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Getting There

The Simón Bolívar International Airport (tel. 0212/303-1330; www.aeropuerto-maiquetia.com.ve; airport code CCS) in Maiquetía, 28km (17 miles) north of Caracas, is the gateway to Venezuela and the point of entry for most visitors to the country. Note: The airport is most commonly referred to as the Maiquetía Airport by locals, travel agents, and taxi drivers.

A taxi from the airport should cost between BsF80 and BsF150, depending on where in the city you are going. Official fares are slightly higher after 5pm. You will be immediately set upon by both official and informal or "pirate" (pirata) taxi drivers as soon as you exit Customs. Unless your hotel or tour agency sends a trusted driver, I recommend you use the official airport taxi company (tel. 0212/355-2770). These folks have several kiosks spread throughout the airport and their official rates are posted. While you may be offered a slightly better fare by one of the pirata drivers, there have been reports of mistreatment and muggings of tourists by these operators.

Por puestos (private buses and vans) run between the airport and the Gato Negro Metro station. The fare is BsF5; however, note that you should not use this option at night or if you have much luggage. There are regular free shuttles between the national and international terminals at Maiquetía, although you can also hoof it.

Orientation

Of greatest interest to tourists are the Capitolio area around Plaza Bolívar, the historic center of Caracas, and Parque Central, a modern zone of high-rise office towers and home to several important museums and theaters. The Sabana Grande is an open-air pedestrian mall of small shops and street vendors that stretches on for nearly a mile, between the Plaza Venezuela and Plaza Chacaito. However, the Sabana Grande area has become increasingly seedy and dangerous, especially after dark. Today, shoppers and affluent Caraqueños tend to favor modern malls and the more exclusive areas of Altamira, El Rosal, and Las Mercedes. The latter three zones are the principal upscale residential, business, and shopping districts, respectively -- they all have a mix of hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops, and private residences.

Getting Around

By Metro -- Caracas has a clean, relatively safe, and efficient Metro system (www.metrodecaracas.com.ve). The main line of the system crosses the city from Palo Verde in the east to Propatria in the west.

Ticket prices are BsF0.50 for a one-way fare, and BsF0.90 for a two-trip ticket. You can buy a 10-trip ticket for BsF4.50. Even if you buy a one-way fare, keep your ticket handy because you have to pass it through the electronic turnstiles upon entering and again upon exiting at some stations. The Metro operates daily from 5:30am to 11pm. Although the Metro is generally safe, be wary of pickpockets and muggings at either very busy or very desolate times and stations.

By Bus -- There are two parallel bus systems in Caracas. The Metrobús (www.metrodecaracas.com.ve) is a traditional urban bus system that, in theory, can be used in conjunction with the Metro. More common are the por puestos, private buses or vans running fixed routes servicing most of the metropolitan area. Fares on both systems are extremely inexpensive, but I don't recommend them as the transportation of choice because there's little rhyme or reason to the routes and, in the case of the por puestos, no readily available maps or guides. Moreover, crowded buses are prime haunts of pickpockets and petty thieves.

By Taxi -- Taxis in Caracas generally do not have meters. Most rides within the city limits should cost you BsF15 and BsF30. There are a host of different taxi companies, some of which are based in certain zones, others at specific hotels and malls. In general, taxis based at a hotel or mall will charge more than a typical cab hailed on the street. However, given the current economic environment, the difference is often inconsequential. As a traveler, you will likely be a target for overcharging. Always try to ask hotel staff or other locals what a specific ride should cost and negotiate in advance with the driver. Taxi drivers are legally allowed to charge an additional 20% after 6pm.

If you can't flag a cab in the street, try Taxiven (tel. 0212/985-5715), Taxitour (tel. 0212/794-1264; www.taxi-tour.com.ve), or Taxco (tel. 0212/576-8322; www.taxco.com.ve).

By Foot -- Caracas is not particularly amenable to exploration by foot. Street crime is a real problem in all but a few neighborhoods. In fact, almost no place is absolutely safe. The safest neighborhoods to walk around are Las Mercedes, El Rosal, Los Palos Grandes, and Altamira. With care, you should also be fine during the daytime around the Capitolio, Sabana Grande, and Parque Central areas, although their popularity as tourist destinations attracts pickpockets.

Visitor Information

MINTUR (tel. 0212/208-4511; www.mintur.gob.ve) is the national tourism ministry. Its main office, located at the intersection of avenidas Francisco de Miranda and Principal de La Floresta, is open weekdays 9am to 5pm. The staff can give you a basic map and some brochures for hotels and attractions; however, they are not truly geared towards attending to independent travelers.

A good alternative is to head to the offices of Akanan Travel & Adventure (tel. 0212/715-5433 or 0414/116-0107; www.akanan.com; Calle Bolívar, Edificio Grano de Oro, Chacao), one of my favorite operators in Caracas. Not only are they well located, close to the Altamira Metro stop, but they have a welcoming and informative staff, a small shop with adventure-travel supplies, and will usually allow travelers to check e-mail, chat, or make a VoIP call on one of their many computers.

Most bookstores around town and many hotel gift shops stock a small selection of maps to Caracas and the rest of the country. The best bookshop for English-language materials is the American Book Shop, Centro Plaza, Nivel Jardín, Avenida Francisco de Miranda, Los Palos Grandes (tel. 0212/285-8779).

Fast Facts -- A couple of currency-exchange offices, including an Italcambio branch, are at the airport, and scores of money-exchange houses are around town. Many hotels will change dollars and traveler's checks, although usually at or even slightly below the official exchange rate. Most banks won't change money, but they often have ATMs.

In the event that you need medical care, consult with your hotel first or head to the Hospital de Clínicas de Caracas, Avenida Panteón, San Bernardino (tel. 0212/508-6111); the Policlínica Las Mercedes, Avenida Principal Las Mercedes and Calle Monterrey (tel. 0212/993-5944); or the Clínica El Avila, Avenida San Juan Bosco and 6th Transversal, Altamira (tel. 0212/276-1111; www.clinicaelavila.com).

Internet cafes are located all over town, and most hotels either have their own Internet cafe or can refer you to the closest option. Rates run BsF1 to BsF5 per hour.

The main post office, or correo, is located at Avenida Urdaneta and Norte 4 (tel. 0800/476-7835; www.ipostel.gov.ve), near the Plaza Bolívar, and is open weekdays from 8am to 6pm, closing an hour earlier on weekends. Quite a few branch post offices are around town and in the suburbs, and several of the modern malls have Ipostel offices; many of these have a reduced schedule. Your hotel is usually your best bet for getting stamps and mailing a letter.

You'll find public phones all around Caracas. Most phones work with magnetic-strip calling cards that are readily available in stores and hotels all over the city. You can send and receive faxes and make credit card international calls from the CANTV Centro Plaza office, on Avenida Francisco Miranda in Los Palos Grandes, 2 blocks east of the Altamira Metro station (tel. 0212/285-6788; fax 0212/286-2261; www.cantv.net). However, your best bet is to find one of the many Internet cafes around town that offer calling via Skype or some other VoIP service.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.