Venezuela has many islands off its Caribbean coast, but only Isla de Margarita is serviced by regular boats and ferries.
The Río Orinoco is the country’s major inland waterway. It’s navigable from its mouth up to Puerto Ayacucho, but there’s no regular passenger service on any part of it.
As there is no passenger train service in Venezuela, most traveling is done by bus. Buses are generally fast, and they run regularly day and night between major population centers. Bus transportation is reasonably cheap in Venezuela; you probably won’t go wrong if you allow US$1.50 to US$2 per hour (or roughly 60km) on a bus.
Venezuela’s dozens of bus companies own buses ranging from archaic pieces of junk to the most recent models. All major companies offer servicio ejecutivo in comfortable air-conditioned buses, which now cover virtually all the major long-distance routes and are the dominant means of intercity transportation. Still better is the so-called bus-cama, where seats can be reclined almost into beds. These buses are the most comfy means of transportation – they have air-conditioning, TV and often a toilet. Note that the air-con is often very efficient, so have plenty of warm clothing at hand to avoid freezing.
If various companies operate the same route, fares are much the same though some may offer discounts.
All intercity buses depart from and arrive at the terminal de pasajeros (bus terminal). Every city has such a terminal, usually outside the city center, but always linked to it by local transportation. Caracas is the most important transportation hub, handling buses to just about every corner of the country. In general, there’s no need to buy tickets in advance for major routes, except around Christmas, Carnaval and Easter.
Many short-distance regional routes are served by por puesto (literally ‘by the seat’), a cross between a bus and a taxi. Por puestos are usually large US-made cars (less often minibuses) of the ’60s and ’70s vintages that ply fixed routes and depart when all seats are filled. They cost about 40% to 80% more than buses, but they’re faster and usually more comfortable. On some routes, they are the dominant or even the exclusive means of transportation. Depending on the region and the kind of vehicle, por puestos may also be called carros or carritos.
All cities and many major towns have their own urban transportation systems, which in most places are small buses or minibuses. Depending on the region, these are called busetas, carros, carritos, micros or camionetas, and fares are usually no more than US$0.20. In many larger cities you can also find urban por puestos, swinging faster than buses through the chaotic traffic. Caracas is the only city in Venezuela with a subway system.
Traveling by car is a comfortable and attractive way of getting around Venezuela. The country is reasonably safe, and the network of roads is extensive and usually in acceptable shape. Gas stations are numerous and fuel is just about the cheapest in the world – US$0.03 to US$0.06 per liter, depending on the octane level. You can fill up your tank for a dollar!
This rosy picture is slightly obscured by Venezuelan traffic and local driving manners. Traffic in Venezuela, especially in Caracas, is wild, chaotic, noisy, polluting and anarchic.
Bringing a car to Venezuela (or to South America in general) is expensive and time-consuming and involves plenty of paperwork, and few people do it. It’s much more convenient and cheaper to rent a car locally.
A number of international and local car-rental companies, including Hertz, Avis and Budget, operate in Venezuela. They have offices at major airports and in city centers, often in top-end hotels. As a rough guide, a small car will cost US$40 to US$60 per day, with discount rates applying for a full week or longer. A 4WD vehicle is considerably more expensive and difficult to obtain.
Rental agencies require a credit card and driver’s license (your home-country license is valid in Venezuela). You need to be at least 21 years of age to rent a car, although renting some cars (particularly 4WDs and luxury models) may require you to be at least 23 or 25 years. Some companies also have a maximum age of about 65 years.
Read the rental contract carefully before signing (most contracts are in Spanish only). Pay close attention to any theft clause, as it will probably load any loss onto the renter. Look at the car carefully, and insist on listing any defects (including scratches) on the rental form. Check the spare tire, and take note of whether there is a jack.
This said, it’s a good idea to contact the international rental companies at home before your trip and check what they can offer in Venezuela. It’s likely to be more convenient and cheaper to book at home rather than in Venezuela, and you can be pretty sure that the car will be waiting for you upon arrival.
Independent travelers who’ve never taken an organized tour in their lives will find themselves signing up with a group in Venezuela. As vast areas of the country are virtually inaccessible by public transportation (eg the Delta del Orinoco or Amazon Basin) or because a solitary visit to scattered sights in a large territory (eg the Gran Sabana) may be inconvenient, time-consuming and expensive, tours are a standard option in Venezuelan travel.
Although under some circumstances it makes sense to prebook tours from Caracas (as when stringing together various tours in a short period of time), it is most cost effective to arrange a tour from the regional center closest to the area you are going to visit.
Some Caracas-based agencies (the so-called mayoristas, or wholesalers) simply sell tours organized by other companies. Many agencies use some of the services of selected regional operators, adding their own guides and transfers, and sometimes altering routes and upgrading lodging facilities. Some Caracas operators, though, organize the entire trip themselves, using their own camps and means of transportation. Some companies can prepare tailor-made trips, which will cost considerably more than standard tours. Prices vary significantly depending on the number of people in the tour.
