I had never planned to do a post about Caracas but then I never planned on spending as much time there as I did. I don’t think many travellers have the Venezuelan capital on their bucket list but for those who do find themselves spending some time there, perhaps my experience will help. If not, then at least people can see what I’ve been up to.
As I have mentioned previously, Caracas is often in the headlines for the wrong reasons, but I don’t want to focus on those here. All I can comment on is my own experience and I have left the city without any harassment, injury or theft story to tell you about. Of course, you have to be careful, make the right decisions and not wander around looking lost with a wallet full of cash. I think you could say the same about many a city.
I was in Caracas visiting a friend who lives in Los Palos Grandes. Along with Altamira and Chacao, these are some of the wealthier areas in the city. They tend to be better lit at night and full of white collar workers during the day. Of course, there is an argument that the wealth attracts the wrong type of people but as I say, my experience didn’t reflect this.
Caracas, found in the very north of the country, was founded in 1567 when the Spanish, lead by Captain Deigo de Losada, came and trampled on the remaining natives. Protected by mountains on all sides it was safe from pirates who frequently visited other parts of the Venezuelan coast. In 1811 a declaration of independence was signed in Caracas, the following year a huge earthquake destroyed most of the city. Of course, many portrayed this as an omen that the independence was a bad thing. Frequent fighting continued until 1821 when Simon Bolivar claimed victory for Venezuela.
During my time in Caracas I explored the vast majority of the city. Particular recommendations would be to ride the cable cars. That goes for both the Teleferico which took me to the summit of El Avila but also the Metrocable which you can ride over all of the slums which now surround the city itself. They are two very different journeys and the price reflects that. It costs 100 Bolivars (Bs)* to reach the top of El Avila and there you will find tourist shops, small restaurants and more souvenirs than you could fit in your suitcase.
There is an abandoned hotel there which has opened and then failed several times. In 2007 the Venezuelan government took over the management of it, not much has happened to it since. You can also take a jeep ride down to Galipan, a tiny village which takes you back a few decades in time. As well as the jeeps, they use horses as their other means of transport and although only 30 minutes (check) from Caracas it feels like a thousand miles away. The Metrocable on the other hand costs 1.5Bs and in my opinion gives you a far better experience of the city. I shared my cable car with at least five people on each occasion and was surrounded by iPods, mobile phones and designer clothes. Perhaps it’s my naivety but I suppose I was expecting something a little more poverty stricken and a little less consumerist. I took the Metrocable as far as it went but didn’t get out at the top. Although I had my camera with me I chose not to get it out of my rucksack, just in case. Again, it goes back to making the right decisions based on what you’re surrounded with at the time.
*The cost for the general public to take the Teleferico is 65Bs but for extranjeros (foreigners) it’s 100Bs. I have no issue with spending the extra 35Bs but I’m sure back home it would be illegal to have such a pricing model!
If you come to Caracas you will find it impossible not to see a poster, sign or wall graffiti with Hugo Chavez’s name on it. The man is literally everywhere. Depending on where your allegiances lie you may want to visit Tomb e Chavez (check) which is where the recently deceased President is laid to rest. I’ve heard it’s worth a visit but just make sure not to go on a Monday, Thursday or Sunday as it’s closed to the public. Unfortunately, I went on a Monday which is why my photo is from outside the gates. Even if you can’t get through the gates, just down the road has great views of parts of the city and a memorial commemorating the first coup d’etat in 1992. This was lead by Chavez but failed and Chavez ended up in prison. A second attempt to overthrow the government was made in November 1992 but that also failed. Chavez though, had generated many supporters, particularly among the poorer communities in Venezuela. This was the beginning of his rise to fame.
I ventured into the centre and jumped off the Metro at El Capitolio. It has to be said the Metro is cheap, easy to use and at only 1.50Bs a trip, the best way to get around Caracas. From there I wandered past the Presidential Palace, numerous other governmental buildings and Plaza Bolivar. I’ve not yet been to a city in Venezuela which doesn’t have a Plaza Bolivar but if history is your thing you can see the statue and read the signs. There are a number of museums in the centre and several more just down the road from the Bellas Artes metro stop. I’m sure if you like museums they’re well worth a visit, I’m afraid I can’t comment…
Areas of Caracas come alive at night. There are no end of bars and restaurants where you can take advantage of the low prices of food and drinks. Again, I mostly stayed in the Los Palos Grandes, Altamira areas and almost always took taxis after dark. There are also a number of places to drink in Bellas Artes which are heavily subsidised by the government which make the already cheap prices, even cheaper.
I learnt a lot about Venezuela during my time in Caracas and perhaps it’s the dysfunctional government and the bizarre economic and social situation there which I will remember the most. It’s safe to say Venezuela is unlike any country I’ve visited before and I’ll be trying to summarise this when I leave Venezuela.