You’ve probably heard about the impressive Angel Falls —featured in the Disney and Pixar Movie “Up”—, or the beautiful Andes mountains, or the gorgeous Los Roques Archipelago and other breathtaking Venezuelan beaches.
And what you most definitely have heard about is the Venezuelan crisis and how dangerous it is to travel to this country. Venezuela remains almost permanently on the “Level 4: Do Not Travel” list on the U.S. Department of State travel advisories site.
And I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy to travel across the country, even for a Venezuelan woman like me, and it can be dangerous.
However, after 8 years of living abroad, missing my beloved beaches and my family, I decided to come and explore my country, almost as a foreigner as many things have changed since I last stepped foot here.
After two months in Venezuela, traveling and learning a lot about how things work, here’s what I think people should know:
1) It’s Not Cheap In Venezuela, Most Prices Are In US Dollars
There was a time in Venezuela when U.S. dollars could go very far.
I ran into an Italian in Chile a few months ago who told me he traveled to the most amazing places in 2015. “I was rich in Venezuela!,” he said, “with only five dollars I could pay for food for a bunch of people; I went to Los Roques, Canaima, everywhere!”
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There aren’t many airlines flying to Venezuela, so direct flights can be very expensive. It was cheaper for me to travel from Santiago, Chile to Europe rather than coming to my home country.
My trip from the airport (Maiquetía “Simón Bolívar” International Airport) to Caracas —about 15 miles away— cost $50. Food prices vary. A coffee at a nice Coffee shop in Caracas cost me $4.5, but I’ve also eaten delicious empanadas for just $1. Meals at mid-range restaurants can cost from $10 to $25.
There are many vacation packages on sale to visit Los Roques and Canaima —the most exclusive Venezuelan destinations— and it can cost from $500 to $1,500 just for the weekend—not considering international flights.
2) Venezuelans Are Friendly And Outgoing
I forgot how naturally Venezuelans call any customers “mi amor”—my love— and “mi corazón” —my sweetheart— even if it is the first time they meet someone.
Apparently, we are charming and flirty by nature ;).
And loud. There’s usually music—usually reggaeton— everywhere.
Venezuelans are always willing to talk and make jokes, even about their personal tragedies.
Tiktoker and influencer Noa Limura has been traveling through Venezuela and has found friendly people who have invited him to see the country and made him stay a lot longer than he expected.
“I was supposed to leave Venezuela 4 months ago…” he said in a recent TikTok post, and announced that he decided to stay a little longer.
@whereisnoa.eth I’ve been traveling through Venezuela for 4 months now. I can’t seem to leave #solotravel #travelsolo #backapcking #venezuela ♬ iris – r✮
3) Moving Around Venezuela Can Be Very Difficult
If you don’t know anyone in Venezuela, you probably need a travel agency to manage your trips, a fixer, or hire a private transportation service.
Popular ride-sharing platforms like Uber or Lyft don’t work here. However, there are Venezuelan versions of these apps called Ridery and Yummy Rides that work in big cities like Caracas, Valencia, or Barquisimeto.
Google Maps can help you get directions, but it won’t show public transportation alternatives. You need bolivars and help from locals to use the bus or the subway.
And, despite having the world’s largest oil reserve, there are many cities in Venezuela suffering from gasoline shortages.
In cities like Caracas, this is not an issue, but in other cities like Valencia, Maracay, or Barquisimeto the gasoline queues are truly impressive. It can take hours to get gas.
Local airlines like Conviasa, Avior, and Laser are currently serving travelers. Flights can be expensive but a lot faster—and safer— than buses.
4) Social Media Is Essential
Venezuelans are very good at social media. Many companies rely on social media networks to sell products and Instagram is the most popular platform.
Through Instagram, I’ve found the freshest content regarding travel since many websites are outdated. Prices and services are constantly changing.
Many commercial transactions online take place through WhatsApp, and trusting businesses is part of the “secret” to getting what you need.
5) There Are Impressive Contrasts
You can find luxurious cars on the highway, driving next to cars that look like they will fall apart any minute. Fancy yachts in the sea surpassing old peñeros—skiffs.
In Caracas, there are neighborhoods like Las Mercedes where new modern commercial towers, fancy restaurants, and malls have been built. I was impressed.
There are luxury malls like Avanti where you can buy exclusive products from expensive brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, and Versace; while you might also encounter children begging for money and food on the same streets.
It is easy to see heartbreaking situations as the minimum wage in this country is only about $6 a month.
6) Food Is Delicious
Venezuelan cuisine is delicious. During the past few days, I’ve been eating the most delicious empanadas, tequeños, cachapas, arepas, and Venezuelan cheeses.
There are also popular experiences in this Caribbean country like eating fried fish with tostones —fried crispy green plantain— and salad right in front of the blue Caribbean sea.
7) Venezuela Is So Beautiful
Venezuela truly has beautiful places to visit. There are more options and better infrastructure at certain destinations even though there is room for improvement as well.
I’ve been to La Guaira, the nearest coast to Caracas, and enjoyed a nice beach and the new squares. There’s also a beautiful colonial historic area with nice shops and interesting tours.
In Caracas, I went for a short hike at El Ávila and enjoyed the view of the city. There are also nice parks like Parque del Este and beautiful places like the Hacienda La Trinidad.
Other cities like Barquisimeto offer good entertainment as well, but my favorite destination has definitely been Morrocoy National Park where I got to visit the most beautiful keys and enjoyed the crystal clear blue waters.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com