Good tourist information on Venezuela is hard to come by. The country's Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR; tel. 0800/887-4766; www.mintur.gob.ve) offers precious little in the way of information or help geared toward individual travelers, and their website is entirely in Spanish. Your best bet is to search the Internet, or deal directly with hotels and tour operators working in Venezuela. The following websites contain useful information pertaining to the country.
- http://lanic.utexas.edu/la/venezuela: The University of Texas Latin American Studies Department's database features an extensive list of useful links.
- www.embavenez-us.org: The website for the embassy of Venezuela in the United States has current information and a small section of links.
- http://english.eluniversal.com: The English-language site of one of the country's main daily newspaper, El Universal.
In Venezuela -- MINTUR (tel. 0800/887-4766; www.mintur.gob.ve) is the national tourism ministry. Its main office, located in Caracas at the intersection of avenidas Francisco de Miranda and Principal de La Floresta, is open weekdays during business hours. The staff can give you a basic map and some brochures for hotels and attractions; however, they are not really geared to serve as an information source for individual tourists.
For the best tourism information in the country, contact the established tourism agencies, including Akanan Travel & Adventure (tel. 0212/715-5433 or 0414/116-0107; www.akanan.com), Cacao Expeditions (tel. 0212/977-1234; www.cacaotravel.com), Lost World Adventures (tel. 800/999-0558 in the U.S. and Canada, or 0212/577-0303 in Caracas; www.lostworldadventures.com), and Natoura Adventure Tours (tel. 303/800-4639 in the U.S. and Canada, or 0274/252-4216 in Venezuela; www.natoura.com). Most bookstores and many hotel gift shops around the country stock a small selection of maps and useful books (some in English) on Venezuelan history, culture, and tourism.
You need a valid passport to enter Venezuela. Upon arrival, citizens and residents of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and the United States who enter by air or cruise ship are issued a free general visa valid for 90 days.
If you plan to enter Venezuela by sea or land, it is advisable to try to obtain a visa in advance from your nearest Venezuelan embassy or consulate, although, in practice, this is usually not necessary. When applied for in advance through a Venezuelan embassy or consulate, the visa costs BsF65. However, you may be charged more depending on the processing fees and policies of your local embassy or consulate. I've heard reports that you may face an arbitrary charge of between BsF5 and BsF35 at some of the crossings along the borders with Colombia and Brazil.
Venezuela requires children 17 and under traveling alone, with one parent, or with a third party to present a copy of their birth certificate and written, notarized authorization by the absent parent(s) or legal guardian granting permission to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party. For more details, contact your embassy or consulate.
Venezuelan Embassy Locations -- In Australia & New Zealand: 7 Culgoa Circuit, O'Malley, Canberra, ACT 2606 (tel. 02/6290-2967; fax 02/6290-2911; www.venezuela-emb.org.au)
In Canada: 32 Range Rd., Ottawa, ON KIN 8J4 (tel. 613/235-5151; fax 613/235-3205; www.misionvenezuela.org)
In the U.K.: 1 Cromwell Rd., London SW7 2HW (tel. 020/7584-4206; fax 44/020-7589-8887; http://venezuela.embassyhomepage.com)
In the U.S.: 1099 30th St. NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202/342-2214; fax 202/342-6820; www.embavenez-us.org)
You may bring into Venezuela all reasonable manner of electronic devices and items for personal use (including cameras, personal stereos, and laptop computers). Officially, you may bring in up to $3,000 worth of miscellaneous merchandise -- tobacco, liquor, chocolate, and the like. However, this is only loosely enforced. The guiding rule is to try to not attract the interest of immigration officials. Once their interest is piqued, they could decide to give you a hard time.
In January 2008, Venezuela changed its unit of currency from the bolívar (Bs) to the bolívar fuerte (BsF). The change simply involves chopping three decimal points off of the severely devalued bolívar. So BsF1 is equivalent to the old 1,000 Bs. The bolívar fuerte comes in paper bills of 2, 5, 10, 20, and BsF50, while there are coins of BsF1, as well as 1, 5, 10, 12.5, 25, and 50 céntimos. There are 100 céntimos (cents) to each BsF. Tip: Many taxis, small shops, and restaurants are reluctant (and sometimes unable) to change larger denomination bills, so it's always good to try to keep a few smaller notes and coins on hand.
