We have just returned from a very nice 3 week trip to Venezuela. Despite all the warnings we found the people very kind and hospitable, although we of course took precautions.
In fact the only time we were ripped off was with our RIO Caura trip organized through the Posada Don Carlos (Soana Travel) in Cuidad Bolivar. The posada - especially the common sleeping area is still a good place to stay (=cheap and clean), but the organised trips are overpriced and low quality.
From what I have heard our experience was not an exception, the quality of the trips seems to have gone down significantly. Groups with other organisations (i.e. Adreneline tours - seem excellent!!!) were much better catered for and guided. We were often left to our own devices, running out of food and water, despite the high cost. Furthermore we had other people on our trip who paid signficantly less than we did because they did NOT book through Posada Don Carlos - they take quite a chunk (40%!) for the 1 phone call they make.
I'd recommend the Rio Caura trip if you are looking for something a little less touristy than Canaima.
Unique Suggestions: stay there at Posada Don Carlos but walk down the road to the other tour operators - or use the internet at the posada to order through someone else.
Fun Alternatives: Adreneline Tours uses the best guides. They'll help you plan the rest of your venezeula trip at no charge too - giving tips and recommending good guides in other regions, without booking it for you (you always get the best deals by booking locally). They'll help organise transportation etc if it helps though. They take no % - they are successful because of good service, and therefore word-of-mouth.
Enjoy your holiday!
Unique Suggestions: First I will say that 90% of the Venezolanos are great people, but like every country, you also have to beware of the scum. Here are some examples:
I have lived in San Cristobal, VE and have visited VE many times, and if you are an American, they WILL try to rob you. They wont hold a gun to you head and rob you, but they will try to charge you ridiculous amounts for everything.
As soon as you pass customs and pass through the glass doors at Simon Bolivar Airport, you will see taxi drivers. If you look american, they will come to you like they are dogs and you are a piece of meat. they will try to trade bolivares for dollars and asking you if you need a ride. dont trade even $1 to these people unless you know what you are doing as far as the exchange rate is concerned. A ride from the airport to my hotel is 90,000 bolivares, which is about $45 and the taxista wanted to charge me $200.
Call your hotel and find out the price of a taxi from the airport to the hotel. And tell the taxista that you wont pay anything more than this amount. They think that we are stupid or something.
And as far as the police in Venezuela, they are absolutely worthless. 50% of them are corrupt, 45% serve no purpose at all, and the 5% that will help you.....well good luck finding them.
If you have a choice of asking a question to a man or woman, ask the woman. They can be trusted more than the men can.
The best thing you can do is to go there with another Venezuelan or someone fluent in Spanish. And if anyone ever come up to you to ask you something, then they have marked you as a sucker and will try to pull one over on you. Just say no (and dont say it politely) say it strong, and walk away.
I hope this helped.
OK, the situation could have changed now since the many years this has occurred.
But this was what I understood at the time:
End-2002 to early-2003, there were massive political troubles in Venezuela. At that time, many Venezuelans started buying US dollars and left the country. So, the government had to put a stop before the whole situation went out of control. A law was created such that only the government could buy US dollars.
If a Venezuelan wishes to travel, he has to show proof of his travels, like a visa and an air-ticket and stuff, before he is issued a letter from a ministry something which he can then take to a bank. The bank would then process this and he could buy up to US$400 and he would be issued a credit card which he has up to US$4000 to spend. In a way, Venezuelans can still buy US dollars but only for those who really need them, and only in this complicated way.
In turn, tourists can only change US dollars into bolivares in a bank (there were no more money changers, at least none that I saw) or withdraw bolivares against their accounts. For these, the government uses a particular rate.
But this rate is much lower than the rate that the people in this country are actually willing to change for. So, if you can find someone, anyone, willing to change your US dollars, you get a much better rate, up to 25% more.
