Moving Around Town, Caracas
Before traveling to Caracas, please go online and read carefully State Dept. travel advisory warnings about suspicious arrangements made between some Airport Staff and some Taxi drivers.
Use ONLY taxis sent by your hotel, and only book at brand hotels that you are familiar with. Do NOT wear jewelery, carry a handbag, or move around with large amounts of cash. Some hotels suggest you DO NOT walk round the city at all.
Be aware that you cannot change cash at commercial banks, so carry any cash you may need. Only "cambios" can do cash transactions, and they may not be easily found.
There are no signs!!! There is no logic!!! A highway, all of the sudden, can transform into a one way tiny road. A street can lead you to a dead end without any explanation. There are no maps. Is very, very, very easy to get lost in Caracas while driving. Even many venezuelan's dont know their way around in Caracas. Plus... there are many wild drivers that go way to fast. Others that dont mind crossing the street even if the red light is telling them to stop. This is risky. Then... where to park? There are places in the city that do not have enough parking lots. Some people dare to leave their cars parked in the street...and are surprised when they find that their car has been robbed.
The best thing to do in Caracas is to get a taxi. But not any taxi!!! One from a serious taxi line. You can take it for a ride or you even can hire their services for the day. And it will be less expensive than renting a car.
The taxi line I always use is Taxi Movil Enlace.
Phone: (212) 577-3344
And, of course, there is always the Metro (subway) which is great and cool and fast... and less expensive than a taxi.
Forget about renting a car, unleast you love adventure and dont mind beeing lost in Caracas for years...
If you are in Caracas, and is carnaval (mardi grass) time... beware!!! People will throw you little balloons filled with water from their appartments, balconies, etc. (and inmediately, giggling, they will hide away). Im talking about, kids, teens, and adults doing this. And believe me, a rubber tiny bombita de agua, thrown from a 10th floor... it hurts. I tell you. I been hit several times in my life.
People can also throw you a bucket of water (with out the bucket). What is "fun" is to splash somebody else. Splash and hide and laugh.
When you arrive anywhere, dripping water, someone will ask with a big smile: "Entonces... ¿jugando carnaval?"... "So, then... playing mardi grass?".
I dont undestand this tradition. I must find out where does it comes from. Many venezuelans find it awfully funny.
The picture is from:
Having the right attitude is the key to be able to move around town without too much danger. It's not so much what you wear, but how at ease you can feel among people, how confident you look. If you want to mingle with the common people, you have to feel like one of them (even locals lock their cars when going through poor neighborhood in their expensive or not so expensive cars).
Take taxis from a line taxi will be safe
Your money, keep it in a safe place (hotel or safe box) and split it in different places, do not carry it all with you
At the airport people can approach you to change money (it not safe)
Do not walk on the street at night alone
Tried to stay at the east of the city (do not go to the down town alone)
Also always ask the local that you know what it safe and what is not
You should not be wearing any gold jewelry, included expensive watch
The local exchange rate is $1USD= 1900 bolivars but if you exchange at the airport you can get 1usd= 2500bol but watch out for this scam
The guys will often try to mix in 2000 and pretend to count them as 20000 bills because they have a similiar look to them. If you do not pay close attention then this could happen to you. Unfortunately, I have had too much experience dealing with scam artist in my life and was prepared for something like this. I caught this guy and demanded that he give me 50,000bol extra for my troubles, which after a little haggling he did.
SO beware of these shiesters at the airport and do not take any private taxis, only the black FORD Explorers lined on the street. They are the only official taxis and you are taking a big risk using anyone else
What is a "buhonero"? Its a street informal sales person, who doesnt pay taxes, nor rent, nothing. They have taken, during the past 5 years, many boulevards. They just sit there, some with tables and chairs, others right in the floor, and sale everything: clothing, porno-videos, chinesse food, sanitary napkins, mirrors, necklaces, doughnuts, shoes, candles, cds... you name it. Everything is very bad quality.
Since there is no law, no organization, these people block the sideways, the boulvards, and there is pratically no way to walk. You must push people, twist, shout, and probably get lost in this maze.
But the dangerous part is that almost everyone I know, when they go through Boulevard de Sabana Grande (the biggest boulevard taken by these people), they get robbed: their wallet, their purse, their chain, their watch. It is really scary, specially if you are a small person as I am (5 feet, 90something punds).
