The capital of Venezuela is a city of extremes: splendid old churches contrasted with sleekly modern skyscrapers, the sprawling slums in the foothills to the West belying the opulent mansions in the wealthy neighborhoods to the East. Often overlooked as a tourist destination, Caracas nonetheless provides plenty to see and do once your private jet lands. Situated in the narrow Caracas Valley and bounded by the Cordillera de la Costa mountain range to the North, Caracas is a city of spectacular views, a short way away from the natural splendor of Venezuela’s Caribbean coast.
While Caracas has a not entirely undeserved reputation as a hotbed of crime, if you stay away from certain areas it can be a delightful place to visit. The Las Mercedes district is well-known for the diversity of its restaurants, while the Altamira neighborhood is a vibrant cultural hub. El Hatillo Municipality features well-preserved colonial architecture and hosts music festivals and other cultural events.
If you take care and know where to look, you’ll find that Caracas is home to a vibrant culinary scene, a wealth of museums and other attractions, and a world-famous nightlife.
Must see: Take the Teleferico, a cable car, up the slopes of the Avila, a mountain overlooking the city for a spectacular view of Caracas and the Mediterranean to the North. The Avila also features a variety of hiking trails and other attractions.
Lodging: Gran Melia Caracas Hotel–With crystal chandeliers, marble tables, tapestries, antique furniture and 16th-century mirrors, the lobby of this luxury hotel sets the tone as soon as you set foot inside. In close proximity to Sabana Grande Boulevard, Plaza Bolívar, and Cerro El Avila National Park, the Gran Meliá provides a comfortable base of operations for your excursions into the city.
Cuisine: Pabellón criollo is a Venezuelan variation of the rice and beans found throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, featuring shredded meat (generally beef, but often capybara or caiman). Common variations include con barandas (with fried plantains) or con caballero (with a fried egg on top).
Ground Transportation: The metro tends to be crowded but is generally safe, and given the dense street traffic in the city is probably the best way to reach destinations near a station. A licensed cab (look for the yellow plates) is another option, but negotiate a price before getting in.
Packing Tips: Caracas has a major crime problem and local authorities who are frequently corrupt. Dress down and pack a decoy wallet with a little bit of cash to hand over if you’re robbed, and keep the bulk of your cash in a money belt or other hidden place.
Recommended Books: Dona Barbara, a novel by Venezuelan author Romulo Gallegos, deals with the conflict between urban and rural, tradition and modernity. It is regarded as one of the finest works of Latin American literature.
Currency: The Venezuelan bólivar is the local currency. Be aware: currency exchange in the country is complicated and murky. The official exchange rate used by banks, foreign credit cards and money changing stations is several times higher than the real value of the bólivar, resulting in exorbitantly high prices for tourists. A more reasonable parallel exchange rate is an integral part of Venezuelan life, but it is illegal to change money at anything but the official exchange rate.
Calling Code Venezuela: 58
Best Travel Dates: While Caracas is renowned for its pleasant weather year round, the best time to visit is during the dry season, from September to April.