If you are crossing into Venezuela from Brazil, it is best that you withdraw quite a handful of Brazilian Reais first. Just before the border-crossing, some guys would board the bus and change the Reais into Venezuelan Bolivares. To be honest, the rates here are quite reasonable and you definitely need some Venezuelan Bolivares when you arrive in Santa Elena, which is a very small town indeed.
The accommodation was awful, the air-condition was to noisy, not very clean. The last time they invested money in maintenance was in the ’70.
Fun Alternatives: If you are going to the Llanos, drive a few hours more to the Hato El Cedral.
Of course, Margarita island is a real tourist trap. It is a tax-free zone and is therefore popular among both foreigners and Venezuelans. At the same time, some areas of this not-so-big island are still very authentic and unspoilt. Even the 'old town' of Porlamar (around the Plaza de Bolívar) has a real village atmosphere. But, on the whole, there is not a lot to do on the island (except for sunbathing and other beach attractions) and so I would advice you not to stay there for weeks.
The coastline restaurant called "Atlantico" - on our way from Maracay to Cora offers fresh seafood - but be careful - next to a plant of gas and petro production - also located at the sea coast - i have my doubts. I didn't have a bite - but my fellow travellers confirmed that the food was .......
The toilets are maybe typical SA - but the meaning of the door at the right side, on the first floor ???? Another questionmark.
Unique Suggestions: Wait untill the next station and have some real good food - even snacks
You don't like Waikiki, Torremolinos, El Arenal?
Good, then don't even think about visiting Puerto de la Cruz. It's the most popular beach resort for Venezuelans, which is something i really cannot understand, given the fact that there are so many beautiful unspoilt beaches just around the corner.
PLC is ugly, the beach is dirty and prices for food and accommodation are outrageous.
Unique Suggestions: Since this is the place were young Venezuelans spend their vacation, it might be fun to hang out with them and party.
Fun Alternatives: The alternative for some relaxing days on the beach is pretty much ANYWHERE else along the coast.
If you're into partying, however, this might be the place to go.
The beach in Caracas - La Guaira region.
To get there, one must cross the huge mountain that separates the city and the ocean - which takes some 20 minutes by car. The coast there is not particularly nice, and that part of town is ugly and dirty. Besides, the traffic is awful there. That's where the airport is located. Much better to stay in Caracas.
The dive trip was not worth the effort.
A long wait to get to the boat,
Poor equipment used, regulators not usable on some. Poor water to dive in,
A long wait getting first timers in the water, Dangerous area where fishermen might hook divers.
If you want to buy souvenirs in Margarita Island (and do so, because they have wonderful things like the dolls, the coconuts and much more) do it, in te capital, Porlamar but at the the streets at the local vendors. Because they have much more variety than than in the shops (I only see souvenirs shops , in two places) and the prices are much, much cheaper.
When you arrive at the Venezuela International Airport. Be very cafeful with the unofficial Taxi cab. If possible use the official 'Black Car' (the black Ford Explorer) with official logo on the side. Get the ticket at the luggage claim area. You will see the Black Car on the ground floor area.
Los Ferries entre Margarita y Puerto de la Cruz, en épocas pico, y sin reservas...Una pesadilla.
The ferries between Margarita island and Puerto de la Cruz, during high season, and with no reservations...a nightmare.
One way to avoid getting trapped is to have someone with you who speaks the language! One time at an Indian market I spent like $10 on a bead necklace that was only worth $3. So be careful, they will rip you off!
Not really a tourist trap...more advice... Shop about for deals to take you to Los Llanos or Angel Falls, different tour companies offer different deals... also check that you get a guide who can speak your language... we went through Guamanchi Tours in Merida to go to Los Llanos and up Pico El Torro, and their deal for Los Llanos had the option of White water rafting (which was great fun!). Angel falls is a harder one, just search about, and your best resource for knowlege is talk to people that have been there who you meet in hoatels... this is how we found out about the deal that we went on... recommendations are definately the best thing to go on (not always from the tour operator!).
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