Please, avoid BUHONEROS areas. And if you are caught in one, walk really fast and get out of there. PERMISO!!! PERMISO!!! (means excuse me and it is pronounced: PER as in PERmanent, MEE- SO). And if you are going to shout this, as you run, look as if you were in a hurry and angry (and not scared to death).
All of the stores -legal, formal stores- in Sabana Grande and other places taken by buhoneros are closing down. Many of them are broke. This got out of control from the very begining. Our governement aproves buhoneros. The majority os us, venezuelans, dont.
The picture I´m uploading is from www.muchoasco.com
I couldent find a better one in order to show you the chaos that this is. This one looks to cute to be true.
If you are planning to do some driving in Caracas, which I do not recomend -no clear signs in the streets, no maps, no logical road planification or no planification at all, crazy drivers etc- be prepared for holes.
Yes, in the streets, avenues, highways there are holes. Some of them have been there for the past 2 or 3 years... maybe more. Recently I-dont-know-who started painting a yellow warning line around the hole. Each hole. All over town. Is it an artist? Is it the local reparing authority who came up with this brilliant idea?
I dont know.
People have to drive extra-carefully.
No, I'm not talking about a Medical Doctor, I'm talking about a Masters Degree in Spanish. That and lots of time and pacience.
You can find sanitary napkins in all pharmacies, drugstores and supermarkets, but, they come in a Spanish (and some mixed up English). For me is quite hard to find the ones I'm looking for right away. There are so many!
See what you can find in a single shelf: 1.ultra fina. 2 extra suave. 3 nocturna. 4. alas. 5. tejido. 6. malla. 7 gel. 8. delgada. 9 tanga. 10 anatomica. 11 ultra delgada. 12 super sec. 13 bodyfit. 14 center plus. 15. sin perfume. 16 con fragancia. 17 empaque individual. 18 20% mas largo. 19 normal. 20 brisa. 21 tela. 22 suave sec. 23 desodorante. 24 perfect fit. 25 pequeño. 26. largo. 27 malla-supersec. 28 flexi-alitas. 29 cubierta suave. 30 basica. 31 flexi alas. 32 fresh. 33 regular. 34 ultrafina con gel. 35 nocturna flexi alas. 36 ultra protect. 37 classic. 38 panty tanga black. 39 longs. 40 gelsec. 41 triple canal. 42 extra suave. 43 slinea... ETC ETC ETC!!!
DO YOU REALLY HAVE TIME FOR THIS?!?!?!?!?!?
Bring your own!!!
Oh, with tampax there is no problem: they come in lites, regular, super and super plus. But my gynecologist, Dr.Fabio Vianello, has aways asked me -and all of her pacients- NOT to use them.
Ok. Lets say that in your visit to Venezuela, besides going to the beach, to the jungle, to the snowy mountains at Los Andes; besides visiting museums, parks and culturals centers; besides eating arepas... besides everything... you bring sexual intentions. Fine. But come prepared.
Here, in all of the pharmacies you can buy condoms. You dont have to ask for them because they are right there in the condom department at the reach of your hand. But the thing is... they are in Spanish. So, if you dont speak the language you will have a hard time trying to find what you use, what you need.
About 3 years ago, in a pharmacy near by, there was this U.S.A. tourist, rather old I must admit (but who cares?) trying to buy the right condom. He had totally embarrased the young girl who worked at the farmacy, who spoke very little English and was in the obligation to help him as a client.
- This is cambur flavor...
- What is cambur?
- Ay... I dont know...
And her face was red like a neon light.
So there I was: The Condom Savior!!! Super Translator!!!
- Cambur is banana, and this is mint flavor, and this one has bumpy things all over, and this makes a little sound everytime you introduce it and...
And then the tourist turned red. He was embarrased. Everybody in the farmacy was giggling.
So, if you dont speak Spanish, if you get embarrased easily, bring your own stuff. If not, have a ball with our CONDONES or PRESERVATIVOS.
But ALWAYS take care and protect yourself. Allways remember AIDS. Seriouly.
