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Venezuela, officially known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is a continental mainland with a selection of islands situated off its coastline in the Caribbean Sea. A former Spanish colony which has been an independent republic since 1821, the destination is considered to be in the Top 20 for the most bio-diverse countries in the world, featuring diverse wildlife across a variety of protected habitats.

The Venezuelan flag consists of three colours; yellow, blue and red, in that order, with yellow standing for land wealth, blue for courage, and red for independence from Spain. The majority of Venezuelans live in the cities of the north, which include the capital Caracas, which is also the largest city, Maracaibo, Valencia, Maracay, Barquisimeto and Ciudad Guayana.

Interestingly, the country is well known for its success in beauty pageants, with Miss Venezuela one of the most popular big events. The destination has also acclaimed a number of titles including five Miss World, five Miss Universe and five Miss International.

Where to stay 

If you take the example of Caracas, then there are a wide variety hotel options for the business traveller or indeed the tourist. If you are on a budget or if you have deeper pockets then there’s something for all tastes – both in the city centre or in the relative tranquility outside the city.

As is to be expected, the difference between two star and three star hotels lies in the larger rooms and the extras. With the four star hotels there is the associated extra amenities and superior quality.

Eating Out

A very Venezuelan way of eating is the areperias which is found on most street corners. It may not look very appealing to western eyes but is a riot of flavour. There is also the mozzarella-like Venezuelan cheese which is worth sampling and the carne asada.

 

The Venezuelan staples include rice, chicken and yucca (used in much the same way as potatoes). Allied to which are plantains and black beans. The Venezuelan national dish is shredded beef, black beans, rice and fried yucca. 

Shopping

Shopping forms a social ritual around the abundance of malls which are found in the urban areas. The towns of Isla de Margarita and Porlamar are where shoppers take advantage of the duty free. Visitors are usually taken by the local handicrafts produced by the indigenous craftspeople which include hand-woven baskets, hammocks and devil masks. In Lara both woodwork and blankets are popular buys, while adjacent Cojedes state is a producer of musical instruments including harps, small guitars and maracas.

Other popular purchases include jewellery and you can find these at Hansi which is a large craft department store in El Hatillo, just outside Caracas.

Nightlife

In Venezuela, nightlife is very active and vibrant and includes socialising in bars, lounges and discos. Nightlife activities are one of the major sources of entertainment for the locals and there is no shortage of options for visitors – from the quiet, laid-back bars to the all-action nightclubs. Bars and discos open at around 9pm. and remain open usually until about 2am, although some stay open through the night, with most following suit during a special occasions or festival and the venues are specially decorated at these times.

 

Caracas City is well-known for its nightlife culture and most clubs and bars can be found in this city. Nightlife activities are also found in three-, four- and five-star hotels.

Main Attractions

Salto Angel or Angel Falls are a popular attraction for those visiting Canaima National Park and at 979m it is one of the world’s highest waterfalls. The best time to visit is during the rainy season, between May and November and either a sightseeing flight or a boat trip offer the best viewing options.

The National Park is itself an attraction covering 3 million hectares and listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. As well as the falls, the park also encompasses the plateau of La Gran Sabana with over 100 tepuis (table top mountains). These tepuis tower some 1000m above the surrounding savannah landscape

Isla de Margarita, which lies approximately 40km north of the mainland, is one of Venezuela's major tourist destinations. Once two separate islands it is now joined by a sandbank and the island’s main attraction is its beaches which are popular with both tourists and Venezuelans alike. A number of charter flights fly directly to the island from a variety of international destinations. It is also possible to take a ferry to the island from Puerto La Cruz on the mainland.

 

Gran Roque is the main town on the island of the same name in the Archipiélago of Los Roques. There is a population of around 1,000 in this small fishing town. Boats can be chartered from the waterfront for those who would like to visit the surrounding islands. Particularly interesting are the colourful houses which line the streets and the late nineteenth century lighthouse just outside of the town which gives a great view of the area.

 

The capital of Venezuela, Caracas, is an attraction in itself. The city was finally founded in 1567 by Europeans after numerous attempts were thwarted by the indigenous Toromaima Indians. A decade later the township became the administrative seat of that colony. Today it is a metropolis of nearly five million and is a modern and busy city. As well as the infra-structure that you would expect of a large city including a metro system and high-rise towers, Caracas also boasts museums, great nightlife, shopping, parks and fine hotels.

 

Events in Venezuela

January sees the event La Paradura del Niño in the Andean region of Táchira, Mérida and Trujillo, which focuses on Jesus as a child. A procession is held in which the baby in its manger is placed on a large handkerchief and paraded around the town.

Festivals are big news in Venezuela and carnivals are possibly the most celebrated event of them all. An annual Carnival, which has existed in the destination since the colonial period, takes place in February throughout many towns and cities, but more noticeably in the smaller coastal towns and provinces such as El Callao. The Carnival here begins 40 days before Good Friday.