The following companies focus on responsible tourism and offer English-speaking guides (some also have guides that speak German and/or French) :
Akanan Travel & Tours (0212-264-2769; www.akanan.com; Edificio Grano de Oro, Ground fl, Av Bolívar, Chacao, Caracas; Chacao) This company specializes in quality adventure trips, including treks to the top of Auyantepui (eight days) and Roraima (eight days), as well as bicycle trips from La Paragua to Canaima (five days). It’s worth stopping in to browse the voluminous library and maps collection.
Alpitour (0212-283-1433, www.alpi-group.com; 1st fl, Torre Centro, No 11, Centro Parque Boyacá, Av Sucre, Los Dos Caminos) This company specializes in fishing trips, but also offers a range of mainstream packages and some adventurous tours in the Amazonas.
Cacao Travel Group (0212-977-1234; www.cacaotravel.com; Quinta Orquidea, Calle Andrómeda, Urbanización El Peñón, Caracas) This agency, 2.5km south of Las Mercedes, has expertise in Río Caura tours (five days in total, US$412 per person from Ciudad Bolívar, minimum four persons), where it has its own lodge. It also has a lodge in the Amazonas, serving as a base for boat trips in the region.
Cóndor Verde (0212-975-4306; www.condorverdetravel.com; Av Río Caura, Torre Humboldt, Mezzanina 3, Prados del Este, Caracas) This German-run agency, 2km south of Las Mercedes, offers one of the widest ranges of tours, from beach holidays on Isla de Margarita to adventurous boat trips in the Amazonas, plus special-interest packages such as fishing, diving and golf. Tours include Delta del Orinoco (three days), Gran Sabana (four days), Roraima (seven days) and Río Caura (five days).
Osprey Expeditions (0212-762-5974; www.ospreyvenezuela.com; Edificio La Paz, office 51, Av Casanova at 2a Av de Bello Monte, Bello Monte, Caracas; Sabana Grande) Small, personable, Venezuelan-owned agency attuned to a budget traveler’s perspective. It can organize tours to most parts of the country but it’s particularly strong on Los Roques, Canaima and the Delta del Orinoco.
Tucaya (0212-234-9401; www.tucaya.com; Quinta Santa Marta, 1a Av Urbanización Campo Claro, Los Dos Caminos, Caracas) Caters principally to French-speaking clientele, but also organizes English-speaking tours. Major destinations include the Andes (four days, US$255 per person), Los Llanos (four days, US$400) and Delta del Orinoco (three days, US$204).
Angel Falls (Salto Angel) is one of Venezuela’s top tourist attractions, so many Caracas tour companies (including most listed earlier) have it in their program. You can also find a couple of agencies in the domestic terminal at Maiquetía airport. See Ciudad Bolívar for more tour options. Hoturvensa (0212-976-0530; www.hoturvensa.com.ve in Spanish; Av Río Caura, Torre Humboldt, Nivel Mezzanina 1 & 2, Prados del Este, Caracas), 2km south of Las Mercedes, is an offspring of Avensa airlines and owns the Campamento Canaima. A three-day trip to Canaima costs US$295/210 per adult/child, which includes room and board at the Canaima camp plus one excursion; an all-day tour to Angel Falls costs an additional US$200. The Caracas–Canaima flight costs extra, as do any flights over the falls (about US$80). This is one of the more expensive offers on the market. You can buy these packages at Avensa offices and in most travel agencies.
Archipiélago Los Roques is serviced from Maiquetía airport’s auxiliary terminal by a number of small airlines. Besides the flight-only option, the following offer tours as well.
AeroEjecutivos (0212-793-0668; www.aeroejecu tivos.com.ve)
Avior (0212-955-3811, 0501-2846-7737; www.aviorairlines.com)
Transavén Airlines (0212-355-1965, 355-1349)
Sol de América (0212-267-2424; www.sol-america.com)
If you plan on taking tours to the hatos (ranches) in Los Llanos, note that some may require you to book and pay beforehand through a Caracas agent.
Hato La Fe (0414-325-4188; www.posadahatolafe.com)
An alternative to tour companies, centros excursionistas (excursion centers) are associations of outdoor-minded people who organize independent excursions in their spare time. These are essentially one- or two-day weekend trips around Caracas and the central states, but longer journeys to other regions are often scheduled for long weekends and holiday periods. The focus is usually on nature and walking, though cultural sights are often part of the program. Each trip is prepared by a member of the group, who then serves as a guide. The excursionistas use public transportation and take their own food and camping gear if necessary. Foreign travelers are welcome, and you can usually find a companion for conversation in English, German etc.
Centro Excursionista Caracas (CEC; www.mipagina.cantv.net/centroexcursionista in Spanish) Founded in 1929, this is the oldest and best-known club of its kind. It organizes regular weekend trips to places like Parque Nacional El Ávila, Mérida and Parque Nacional Henri Pittier, and its members include people of all ages. To find out about forthcoming trips and how you can participate, contact Hans Schwarzer (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Fritz Werner (0212-945-0946), both of whom speak German and English.