Most restrooms in Caracas and in Venezuela have water. Not all of them, but most of them. Very rarely they have soap. That is a luxury bonus. But it is extremely rare to find a restroom with toilet paper. (Water, toilet paper, soap, and paper to dry you hands is a miracle come true. But miracles do happen...).
Of course, I´m not talking about restrooms in a hotel or a good restaurant or a fancy shopping center. I´,m talking about regular restrooms: in a local bus station, in an "arepera" (see my restaurant page to find out what an arepa is), in a crappy store, in the streets. Sooo... always bring in a small ziplock plastic bag, enought toilet paper for one day. You will fill it in, again, once that you go back to your hotel at night.
I'm ashamed to say it... but some taxi drivers have been commiting robberies. Yes. Not ALL of them. But quite a few of them have been stealing visitors, foreiners, tourists (specially during this past Xmas).
This is what to do. When you arrive to Simon Bolivar International Airport (CCS) which is located in Maiquetia, you get in a taxi from the airport taxi line. A half an hour trip to Caracas, right now (Jan 2004,) costs about 25.000 - 30.000 bolivares. (1600 bolivares = 1 U.S.$). They are the most expensive taxies we have in Venezuela.
I never use them because they cost more. What I do when I arrive to the airport is to call (by cell phone or pay phone) my favorite taxi line which is called: TAXI MOVIL ENLACE. I give them my name and my description: look down, I'm a really short woman, with a green t-shirt, jeans, one black suit case.
After customs I dont go out right there, on the ground floor (where the oficial taxi line is). I take the elevator and go to the "upper" street. There is the taxi waiting for me (or it will arrive in a few minutes). Right now their airport fare is 20.000 bolivares.
And they are really trustable and safe. Be sure to chech their name in a little blinking sign on the top of the roof of the car.
In Caracas, if you really want to fell safe, call TAXI MOVIL ENLACE. Other taxis are 2.000 or 3.000 bolivares less expensive... but with those you never know...
Lets get organized first. We have a traffic light. In that traffic light we have 3 colours: red means STOP and green means GO.
The yellow light in between should mean to drivers: "let me slow down, because pretty soon I will have to stop"...
NOT IN VENEZUELA!!!
Watch out while driving or walking across a street!!!
Yellow light means, for most of venezuelan drivers: "Let me go as fast as I can so I wont have to stop!!!" And some other drivers will keep on going right when the red light turns on. We have a funny expresion to say when someone doesnt stops at a red light: "Se comio la luz roja" = "He/she ATE the red light"...
Be carefull. My godfather, Rafael La Roche, gave me this wise advise when I started driving: "When ever you see a green light turning on, count 1, 2, 3... and then go".
That is one of the best advices I have received in my life.
Caracas, like any other big city around the world, can be dangerous if you're not wise enough when hanging around. Caracas is divided in different suburbs from the very west to the east. From downtown to the west are the 'red zones' where people should never be alone (most of all if it's the first visit).
Leave your jewels in the hotel, and never carry on all your cash. I would recommend to carry not more than Bs.50000 (not even 100$USA) and it would be better to change your bills at an exchange place rather than paying with US$$. Our currency changes everyday... now it is Bs.690/1US$ (Bolivares is the name of our currency), and some stores may fool you with the exchange.
Other thing to remember is NEVER, EVER, EVER leave your passport alone... and it always MUST be with you wherever you go. In this country any authority could give you a hard time if you don't have your passport handy to prove who and where are you from.
Your driver's license is worthless here... since it is only asked when you're actually driving a car.
Before you come, find the address of your embassy and write it somewhere so you will know where to go if you have a problem here.
Police here can be dangerous depending on the situation you're involved... it shouldn't be a problem is you're not getting yourself in trouble.
Water is safe as long as you only drink it right from the bottle. Water from the tap is not potable so don't try it.
Another recommendation that can save you some hard times... when traveling to the country side in Venezuela, always pack some toilette paper with you... unfortunately public bathrooms are not in the best conditions and sometimes there's no toilette paper available... and that can be a real pain when you really need it!
The above picture is what we call 'barrios' or 'ranchos'... parts of our mountain is covered by these and just like those stickers in some cars said... 'if you can read this sign, you're too damn close!'... well, if you can see this sight... you're too damn close to danger!!