I spent four days in Caracas. It was not the dangerous city that people had told me. Perhaps the fact that I speak Spanish helped me. I never had any problem and only found nice people.
I found a pleasant and clean hostel in downtown and used to have for lunch Pabellon Criollo in a restaurant next door, in one of the main avenues.
Every day I made excursions. The second day I went by Metro to the University, which is UNESCO Patrimony of the Humankind.
I did not find it especial. Yes, it was great; the garden was full with students studying andtalking on the grass. The auditorium was beautiful. But did not ascertain why it has been declared UNESCO.
Caracas zoologico is at the far end of the city, but it's reachable with the metro (like 30mins). Metro tickets are like 0.20euros. What so special about this zoo is that it's more like a forest with animal rather than a zoo, even if it has so many animals. Most of the animals (besides tigers, pumas etc) aren't behind wired fences (of course they can't get out, besides the monkeys) and it does give u a very friendly feeling. It's very big and its star is Ruperta--a very-very old female elephant.
It's more like a leisure/romantic/ low key thing to do, but trust you'll have a great time! (+no tourists there :))
Universidad Central de Venezuela is the largest university in Venezuela and it is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The university campus was designed by the Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva and it was constructed between 1945-57. The campus is a great example of Modern Movement in architecture and it is mixed with art. There are 49 murals and also sculptures, frescos and coloured-glass windows. Some of the artists represented are Leger, Arp and Pevsner.
The Aula Magma was closed for renovation when I visited , but when we asked we could have a look at the great concert hall through a window. My guidebook said it has the best acoustic in the country, but when I I said this the man showing us the concert hall told us it had the third best acoustic in the world. In the ceiling there are acoustic clouds made by the American artist Alexander Calder.
Guided tours can be arranged with Ministerio de Cultura.
This neoclassical building was commissioned by Guzman Blanco in the neoclassical style, as the seat of congress.
Unfortunately I did not have time to visit the inside, but I understand that it is open to the public (except Mondays) and admission is free.
This is the house where Simon Bolivar was born on 24 July 1783. The interior has been restored and houses a small museum containing paintings and artefacts relating to Bolivar's life and times. (Closed Mondays).
Admission is free, but visitors are requested to sign a visitors' book.
The cathedral was built fro 1665 to 1713, though the interior was remodelled in the 19th century.
On the right-hand side is the Bolivar family chapel, which a modern sculpture of Simon Bolivar mourning his parents and wife.
Parque del Este is one of my favorite places in Caracas, it is an enormous city park with lots of trees, some lakes and a little zoo. It is located in one of the safest neighborhoods of the City, close to Altamira and there is a SUBWAY station right in front of it, the PARQUE DEL ESTE Station.
Everything there is beautiful, the park itself and even the subway station which is considered LA ESTACION HISTORICA!
From Parque del Este you can see the glorious Avila, highiest mountain in town and you can see beautiful gardens and nice people all around!!!
The park is shady and cool, it is for sure a great escape if you have to spend more than 3 days in Caracas!
The Jardin Botanico (Botanic Garden) of Caracas is not a must-see and I do not particularly recommend it.
I was seeking a reprieve from the pollution, some peace and quiet, and hence, endeavoured to make my way there.
As it turned out, the longish garden is parallel to the highway Autopista Francisco Fajardo. So, sitting at the benches there, there is NO reprieve from the pollution and NO peace and quiet.
Many of the greenhouses are also closed or very run-down with no displays.
There are some unique palm trees, like the world's largest palm tree (Corypha Sp) that are somewhat interesting.
But what I enjoyed more was actually the walk through the campus ground of Universidad Central de Venezuela (Central University of Venezuela) while trying to locate the entrance to the Botanic Garden. The campus ground is spacious and rather pleasant. It was kinda fun to observe the students' notice boards and colourful banners, while trying to suck in some of the youth essence from the passing students.
Well, this is not a pretty or pleasant neighbourhood but as it is so central, there is no avoiding it.
The Boulevard de Sabana Grande (or Avenida Abraham Lincoln) is mostly pedestrian and there are scores and scores of street stalls selling everything imaginable - clothes, watches, toys, etc... Yes, every crappy tacky things imaginable.
