There is no denying it: Venezuela cannot be called a safe country, with muggings, kidnappings and robberies a big risk, especially in larger cities such as Caracas. That said, by using some common sense and taking local advice, you can minimize your exposure to such things and most likely have a safe visit.
- Always be aware of your surroundings and keep displays of wealth to an absolute minimum. This means don't carry big cameras or backpacks, don't wear expensive jewellery or watches or use smart phones in public. Theft is more serious in the larger cities and urban centers than in the countryside, but can happen anywhere.
- Caracas is by far the most dangerous place in the country, and you should take care while strolling around the streets, and always take taxis after dark. Elsewhere ask locally about safety, but when in doubt, take a taxi.
- Remember that police are not necessarily trustworthy (though many are), so do not blindly accept the demands of these authority figures. Travelers have also reported theft by security personnel during airport screenings and border crossings.
- Venezuela is somewhat obsessed with identification, and cédulas (Venezuelan ID cards) or passport numbers are often required for the most banal transactions. Always carry your passport (or a copy with the entrance stamp), or you may end up explaining yourself in a police station.
- The border with Colombia is considered generally risky because of cross-border drug-trafficking and the presence of FARC guerrilas. It was closed in 2015 during a diplomatic spat, but will most likely be open by the time you read this. If you're passing through this area to or from Colombia, it's wise not to dawdle along the route.
Before you travel - Important Venezuela Information
Venezuela is a tricky place to travel at present and showing up on a whim is a bad idea. That said, with a bit of forward planning and lots of common sense, a trip is well worth the effort. The following information is essential to read before embarking on a trip here, however.
Money & The Black Market
Venezuela is in the process of a slow economic meltdown, mainly due to the government keeping the Bolívar Fuerte (BsF) pegged at a totally unrealistic rate of 6 to the US dollar. This has created hyperinflation and a thriving black market, which all travelers need to use to be able to afford travel here. The black market gives a realistic value of between BsF500 and 700 to the dollar, which makes the country an incredible bargain. Traveling in Venezuela is simply not possible without using this system, and so it’s important to either bring cash US dollars with you to change on arrival (ask at any hotel or any travel agency and they’ll be able to point you in the direction of a money changer) or by sending money electronically to a trusted travel agency or posada (hotel or guesthouse), who will then provide you with cash on arrival. It’s important therefore to be met when you arrive in the country, as even paying for a taxi or bus fare without the black market will be prohibitively expensive. Never use ATMs or credit cards in Venezuela, as these will give you the terrible official rates as well.
Venezuela is without doubt one of the most dangerous destinations in South America and it’s important to know that there are always risks in coming here, mainly of mugging. That said, by being sensible, planning carefully and taking some extra precautions, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid the country entirely. Some easy ways to minimize your exposure include avoiding Caracas altogether, always taking taxis after dark, avoiding public buses, not using your phone or camera on the streets, not wearing expensive jewellery or watches and arranging for transfers from airports and bus stations in advance with your hotel or travel agency. Do not use unofficial taxis, change money with strangers or stay in hotels you don’t know to be safe. Take local advice seriously and carry a copy of your passport & entry stamp with you at all times rather than carrying your actual passport with you. Finally, be discreet about the often enormous piles of cash you’re forced to carry due to the bolivar being so weak and the highest note being worth the equivalent of US$0.20.
We recommend using a travel agency in Venezuela, however independent and experienced a traveler you may be. Travel agencies know the most up-to-date information, can book internal flights and buses for you (both impossible from abroad), and can assist with changing money and organizing transfers. Internal flights should be reserved several weeks in advance due to overbooking and enormous demand as domestic routes shrink, and you should check in at least two hours in advance, preferably three, to ensure you can board. Long-distance buses are generally safe, but tickets are not always available at short notice. Many travelers go between cities using taxis as fuel prices are so low and the powerful dollar makes this affordable. It’s also the safest method to get around over land. You should avoid using buses to get around Caracas, though the metro is fine.
US and Israeli citizens require visas to visit Venezuela. These must be obtained in advance and in person from a Venezuelan consulate abroad, and are a headache. While they only cost US$30, they can take several weeks to issue, so plan well in advance. Citizens of most other countries can travel visa free.