Destination: Venezuela

Riza Rasco at the base of Angel Falls in Canaima National Park on such a clear, sunny day.

By Riza Rasco

Riza Rasco is co-founder of the Philippine Global Explorers, a nonprofit organization in the Philippines, and Explore Africa For Impact, a public benefit and social enterprise.

At the time of writing, Venezuela is accessible to certain nationalities — a tough country to visit. Travel challenges are compounded by shortages of gasoline, food, electricity, water, medicine, and medical supplies.

Even though I encountered numerous problems in this country, my trip to Venezuela was one of the best experiences of my life. I met the most incredibly kind people who took the time to en- sure I left with a positive experience. I even met an ex-presidential candidate, who ran against Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, reasons why I ended up staying longer than I’d originally planned.

January 28 – March 5, 2021

  • Caracas, Choroni, Puerto Colombia, Chuao and Henry Pittier National Park (11 days)
  • Maracay, Puerto Cabello, Choro, Medano N.P., Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, San Felipe, (3 days)
  • Canaima National Park—Angel Falls, Ka- vak (4 days)
  • Caracas (4 days)
  • Margarita Island (3 days)
  • Caracas, Colonia Tovar (12 days)
  • Note: Los Roques has no flights and no connecting airports for treks to Roraima.

Visa And Entry Requirements
It remains difficult for US citizens to obtain a visa for Venezuela. Brit- ish (the passport I used) and EU passport holders do not need a visa to enter the country. A negative PCR test result is required for entry and mandatory PCR testing was in effect for all arriving passengers.

Quarantine
The entire country is on a quarantine cycle. A week of quarantine is called locally “a radical week,” followed by a week of rest from quarantine called “a free week.” During a radical week, only supermarkets are open; those with a license from the government can drive their vehicles, and domestic flights are grounded. Scheduled international flights continue.

President Maduro can flip the quarantine weeks without consultation or consideration to those affected by it. I had flights booked for Margarita Island and planned to travel during a free week, but that was then switched to a radical week. If you plan to travel to Venezuela, you constantly need to check on which quarantine week they are in, and allow for any surprise flips in quarantine weeks.

Currency
The Bolivar Soberano has devalued more than a thousand times. Thus, the country has adopted the US Dollar. Effectively, there is no local currency in circulation. If you do get some, you will get a sack of local bills in exchange for about $100. It is important to bring smaller $1 and $5 notes with you. People will not attempt to provide change for $5 notes or higher. There are not enough US dollar bills in circulation, and even if they do have them, they will try to get away without giving you change.

Local SIM Card
It is not easy to get a SIM card in Venezuela. I tried to purchase one, but I learned that it is an incredibly onerous process requiring all kinds of information. My Google FI international SIM card worked intermittently, in some areas of Caracas.

Transportation and Gas Shortage
There is a gas shortage in the country and the farther you drive out of the city, the less gas there is with uncertain availability. Work with a driver who knows where and how to get gas outside the city. Unless your driver is from the city you are going to, the less likely your Caracas-based driver will know where and how to obtain gas outside of the city. Because my driver was from Maracaibo, it wasn’t a problem to drive there from Caracas and visit the places in between. He knew where to get gas between Caracas and Maracaibo.

Within Caracas, gas is always available. It depends if you want the cheap $1/tank of government provided gas. Long queues at petrol stations are a common sight because this gas is limited in supply. However, within the city, international gas (imported from Iran) is always available at $20 per 40L. Most drivers can’t afford this, so they will wait several hours, even days, in long queues to get the cheap gas.

The infrequent availability of cheap gas had city taxis stop operating. There are no taxis to hail, but if you can brave the dense crowds and notorious pickpockets, there are plenty of pub- lic buses and Caracas metro trains.

Beware of tour guides and drivers who limit and overprice their services using gas as an excuse. Gas is available on the black mar- ket: government gas is resold for more than the government price of $1, and less than the inter- national gas of $20.

Internal Flights
The frustrating government airline is Conviasa. Flights are changed or canceled at a whim, with no advanced notice and little concern for impacted passengers. The flights are also affected by the quarantine situation, as explained above. You won’t get your money back.

Bribery And Corruption
On arrival, the immigration officer requested a letter from my host, which is not a requirement for entry. They took me aside, made me wait until all other passengers have been processed, and demanded the name and number of my guide. Once all passengers left the airport, they called my guide and told him that I would be released and allowed entry in return for some money. My guide had to promise to pay, and then I was released. Throughout my journey the officers kept calling my guide to remind him of his agreement until he paid up.

Contacts and Accommodation
Instagram is widely utilized throughout Venezuela by businesses. For Canaima NP and Angel Falls, contact Waku Lodge via their Instagram @wakulodge. They are the center point of activities in Canaima NP and can organize accommodation, tour packages and internal flights from Caracas.

Contact Rafael Avila and his brother Antonio Caliman for airport pickup and transportation around Caracas. (WhatsApp +584265140056 or rafaelavilacrp@gmail.com.)

Noris Ramirez offers an AirBnB large, beautiful apartment with views of Avila Mountain. It is in one of the safest and most affluent parts of Caracas. In her neighborhood, there is an abundance of supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, and trails to the Avila Mountain. Noris speaks English perfectly. (WhatsApp +584143323316 or norisramir@gmail.com.)

Stevie is a German who has been living on Margarita Island for over 14 years. He and his wife, a Venezuelan, own StevieWonderland lodge at El Yaque. Stevie can pick you up at the airport, and give you a tour around the island. (WhatsApp +584143291300.)

Fishermen examine their prized yellow-fin tuna at Puerto Columbia.

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