In March Los Tambores de Barlovento takes place to celebrate the beginning of the rain season in Barlovento, Miranda state, which includes the towns of Curiepe, Higuerote, Caucagua and Tacarigua. The celebration is an Afro-Caribbean tradition, where drums are the main theme accompanied by a selection of other instruments, mostly of African origin.

Although Easter is a Catholic festival, it has become a holiday in many destinations abroad. In Venezuela it begins 40 days after Carnival, so its date switches between March and April, officially beginning on Good Friday. On Palm Sunday people visit the church nearest to them to pick up a piece of holy palm.

A religious act, La Cruz de Mayo, takes place in May whereby every cross found in public places in the smaller towns and provinces is decorated with flowers on the third of May. The people of the towns light candles and take them to the cross with offerings and a wish. The celebration that follows varies according to the town's traditions.

How to get around

Be aware that when you travel around Venezuela you are required to carry identification with you. Many roads have military checkpoints on them so if you are moving around by car or bus make sure to keep your passport handy, keep a colour copy also in case your passport gets stolen. It has been known that there is a corrupt element to the military and police authorities in Venezuela. Keep an eye on those officers who check your luggage as they may attempt to plant drugs to obtain a bribe or steal your valuables.

In terms of the train there is no national railway system in Venezuela. In order to get around, then, the options are three-fold; renting a car; using a bus or using a car for hire. For those who favour the first option, bear in mind that Venezuelan drivers have a reputation for being aggressive and unconcerned by the rules of the road. In addition to this, the traffic is horrible. On the flip side, petrol is very cheap and your biggest cost with hiring will be insurance. For pedestrians, it is also worth noting that if you approach a crossing, you do not have the right of way on the road that you might expect at home.

In terms of buses, the system is pretty comprehensive and certainly very affordable. Bus stations are very busy but you will normally be able to find a suitable service to most cities within a short space of time. Even quite long bus journeys of nine hours plus can cost, relatively speaking, pennies. The larger buses are air-conditioned to the point that it is wise to have a blanket in case you get cold. However, it is also prudent that you exercise caution when it comes to personal security as there are sometimes robberies in cities or on highways.

Because of the lack of buses in smaller towns many people choose to use Por Puestos (hire cars), which usually wait to have a full car (four or five passengers) before departing. A one or two hour ride costs approximately US$8 and the cars are identifiable by signage bearing the name of the streets or destinations they typically drive along or stop at. 

Travel within cities is usually via taxi. They are more expensive than any other form of transport, but still affordable when compared to European equivalents. The taxis do not have meters and will charge more at night which is normal, however, all prices are flexible so it is a good idea to negotiate the fare before you leave. The driver considers the tip as part of the fare he is charging and will factor that into his negotiations.

 

Fast Facts

Location: On the northern coast of South America. The capital is Caracas.

Time: GMT - 4.5 hours

Language: The main language is Spanish although there are at least 40 languages spoken in Venezuela.

Area: 916,445 km²

Population: Approximately 26.5 million.

Religion: The official religion is Catholicism.

Electricity: Venezuela uses a 60 Hz and 120 V power system. Power plugs are the same as those used in North America.

Telephone Code:  +58

Currency: Bolivar

Passport/visa requirements: British passport holders do not need a visa to travel to Venezuela as tourists for up to 90 days, if entering and leaving the country by air. If travelling to Venezuela by land or sea you should apply for a tourist visa beforehand.

Airports: Most international visitors arrive at CaracasAeropuerto Internacional ‘Simón Bolívar’ (www.aeropuerto-maiquetia.com.ve in Spanish) in Maiquetía, 26km from Caracas. Venezuela has several other airports servicing international flights, but these change frequently and unexpectedly. Isla de Margarita’s airport is used by charter flights bringing international package tourists, but few independent travelers fly in here.

Flight time: 9 hours 20 minutes.

 

Public Holidays- 2009


1 Jan
New Year's Day. 
21-24 Feb
Carnival. 
9 Apr Holy Thursday. 
10 Apr 
Good Friday.
19 Apr
Declaration of Independence.
1 May Labour Day.
24 Jun
Battle of Carabobo.
5 Jul
Independence Day.
24 Jul
Birth of Simón Bolívar.
12 Oct
Day of Indigenous Resistance.
25 Dec Christmas Day.

Public Holidays - 2010


1 Jan
New Year's Day. 
13-16 Feb
Carnival. 
1 Apr Holy Thursday. 
2 Apr 
Good Friday.
19 Apr
Declaration of Independence.
1 May Labour Day.
24 Jun
Battle of Carabobo.
5 Jul
Independence Day.
24 Jul
Birth of Simón Bolívar.
12 Oct
Day of Indigenous Resistance.
25 Dec Christmas Day.

For more information contact: Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, 1 Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2HW. Tel: 020 7584-4206 or 020 7581-2776 or e-mail: info@venezlon.co.uk

 

 

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