Devaluation -- In January 2010, President Chávez announced a two-tiered devaluation of the Venezuelan currency. So called petrodólares ("oil dollars") would be exchanged at the new official rate of BsF4.30 to the dollar, while certain basic goods, materials, and medical supplies would be imported at the exchange rate of BsF2.30 to the dollar. What this means for tourists and visitors is that all credit card purchases will be billed at the new rate of BsF4.30 to the dollar. A black market still exists for changing hard currency, both dollars and euros, at rates above the official rate. Note that all prices in this book were current at the time of research, which occurred prior to the devaluation, and any prices listed in dollars were converted at BsF2.15 to the dollar.
Currency Exchange & Rates -- At the time of this writing, the official exchange rate was BsF4.30 to US$1. However, the black-market exchange rate is radically different from the official rate. At press time, the unofficial exchange rate was approximately BsF6.40 to the dollar. The most common place to exchange hard currencies for bolívares fuertes at the black-market rate is the Simón Bolívar International airport. While this is technically illegal, and you should be careful about whom you deal with, it is very common. Note that if you are dealing with a Venezuelan-based tour agency, be sure to ask if they would be willing to buy your dollars, euros, or pounds at a more favorable rate. They usually are willing and able to exchange currency for you, and this takes some of the risk out of dealing with an unknown entity at the airport.
Many banks do not exchange foreign currencies, and those that do often make the process cumbersome and unpleasant. But there are currency-exchange offices in most major cities and tourist destinations, as well as 24-hour exchange offices in both the national and international airport terminals at the Simón Bolívar International Airport. While the official money-exchange bureaus at the airport and around Caracas exchange at the official rate, you may find money-exchange offices (casas de cambio) in outlying cities and tourist destinations that give a better rate. All credit card purchases and ATM withdrawals are charged at the official exchange rate.
Getting the Most of Your Bolívares Fuertes -- Exchanging your dollars, euros, or pounds at the black-market rate will more than double your buying power. Prices in this book are listed at the former official exchange rate of BsF2.15 to the dollar. Most restaurants, tour agencies, and attractions set their prices in bolívares fuertes. On the other hand, many hotel prices, particularly at the higher-end hotels, as well as tours, are quoted in and pegged to the U.S. dollar. These hotels and tour agencies then use the current black-market rate to arrive at a bolívar fuerte price. For example, if a hotel charges $100 per night, the price in BsF will be roughly BsF640, which then converts to $149 at the official exchange rate. The bottom line is that if you use dollars or dollars exchanged at the black-market rate, you pay roughly $100; if, however, you use a credit card or exchange money at a bank, you'll be charged $149.
ATMs -- ATMs are readily available in Caracas and most major cities and tourist destinations. Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) are the two most popular networks; check the back of your ATM card to see which network your bank belongs to. Use the toll-free numbers to locate ATMs in your destination. It might take a few tries, but you should be able to find one connected to either, or both, of the PLUS and Cirrus systems that will allow you to withdraw bolívares against your home bank account. However, these will be sold to you at the official exchange rate.
Traveler's Checks -- In an era of almost universally accepted bank and credit cards, traveler's checks are becoming less and less common. Most hotels, restaurants, and shops that cater to foreign tourists will still accept and cash traveler's checks -- some will actually change them for you at or near the going black-market exchange rate -- but most will only change them at the official exchange rate, and they often exact a surcharge as well. Money-exchange houses will only change traveler's checks at the official rate and usually charge an additional 1% to 5% fee.
Credit Cards -- Credit cards are widely accepted at most hotels, restaurants, shops, and attractions in all but the most remote destinations. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa have the greatest coverage, with a far smaller number of establishments accepting Diners Club. It is currently common practice to have to show a passport or photo ID when making a credit card purchase in Venezuela. Remember, credit card purchases are billed at the official exchange rate.
To report lost or stolen credit cards or traveler's checks, call the following numbers: American Express, call tel. 0212/206-2796 or collect to tel. 336/393-111; Diners Club, tel. 0212/503-2461; MasterCard, tel. 0800/100-2902; and Visa, tel. 0800/100-2167 or 0212/285-2510.
When To Go
Peak Season -- November through February, when it's cold and bleak in Europe and North America, is the peak season in Venezuela, but you can enjoy the country any time of year. Venezuelans travel a lot within the country on holidays and during the school break lasting from late July through early September. It is often difficult to find a hotel room or bus or airline seat during these holidays, as well as during Christmas and Easter vacations. April through June is a fabulous time to enjoy great deals, deserted beaches, and glorious solitude in the more popular destinations.
Climate -- Venezuela has two distinct seasons: rainy (June-Oct) and dry (Nov-May). The rainy season is locally called invierno (winter), while the dry season is called verano (summer). However, temperatures vary principally according to altitude. Coastal and lowland areas are hot year-round, and temperatures drop as you rise in altitude.
