Backpacking in Venezuela
“Venezuela – the gateway to South America” is how the South American country in the north of the continent likes to call itself. But this is not quite understandable. After all, you can fly to Rio de Janeiro in a few hours and start your tour through South America there. But no matter. Let us rather be impressed by what the country has to offer in the rough. In a nutshell, during your tour through Venezuela you can not only experience paradisiacal beaches on the shores of the Caribbean, you can also cross dense Amazonas and Orinoco virgin forests and experience a species-rich flora and fauna.
The Andean Cordilleras in Venezuela reach up to 5,000 meters, and you will get to know the highest waterfall on earth, the el Kerepakupai Vena or Salto Angel. German immigrants have also left their traces in picturesque Black Forest-like villages, as have the numerous indigenous people over the millennia.
Let yourself be seduced on your trip through the country and enjoy the scents, the Caribbean-influenced rhythms, the traditions, the varied history and the lovable locals to the full. There are several top destinations worth visiting at the same time. The adventurers and nature lovers among you, who are not afraid of a long exhausting journey, should make their way to the Gran Sabana, which is located in the southern part of the country.
There you’ll meet the high plateau (1,000 m), where you’ll feel like you’re back in the time of the dinosaurs. It’s not for nothing that the region has already played host to several Hollywood classics, including Jurasic Park. The so-called “Tepuis”, table mountains up to 3,000 m high, whose flora and fauna is unique in each case, catch your eye from a distance. Those who prefer the beaches will not only find dream beaches on the Isla Maragarita, but also along the mainland from north to south. But the best beaches are far out in the Caribbean around the island Los Roques. The Venezuelan capital Caracas, Mérida, the Orinoco Delta, Barcelona/Puerto La Cruz, the Parque Nacional El Ávila and the Isla Coche are also worth a visit.
Venezuela a mixture of cultures
The sparsely populated country, with just 30 inhabitants per km2, is many times larger than Germany. The country has no more than 29 million inhabitants, many of whom are of indigenous origin. About 2.7% of the inhabitants are still indigenous. That is about 800 000 of the total population. Once there were over two million. Early on, the indigenous peoples mixed with the white and black immigrants. Today, about 67 percent are mestizos.
The indigenous people live mostly in the states of Zulia (61.2%), Amazon (10.5%), Bolívar (7.5%) and Delta Amacuro. The Wayúu or Guajiros, who live in the border area with Colombia, form the largest tribe with around 400,000 members. Arutani or Awakí belong to the least populated tribes with only a few dozen members left, of which 17 individuals were discovered in Brazil and 2 in Venzuela. There is almost nothing known about the language of this dying people.
But all peoples contribute to the multifaceted culture in Venezuela. Spirit incantation with shamans is as much a part of it as bigamy. If you come to the region where, for example, the Wayuu live, make sure you get some of the colorful handmade fabrics. If you have the opportunity to visit one of the Kariñas communities spread all over the country, you might get to know the dance of Akaatompo.
It is always performed on 1 and 2 November in honour of the dead. All these indigenous traditions have been mixed over the years with the Christian-European and black African and Caribbean to a colorful confusion, where there is much exciting to discover.
Hot Rhythms in Venezuela
With such a rich cultural base it is not impossible that you will get to know or dance to many different musical rhythms during a visit. Traditional sounds like the el joropo, in the plains of the central region, are part of the musical culture, like the diegaita de furro and the tambora in Zulia or the Caribbean influenced Calipso in Bolívar. The Tamunangue and the Golpe have their origins in Lara, while the polo margariteño and the galerón are native to the eastern region. And then there is the vals in the Andes, known for our ear.
Souvenirs from Venezuela, which not everyone has
It has already been pointed out that each of these tribes also has its own cultural heritage. For us as travelers this has the advantage that we can stock up with great souvenirs that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. Not even the Chinese (fortunately) copy them cheaply. This is no joke, but bitter seriousness. Meanwhile you get the Peruvian Andes caps in South America rather from China than in traditional handwork from the locals. So at some point the fun stops or you don’t think so?
