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Introducing Caracas

Spreading along a high plateau that’s partitioned from the sea by towering green mountains, Venezuela’s capital presents a dense urban fabric, with scores of skyscrapers sticking out of a mass of low-rise buildings like bars on a graph. Fast-paced and cosmopolitan, this progressive city nevertheless has over four centuries of history buried beneath its glass-and-concrete monuments to oil-fueled affluence, while signs of corrosion mar its patina of modernism.

Nowhere else in the country will you find such an array of cultural activity, world-class museums or eclectic cuisine, from the arepa joints of Sabana Grande to the haute cuisine of hubs like Las Mercedes and Los Palos Grandes. Caracas’ nightlife offers clubbers, bar-hoppers and salsa aficionados the opportunity to mingle with the city’s famously die-hard partiers. Commerce makes the city bustle and shopping is a vocation for many caraqueños (inhabitants of Caracas) who prowl glitzy malls and sprawling street markets. Complementing these attractions is an agreeable sunny climate, at 900m often described as ‘eternal summer,’ and a natural exuberance that pleasantly contrasts with the urban fabric. Frangipani blooms outside the metro and tiny frogs cheep from streetside trees. Caracas’ northern edge abuts the steep, wooded slopes of Parque Nacional El Ávila, where miles of walking trails wind through scented forests.

Despite these obvious attractions, Caracas’ grittier side predominates. Traffic is relentless, and trash and noise can be unnerving. Haphazardly built shantytowns creep up the surrounding hillsides, and poor enclaves rub shoulders with some of the ritziest zones. One constantly hears about how Caracas has declined over the past decade, and with all the warnings about crime and decay, a visit to the capital is inevitably tinged with fear. Young caraqueños object to these dismal depictions of their city even as they warn you not to venture into certain areas. A visit to Caracas can be an exhilarating ride, but expect some bumps along the way.