Centro Excursionista Universitario (CEU; www.ucv.ve/ceu.htm in Spanish; email@example.com) The CEU bands together mostly university students for relatively low-key Sunday hikes to Ávila or, during vacation periods, more ambitious week-long excursions to places like the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada near Mérida. It also offers rock-climbing courses. Contact persons include Roberto González (0212-762-0424), Mirna Carolina Ríos (0212-661-5644, 0416-827-9552; firstname.lastname@example.org) and English-speaking José Daniel Santana (0212-371-1871; 0414-253-2384; email@example.com). The club meets on Tuesday at 6pm in the Edificio de Deportes ground floor, alongside the Judo Club, at the Universidad Central de Venezuela.
Asociación Venezolana de Instructores y Guías de Montaña (0416-614-1969; www.avigm.com in Spanish) An association consisting of 50 or so experienced guides for mountaineering, rock climbing and trekking, most of whom are listed on the website with their email addresses.
Explora Treks (0212-283-3260, 0416-631-1960; www.exploratreks.com) A federation of seven highly seasoned Venezuelan climbers that can organize and guide expeditions to several tepuis (flat-topped sandstone mountains with vertical flanks), including a 12-day strenuous trek to the top of Auyantepui in Parque Nacional Canaima, with a descent by rappel alongside Angel Falls.
Taxis are inexpensive and worth considering, particularly for transportation between the bus terminal and city center when you are carrying luggage. Taxis don’t have meters, so always fix the fare with the driver before boarding the cab. It’s a good idea to find out the correct fare from a terminal official or a hotel reception desk beforehand.
Venezuela has a number of airlines and a reasonable network of air routes. Caracas (or, more precisely, Maiquetía, where Caracas’ airport is located) is the country’s major aviation hub and handles flights to most airports around the country. Cities most frequently serviced from Caracas include Porlamar, Maracaibo and Puerto Ordaz (Ciudad Guayana). The most popular destinations with travelers are Mérida, Ciudad Bolívar, Canaima and Porlamar.
Fares vary between carriers (sometimes substantially), so if the route you’re flying is serviced by several airlines, check all fares before buying your ticket.
Some airlines offer discount fares for students and/or senior citizens, but these change frequently and may apply only to Venezuelans; check with the airlines or agencies. Reconfirm your flight at least 72 hours before departure and arm yourself with patience, as not all flights depart on time.
Venezuela has half a dozen major commercial airlines servicing main domestic routes, and a dozen minor provincial carriers that cover regional and remote routes on a regular or charter basis. The big cities are served mostly by large modern jets, while light planes fly to obscure destinations. The airline safety record is appreciably good – you can check www.airsafe.com/index.html for statistical data.
The airline situation changes frequently. Always check with a reliable travel agency as the companies come and go and their routes and schedules are malleable.
Venezuelan airlines include the following (the listed addresses and phone numbers are for Caracas) :
Aeropostal (0800-337-8466, 0212-266-1059; www.aeropostal.com; 1st fl, Torre ING Bank, Av Eugenio Mendoza, La Castellana; Altamira) The country’s largest airline, with flights to most major domestic destinations, including Barcelona, Barquisimeto, Maracaibo, Maturín, Porlamar, Puerto Ordaz (Ciudad Guayana), San Antonio del Táchira and Valencia.
Aserca (0800-648-8356, 0212-905-5333; www.asercaairlines.com; ground fl, Edificio Taeca, Calle Guaicaipuro, El Rosal; Chacaíto) Airline operating jet flights between several major airports, including Caracas, Barcelona, Maracaibo, Porlamar and San Antonio del Táchira.
Avensa (domestic 0212-355-1609, international 0212-355-1889; www.avensa.com.ve in Spanish; Maiquetía airport)
Avior (0212-761-1621; www.avior.com.ve; Lincoln Suites, Av Francisco Solano, Sabana Grande; Sabana Grande) Young, progressive carrier flying on fairly new propeller crafts to many airports around the country, including Caracas, Barcelona, Barinas, Barquisimeto, Canaima, Ciudad Bolívar, Coro, Cumaná, Maturín, Mérida, Porlamar and Valera.
LAI (0212-355-2333, 355-2322; Maiquetía airport)
Rutaca (www.rutaca.com.ve in Spanish) Maiquetía Airport 0212-355-1838); Caracas (0212-235-6035; Centro Seguros La Paz, Av Francisco de Miranda) Small but expanding airline with planes ranging from old Cessnas to new jets, serving Caracas, Canaima, Ciudad Bolívar, Porlamar, San Antonio del Táchira and Santa Elena de Uairén.
Santa Bárbara (0212-952-9658; www.santabarbaraairlines.com; Miranda level, Centro Lido, Av Francisco de Miranda) A young but already well-established airline serving Caracas, Cumaná, Las Piedras, Maracaibo, Mérida, Puerto Ayacucho and San Antonio del Táchira.
Unfortunately, Venezuela is not the best place for cyclists. There are almost no bike tracks, bike rentals or any other facilities. Drivers don’t show much courtesy to cyclists either. Cycling is not a popular means of transportation among locals, and foreign travelers with their own bikes are a rarity. Mérida is currently one of the few places where mountain biking tours are organized and bikes can be hired.