Unique craftsmanship are for example the dolls in the regions of Anzoátegui and Sucre which are made of old fabric remnants. The meanwhile already known tribes of the Guajira and Wayú are known for their horny hammocks. The colorful mats are a real eyecatcher. In the Andes regions and in Lara you will find filigree wooden figures with a religious background, and you can take handmade ceramic tableware with you. Something really great are the devil masks worn to the Diablos Danzantes (dances) and the percussion instruments from the central region.
Venezuela is not a popular destination for backpackers because of its high prices. Rather it attracts the package tourists there, who spend their stay to relatively favorable conditions however almost exclusively on the islands in the Caribbean. Those who nevertheless want or can go to Venezuela, however, can expect a concentrated load of culture and nature.
Hot nightlife is just as popular in the cities as untouched primeval forests in remote national parks. You can visit indigenous tribes or bask in the sun on the countless, sometimes lonely beaches. However, the distances in the country are gigantic. This means that you should take some time to explore the country.
Explore the Andean regions or beat your way through the bushes in the Orinoco Delta. You can swim in crystal clear Caribbean waters or get to know the highest waterfall on earth. Swing your hips to Latin American rhythms or get to know the local flora and fauna in one of the country’s numerous national parks.
Backpackers who only stay a few days in the country have to concentrate on the highlights. But this is not easy because they are often very far away from each other.
Venezuela – the most important backpacker sights (14-21 days)
- 3 Days Caracas City Trip
- 2 Days Ciudad Bolívar City Trip
- 4 days Isla los Roques
- 3 days Gran Sabana
- 2 days Orinoco Delta
- 2 days Salto Angel
- Spend 2 days each in one or two or three of the 42 national parks
Clearly above the destinations belong to the standard repertoire on every Venezuela tour. But you can also get even deeper into the matter.
The country is the top spot for adventurers and individual vacationers. 42 national parks alone await you with fascinating flora and fauna. In the Canaima National Park you can fight your way through an impenetrable jungle, swim in black water rivers or shower under crystal clear waterfalls with a view of the table mountains. A few days animal safari in the marshlands of the Llanos Plain. You will meet capybaras, anteaters, monkeys etc..
Stay a few days at the Cerro Pintado and watch the pre-Columbian petroglyphs, among other things. Stay several days with indigenous tribes around the city of Puerto Ayacucho. There you will also find the ethnological museum.
Use a motorized dugout canoe to invade pristine jungle areas on the Orinoco or Amazon for a week or more. Take a detour into the Guácharo Cave, where Alexander von Humboldt already set his feet. Visit coffee Hacienda.
Travel times in Venezuela
Venezuela lies in the middle of the tropical climate zone, you can for example in the Andes regions meet rather unpleasant temperatures. It’s not so much the temperature that’s going to bother you, it’s the different amounts of rainfall. Most of the country has a rainy season from May to October.
The country is divided into four temperature zones. In the tropical zone, temperatures between 26 °C and 28 °C prevail all year round. From 800 and 2000 m the temperate zone with average temperatures of 12 °C to 25 °C is located. But then it gets colder 2 000 to 3 000 m. Prepare yourself for conditions with temperatures between 9 °C and 11 °C. It will then get cold in the high mountains from 3,000 m with annual average temperatures below 8 °C.
We come to one of the most controversial and opaque topics in all of South America, namely travel costs in Venezuela. To make a long story short: What is true today will have no meaning tomorrow. Venzuela is one of the most corrupt and opaque countries in the world. Lovable people here, the highest murder rate of the region in Caracas on the other side.
And then there is the almost galloping inflation, which, despite the immense natural resources, will not be able to be controlled. A corrupt system of exploitative caudillos fills its own sacks but not those of others. There is not much to be felt of socialism in its original sense. What the locals feel there every day is the oppressive burden of an inflation of 40 percent and more. If we give you prices today, they will no longer apply in a few weeks.
In one trimester, the cost of living rose by over 20 percent. In June 2013, prices in the hotel sector alone rose by 5 percent, as did the restaurant industry. Costs in the transport sector rose by 6.4 percent this month, and staple foods rose by 5.8 percent compared to the previous month. Such a flight from Caracas currently costs 40 – 60 dollars to Polarmar. A flight from Ciudad Bolivar to Kavak (Gran Sabana) can cost around 300 dollars with a small Cessna. But you have to be at least 3 persons. Bus trips are the cheaper alternative to a flight.