Set at an altitude of some 1,000m (3,280 ft.), Caracas has an average temperature of 72°F (22°C), with little seasonal variation. Daytime highs can reach around 90°F (32°C) on clear sunny days. Nights get a little cooler, but you'll rarely need more than a light jacket or sweater.
Public Holidays -- Official public holidays celebrated in Venezuela include New Year's Day (Jan 1), Carnaval (the Mon and Tues before Ash Wednesday), Easter (Thurs and Fri of Holy Week are official holidays), Declaration of Independence (Apr 19), Labor Day (May 1), Battle of Carabobo (June 24), Independence Day (July 5), Birth of Simón Bolívar (July 24), Día de la Raza, or Discovery Day (Oct 12), and Christmas Day (Dec 25).
Telephone Dialing Info at a Glance
Venezuela's phone system features a standardized system of seven-digit local numbers, with three-digit area codes. Note that you must add a zero before the three-digit area code when dialing from within Venezuela, but not when dialing to Venezuela from abroad.
- To place a call from your home country to Venezuela, dial the international access code (0011 in Australia, 011 in the U.S. and Canada, 0170 in New Zealand, 00 in the U.K.), plus the country code (58), plus the three-digit Venezuelan area code (Caracas 212, Isla de Margarita 295, Mérida 274), plus the seven-digit phone number.
- To place a local call within Venezuela, dial the seven-digit local number. To call another area within Venezuela, you must add a 0 before the three-digit area code. If you are calling from a cellphone, or between competing cellphone companies, you must also add the 0 before the three-digit area code. For information, dial tel. 113; to place national collect calls, dial tel. 101.
- Dial 113 for directory assistance (most operators will speak English) and 122 to reach an international operator.
Common Ailments -- Your chances of contracting any serious tropical disease in Venezuela are slim, especially if you stick to the major tourist destinations. However, malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, hepatitis, and leptospirosis all exist in Venezuela, so it's a good idea to be careful and consult your doctor before a trip here.
Yellow fever, while very rare, does exist in some remote areas of Venezuela. A yellow fever vaccine, though not required, is often recommended and is good for 10 years. If you do get a yellow fever vaccine, be sure to carry a copy of the proof of vaccination.
Malaria is found predominantly in the jungle areas of the Amazonas and Bolívar states, as well as in the Orinoco Delta. Malaria prophylaxes are often recommended, but several have side effects and others are of questionable effectiveness. Consult your doctor as to what is currently considered the best preventive treatment for malaria. Be sure to ask whether a recommended drug will cause hypersensitivity to the sun; it would be a shame to travel here for the beaches and then have to hide under an umbrella the entire time. If you are in a malarial area, wear long pants and long sleeves, use insect repellent, and either sleep under a mosquito net or burn mosquito coils (similar to incense but with a pesticide).
Of greater concern may be dengue fever. Dengue fever is similar to malaria and is spread by an aggressive daytime mosquito. This mosquito seems to be most common in lowland urban areas, although dengue cases have been reported throughout the country. Dengue is also known as "bone-break fever" because it is usually accompanied by severe body aches. The first infection with dengue fever will make you very sick but should cause no permanent damage. However, a second infection with a different strain of the dengue virus can lead to internal hemorrhaging and may be life threatening. Take the same precautions as you would against malaria.
The most common health concern for travelers to Venezuela is a touch of diarrhea. The best way to protect yourself from diarrhea is to avoid tap water and drinks or ice made from tap water. Those with really tender intestinal tracts should avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables likely to have been washed in tap water, unless you can peel and prepare them yourself.
Vaccinations -- No specific vaccinations are necessary for travel to Venezuela, although it is recommended that you be up-to-date on your tetanus, typhoid, and yellow-fever vaccines. It is also a good idea to get a vaccination for hepatitis A and B.
Health Precautions -- Staying healthy on a trip to Venezuela is predominantly a matter of being a little cautious about what you eat and drink, and using common sense. Know your physical limits and don't overexert yourself in the ocean, on hikes, or in athletic activities. Respect the tropical sun and protect yourself from it. Also try to protect yourself from biting insects, using a combination of repellent and light, loose long-sleeved clothing. I recommend buying and drinking bottled water or soft drinks, although the water in Caracas and in most of the major tourist destinations is reputed to be safe to drink.
Years of energy mismanagement and poor planning, coupled with severe drought in 2009, have crippled Venezuela's hydroelectric network and output. The government has declared a state of emergency and instituted a range of measures to curb electricity and water use, such as rolling blackouts and water shut downs. No one is immune; even hospitals and streetlights are periodically affected.
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.