out. Located just a short plane ride, or longer ferry trip away, the island Venezuelans call “the pearl of the Caribbean” feels light years away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. White sandy beaches and small fishing villages mix with sparkling hotels, casinos, and enough restaurants, nightlife, and opportunities for relaxation or adventure to satisfy any traveler.
Angel Falls is another sight that should be on any traveler’s must-see list. Located in Venezuela’s Parque Nacional Canaima—a protected area the size of Belgium—visitors will find the world’s tallest waterfall. Named for a U.S. pilot who discovered it, Angel Falls sends a vast torrent of water down 2,647 feet, or more than twice the height of the Empire State building. Seeing the falls, though, requires some effort. Although it is possible to charter a plane or helicopter and see it from the air, those wishing a closer experience must have an adventurous spirit. Due to the remote location, travelers must hire a guide and a 4X4 vehicle to make the 3-4 day trip which includes stops at villages and many different points to witness this majestic natural formation.
Venezuela is certainly an “off the beaten path” destination, but contains such variety that any traveler should find something of interest. Beneath its grimy exterior, Caracas is a sophisticated city boasting world-class arts and shopping, as well as restaurants and nighttime diversions aplenty. For nature lovers, or those looking for a more relaxing experience, Venezuela is a natural beauty with a landscape that is second to none. Finally, the people themselves are the real reason to visit this dynamic land. Able to smile and always ready to make a friend, Venezuelans are open, amiable, and visitor will find themselves infected with the festive spirit that is Venezuela.