We will take a look at the prices in Venezuela on a certain date in 2014. However, you should make sure that you have the latest information before your departure.
- Food cheap restaurant 9.00 Euro
- Food middle class restaurant 40.00 Euro
- McDonalds 9 Euro
- Local beer (0.5) 2.00 Euro
- Import beer (0.33) 3.56 Euro
- Cappuccino 1.76 Euro
- Coke/Pepsi (0.33) 1.73 Euro
- Water (0.33) 1.00 Euro
- One-way ticket (bus) 0.43 Euro
- Taxi Start (Normal rate) 8.00 Euro
- Taxi 1km (Normal Tariff) 1.20 Euro
- Petrol – Diesel (1 liter) 0.10 Euro
So as a conclusion can be stated. You usually have to dig deep into your pockets when you visit Venezuela.
It is not easy, not to say impossible, to spend a cheap night in Venezuela. Wherever you look, the prices are North American and European despite a miserable infrastructure. To make matters worse, there is hardly any choice. At Hostelworld there are just a handful of offers. If you look around on the well-known pages, which privately rent apartments and flats, then you see there an offer of 250 units for the whole country. That’s what a normal Brazilian coastal town has to offer on its own.
The prices are on average for a bed in a dorm as follows
- €27.22 Caracas
- €11.02 Margarita Island
There is nothing more. It is really worth to consider a private rental rather. Especially if you are on the road with at least two people. For 50 dollars there are already completely furnished apartments with sea view. Hotels can also be found in all price categories, although the lower category is not very expensive. From the level, however, there are them in masses. The lodges in the remote areas in the Orinoco Delta or in the Amazon are really expensive.
There is no competition. Camping is limited possible. Posadas are quite common in Venezuela. These can be very cute private hostels but also real tourist strongholds. If you search cleverly and come at the right time, which means outside the holidays, you have a good chance to get a room at a good price. You can also look for Alojamientos turisticos or Casa de Campos. A good site with many offers in the whole country is venaventours.com.
Venezuela has some of the best South American, no even the world’s best tourist destinations in the world to offer. Clearly number 1 is the world’s highest waterfall. You will discover the Salto Ángel with its fall from 979 meters altitude in Canaima, South America’s largest national park. On three million hectares in the state of Bolivar you can expect the famous table mountains.
In addition, 10 meter long Anacondas, carnivorous Piranhas and much more. The stark contrast to this natural spectacle is the Colonia Tovar, which resembles a Black Forest village. Whether that is wa for German backpackers remains a mystery. The Latinos are in any case enthusiastic. You can find the picturesque village in Aragua, only two hours drive from Caracas.
Fascinating natural landscapes
Nature lovers who are looking for a fascinating dune landscape will find it in the Medanos de Coro. The national park with its unique dune formations belongs to the world heritage. Not necessarily backpackers but other tourists are attracted to the modern beach metropolis of Puerto la Cruz, in Anzoategui. Those who have had enough of adventure and want to enjoy a European hotel infrastructure with everything Pipapo, are welcome.
Why the small waterfalls Las Aguas de Moises (the waters of the Moses) in Sucre are called is not known to us. There are a lot of Christian devotees there, but if they are the origin of the name, well, who knows? One thing is for sure, you can bathe in the crystalline waters of the river. The adjacent thermal baths are healthy.
Ski and toboggan good in Venezuela
Did you also know that there is snow in Venezuela? Brazil has that only very rarely. In the Venezuelan National Park Sierra Nevada, whose highest peaks reach up to 5009 meters, it lies all year round. Glacier hikes and small ski tours are included.
Of course, a side trip to Venezuela’s most visited island with its appealing nightlife is not to be missed. Such a few days beach vacation on the Isla de Margarita should already be planned. But more exclusive is the much more beautiful island paradise of the Archipiélagos de los Roques. Here also the upper ten thousand of the country have their second residences. They just know what is good. The dreamlike island world also belongs to the world heritage. It is worth it. Such a thing is rare in the Caribbean.