Although nothing happened to me, someone told me someone had their earrings ripped off from their ears (or something to that effect). Anyway, as with all crowded and dodgy spots around South American cities, take triple precautions.
There are many cheap eats around here as well.
I do not recall seeing this mentioned in the guidebook but to me, these murals are quite a delight!
Along Avenida Mexico, after Parque Carabobo metro station, you will come across several murals on the wall.
Some are caricatures of famous Venezuelan authors or poets.
But the ones that I really like are further down. The cartoonist drew the history of South America, particularly of Venezuela, in a continuum of caricatures and various representative symbols.
He started with when the Spanish conquistadores arrived; when the El Dorado (Gold Fever) hit them, creating a horrid part of the South American history as they tried to hunt for this mythical place, resulting in the deaths of thousands of native Indians; then mestizos were created with the unions of the Indians and the Europeans; slavery; evangelists preaching about Catholism to the natives; Simon Bolivar and his war that eventually gave birth to the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; etc…. There was even a picture of a military general sitting on a barrel of OIL.
To me, it is indeed a very beautiful mural with deep meanings.
I booked my tour in Venezuela through a company I found on the internet called Osprey Expeditions which specialises in organising tours for backpackers and independant travellers. In Caracas the best thing was the hotel transfers. You are met at the airport by English speaking drivers who show you every thing. They will also change your money at a much better rate than the Cambio. You are driven to your hotel in big clean airconditioned 4WD SUVs. This makes you feel much safer in the crazy Caracas traffic. When you leave they make sure you are in the right queue and where to pay your departure tax etc. I am sure I could have worked these things out by myself but it was better than being dumped at the entry by a taxi. I am not sure of the cost as it was included in my tour price but it was proabably about $50 US and I had 4 transfers all up. I think it was worth the money.
I also booked my hotel through Osprey as it is very difficult to get hotels to email you.
One of my favorite things to do when I visit Caracas is walk through the neighborhoods (urbanizaciones ) of Santa Fe, La Alameda, and Colinas de Valle Arriba. I particularly like to savor the view from the lookout point (el mirador) at the top of the hill. From the Centro Comercial Santa Fe, just keep walking uphill. It's a pretty steep incline, but the view is worth it. I like to take this walk in the morning before it gets too warm. On our way back down the hill, we usually stop at the centro comercial to enjoy coffee and a croissant on the lovely indoor/outdoor terrace. (Ahhh, I can almost feel the soft breeze now!)
One of the more upscale communities of Caracas worth visiting in Altamira. The metro has a station for it, so it's easy to visit. Just outside the station is a park with an obelisk, fountain, another civic art. Parque Nacional El Avila provides a spectacular backdrop of green mountains. There's a new upper scale shopping mall with several floors of modern fashions, electronics, and loads of other shops, and on the rooftop are several restaurants of various price levels. We got drinks and dessert and looked out over the night sky of Caracas. The American Embassy building shown here, used to be a very busy place, but a brand new building has been constructed elsewhere. When I took a photo (see Part II tip), Venezuelan security approached me and took my camera. After some discussion, I convinced them to call an American official inside the building to clear my "travel marketing" photo. I talked to a friendly voice with an American English accent for a few minutes, got the approval, and rescued my camera. Americans in Venezuela are a fairly few and relate well, and I imagine that's particularly the case now with Hugo Chavez in power.
Down the street from the old Embassy building is a large souvenir shop where Venezuelan handicrafts from all over the nation can be purchased. Altamira is a neighborhood of highrise condos, and a friend has one on an upper floor with a spectacular view across the city and over the Aeropuerto La Carlota, the executive airport in the middle of the city through which both military, the president, and others come and go. The friend's condo also has a view over Urbanizacion La Carlota, the neighborhood where La Casona, the traditional presidential house is located. Altamira also has a financial district, where men in immaculate suits, and women in sexy business attire, can be seen walking between bank buildings. Expressos Ejecutivos, perhaps the best inter-city bus company, has a transit terminal in Altamira.
The Caracas barrios are mostly located on the hills. It's not a very comfortable place to live in but it sure is an experience to walk aound there. It's not safe for a tourist though so the best you can do is drive through them. Be care full, the roads are bad and difficult to drive on, you could also easily get lost! I wouldn't advice it unless you are guided buy a local knowing his way in the barrio well.
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