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A sprawling metropolis choked with traffic, Caracas incites no instant love affairs. The political and cultural capital of Venezuela is densely overpopulated and hectic, with a solid dose of crime and pollution. Few sections of the city are pedestrian-friendly, most are downright dangerous and after dark, it's strictly taxis only.

That said, it's a shame to miss Caracas entirely, as many travelers choose. The city has a spectacular setting, with the jungle-clad mountains of the Parque Nacional El Ávila towering over it as well as some good museums and Venezuela's best eating options. Evocative fog descends from the lush mountains, keeping the city comfortable year-round, and chirping sapitos (little frogs) and crickets form a lovely evening chorus.

Safety, the single factor that prevents many from visiting, is a big concern, but if you keep your wits about you, ask locals before heading anywhere you're not sure about and take taxis after dark, you should be fine. Caracas is a tough but fascinating place that won't be for everyone, but which almost always impresses the few who make it here these days.