Local festivals you should visit
When a country’s population is made up of so many ethnic groups as in Venezuela, it is inevitable that each group will celebrate its own feasts. Some like the Christian ones are celebrated supra-regionally, others again only quite individually in remote areas. Also here clearly that the Catholic festivities dominate. The veneration of saints throughout the year.
One knows this also from other countries in the region. But a visit is always worthwhile, because sometimes it is very busy. Colourful dresses, partly Caribbean rhythms – it can be exciting and entertaining. In December, Los Loco and las Locainas del Día de los Santos Inocentes are predominantly celebrated by the Afro-American population on the east coast of Lago de Maracaibo in the federal state of Trujillo.
In February the carnival is also announced here. Especially in the regions of El Callao, French Guiana, Sucre and Nueva Esparta the post goes off. In May, however, the fiesta of the Velorios de Cruz is celebrated throughout the country with regional differences. I’ve already mentioned the masks that are put on for the dance of the Diablos Danzantes. In June you can participate in the states Yaracuy, Miranda, Aragua and in the Distrito Federal, as well as in other regions.
The very indigenous festivities like the Baile de las Turas await you in June and October in the region of Falcón and Lara, Mare-Mare and Akatombo. Colorful city festivals like the Feria de San Sebastián in January in San Cristóbal, the Feria del Sol celebration in February in Mérida or the Feria de la Chinita in Maracaibo in November should not be missed. Make sure you have enough storage capacity in your camera. There is a lot to take pictures of.
Dream beaches in Venezuela
Other fantastic beaches, which the jungle can reach, as well as small islets for Robinson Cruso play await you in Mochima, which is enclosed in a wonderful mountain world between the cities Barcelona and Puerto la Cruz. The beaches of Morrocoy are also among the most beautiful in Venezuela. Small islets, hidden secluded bays with white sandy beaches await you around Borracho, Pelón, Sombrero, Sal, Playuela and Peraza. Pure Caribbean.
When it comes to feeding, you will find a varied menu in Venezuela. But it’s also logical when you consider the diverse geography in which the individual population groups live. Of course, the people on the Caribbean beaches feed differently than the Andean people high up in the Andes. You should also know that Venezuelan cuisine is a fusion of cuisines from different European countries. The Spanish, as well as the Italians, the French and also the Portuguese have brought their food culture into the various waves of immigration.
Basically, however, it is three menus in particular that define Venezuelan cuisine. The first is la arepa and el pabellón, which are eaten all year round, and the second is la hallaca, which forms the heart of the Christmas menu. La arepa is prepared on the basis of corn. It is a typical local fast food dish. El pabellón is based on beef and rice, among other things. La hallaca is a kind of stew made from different kinds of meat, olives and much more. If you come to the Andes, then try once
- La pisca
- El mute
- Los ajiceros
In the plains, Los pisillos de res, chigüire or venison await you. In the east, on the coasts, in Guyana and in the Caribbean region, there are many facets of marine life. In the west and the Zulia region, on the other hand, meat is more important, and there it hardly matters which animal it is that is roasted, cooked or grilled. In the Andes region, on the other hand, more emphasis is placed on tuber vegetables and cereal products. In the big cities and tourist centres on the islands, for example, you will also find your beloved fast food chains. However, the prices are not quite cheap.
Drinks in Venezuela
Rum is the alcoholic drink in Venzuela. Beer is also available. Pour in foreign beers if possible. Your own broth is not a premium beer. The Chichas from corn are delicious. The Chichas are also prepared from rice. Also the Daiquiri Coctail comes well. Of course you have to try the countless delicious freshly squeezed fruit juices.
Entry requirements for German citizens according to the Federal Foreign Office. Entry is possible for German citizens with the following documents:
- Passport: Yes
- Provisional passport: Yes
- Identity card: No
- Temporary identity card: No
- Children’s passport: Yes
Still valid child ID card according to old model (the child ID card has not been issued since 1 January 2006): Yes, with photo
Comments: Travel documents must be valid for at least six months upon entry.
Vaccinations and medical advice
No vaccinations are mandatory when entering the country, but out of self-interest you should at least have updated the usual vaccinations. Malaria, dengue and leishmaniasis can be found throughout the country.