Festivals & Events
Dancing With Devils
Drums pound while hundreds of dancers clad in red devil costumes and diabolical masks writhe through the streets. This is the festival of the Diablos Danzantes (Dancing Devils), a wild spectacle that takes place in Venezuela one day before Corpus Christi (the 60th day after Easter, a Thursday in May or June) and on the holy day itself.
Why devils on such a holy day in such a Catholic country? It is said that the festival demonstrates the struggle between good and evil. In the end, the costumed devils always submit to the church and demonstrate the eventual triumph of good.
The festival is a blend of Spanish and African traditions. The origins lie in Spain, where devils’ images and masks were part of Corpus Christi feasts in medieval Andalucía. When the event was carried over to colonial Venezuela, it resonated with African slaves who had their own tradition of masked festivals. They also added African music and dance to the celebration. The celebrations in San Francisco de Yare and Chuao are best known throughout the country, as are their masks.
There is no direct transportation from Caracas to San Francisco de Yare, and the easiest way to get there is to organize a transfer with a travel agency.
Independent travelers who have never taken an organized tour in their lives will often find themselves signing up with a group in Venezuela. As vast areas of the country are virtually inaccessible by public transportation (eg the Orinoco Delta 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 (eg 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.
Even if you don't want to join a group tour, having a travel agency assist you with bookings is normally essential. Companies can arrange transfers, book domestic flights (normally very hard from outside the country), arrange for safe currency exchange and hook you up with other travelers to share long-distance taxis or excursions.
Given that anyone with dollars to exchange on the black market suddenly finds themselves extremely wealthy indeed, most hotels in Venezuela are now within the budget of backpackers. This may change, of course, but at the time of writing it was possible to get a room for under US$10 almost everywhere.
Even Caracas, which is famously backpacker unfriendly, can be done comfortably for under US$15 per night. Demand from the local tourism market however, is high, particularly in high season (July and August) and on major holidays (Christmas, Carnaval and Semana Santa), when beach towns will rarely have vacancies. Campgrounds are rare, and though you can rough it in the countryside, do be extremely cautious and don’t leave your tent unattended. Be aware that during the day urban budget hotels often double as hourly rate love motels, which are a common – though not necessarily sleazy – option in this privacy-starved country. However, even the cheapest places still provide towels and soap.
The most popular accommodations choice is the posada, a small, family-run guesthouse. They usually have more character than hotels and offer more personalized attention. Most are budget places but there are some midrange ones and a few top-end posadas as well.
Another countryside lodging is the campamento (literally ‘camp’), which exists even in very remote areas. Not to be confused with campgrounds, this can be anything from a rustic shelter with a few hammocks to a posh country lodge with a swimming pool and its own airstrip. More commonly, it will be a collection of cabanas (cabins) plus a restaurant. Campamentos provide accommodations, food and usually tours, sometimes selling these services as all-inclusive packages.
As in most developing countries, prices are not set in stone and can change due to the day of the week or the mood of the person at the front desk. Many posadas, especially those run by expatriates, will discreetly accept cash or online money transfers in dollars or euros.
While many accommodations list email addresses or websites, the reality is that management may not respond to queries or reservation requests in a timely manner (if at all). If possible, calling is always a better bet.
The following price ranges refer to a double room with bathroom in high season.
$ less than US$10
$$$ more than US$20
Eating & Drinking
Essential Food & Drink
- Arepa A grilled corn pancake stuffed with cheese, beef or other fillings. Ubiquitous fast food, often eaten for breakfast.
- Pabellón criollo The Venezuelan national dish of shredded beef, black beans, rice and plantains.
- Polar beer If there was a national beverage, it would be these icy minibottles of brew.
- Coffee Aromatic espresso shots of homegrown liquid heaven, served in little plastic cups at the panadería (bakery).
- Chocolate Not widely exported, Venezuelan chocolate is some of the best in the world.
The following price ranges refer to a standard main course.
$ less than US$3
$$$ more than US$6