Caracas, Venezuela - Stein Travel



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Welcome to Caracas

Caracas, capital of Venezuela, hosts the country's international airport and is therefore the gateway for visitors. This immense metropolis, home to nearly five million people, is situated in the north of the country, between the sea and the foot of the Avila Mountain.

It began as a Spanish colonial settlement, founded by Diego de Losada more than 400 years ago, its growth burgeoning since the 1970s oil boom. Today the sprawling, untidy city throbs with life, the landscape dominated by high-rise office and apartment buildings, threaded through with knots of motorways and junctions, all against the impressive backdrop of the lush, green mountain.

All sorts of races, cultures and creeds throng the streets of the concrete jungle, which contain gourmet restaurants, bustling shopping precincts, museums, concert halls, fine art galleries and the massive Bellas Artes cultural centre. There is plenty to see, from the 19th century neo-Gothic Santa Capilla church, the birthplace of Simon Bolivar, to the palace of Joaquin Crespo, and the Sofia Imber Museum of Contemporary Art (with works by Matisse, Picasso and Chagall as well as Venezuelan artists).

Those who need a break from the relentless urban energy can slip away for a hike on the nearby mountain slopes, or take a day trip to the surprising Bavarian-inspired town of La Colonia Tovar.


Caracas has a tropical climate, tempered by its relatively high altitude position and proximity to the sea. Temperatures are comfortably warm and vary little year round. The rainy season extends from June to December.

Getting Around

The main form of transport in Caracas is the efficient, cheap and well-maintained Metro system, which has three lines covering 39 stations, and provides easy access to most tourist attractions and facilities. The metro operates daily from 5.30am to 11pm, with air-conditioned trains running every few minutes. For visitors the best option is a multiple ticket, known as the 'multiabono', which allows for 10 metro journeys of any distance. The metro is connected to city suburbs via a 'Metrobus' system, which is easy to navigate via maps posted in all the stations. It is best to avoid rush hours, and to be alert for pickpockets. Small buses operating on city routes are called 'carritos'. These are inclined to be noisy with loud music accompanying the ride, and a bit hair-raising as drivers enjoy taking chances in the heavy traffic. Taxis can be identified by 'Taxi' or 'Libre' signs, and are unmetered. Fares are reasonable though, and are best fixed before boarding. Taxis should be hired at the many taxi ranks, or called from one of the many companies that service the city 24 hours a day.

Spanish is the official language of Venezuela.

Venezuela's currency is the Bolivar Fuerte (VEF), which replaced the Bolivar (VEB) in January 2008. The revaluation means that Bs. 1,000 becomes Bs F 1. It is divided into 100 centimos. US dollars are the most favoured foreign currency so it is best to have cash and travellers cheques in US$. Foreign currency and cheques can be changed at bureau de change offices found in most larger cities and tourist destinations. Some banks (e.g. Banco Mercantil) will now buy US dollars for bolivares or sell bolivares against a foreign credit card; some major hotels will also swap US dollars for bolivares. Banks are usually open Monday to Friday. It is best to obtain local currency where possible before travelling, and bolivars should be exchanged before exiting Venezuela. There are ATMs in the cities (however some travellers have experienced problems using them), and most credit cards, including MasterCard/Eurocard, American Express and Visa, are accepted in major cities. Diners Club has more limited acceptance. Visitors are also warned that there is a serious problem with credit card fraud.

GMT -4.5.

Ascending 1,000 metres, leaving the hustle and bustle of Caracas behind, the Avila Cable Car leisurely takes visitors up the lush green slopes of Avila Mountain, affording spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea and the sprawling cityscape. The 15-minute ride takes visitors to the summit of Mount Avila at 6889 feet (2100 metres), blessed with evergreen rainforest vegetation and mostly undeveloped natural beauty, as it's protected by El Avila National Park. A great hub of entertainment, the Avila Magica Park, at the access point of the Cable Car, is ideal for kids and families as it boasts an ice rink, live shows, restaurants and walkways. Lookout for Humboldt Hotel at the summit, don't forget a sweater or light jacket as the weather is usually cooler and keep to the paths as Avila Mountain is a fragile conservation area.

Situated in an area popularly known as the Plaza de los Museos, the National Gallery of Art and Caracas Museum of Fine Art are two fascinating cultural institutions that showcase a rich collection of Venezuelan, Latin American and international art. With a permanent collection spanning four centuries of Venezuelan art, the National Gallery has over 4000 indigenous artworks including aboriginal art from the pre-Hispanic period, the portrait painters of the colonial period and the initiators of the abstractionism art movement from the 1960s. A museum of international art, with an emphasis on Latin American art, the Caracas Museum of Fine Art houses fine artworks from the likes of Diego Rivera, Armando Reveron and Joaquín Torres García. With some of the most colourful, expressionist and unconventional artworks in the world, a trip to the National Gallery and Caracas Museum of Fine Art is a visual indulgence. Not to be missed are their respective gift shops, which boast a stunning collection of indigenous crafts, jewellery and high-end artworks at an affordable price.

Leafy Plaza Bolívar is the historical and social centre of Caracas and the site of several of the city's interesting monuments. Said to be where conqueror Diego de Losada founded the city in 1567, atmospheric Plaza Bolivar continues to be the heart of this populated Venezuelan capital. Don't miss the monument of revolutionary El LibertadorSimon Bolivar, the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral, its original façade dating from the end of the 17th century, the Palacio Municipal and its attractive central courtyard (Jardin de Caracas) and the Museo Sacro de Caracas with its displays of local history and collection of religious art.

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