Venezuela had been one of the countries that we were most worried about in terms of safety. Despite what we had heard and the various pages of warnings in the guide-book, we decided that we could not miss this country out on our itinerary on the basis of what might happen.
The one thing we did not anticipate, and which ended up costing us a week of our time in Venezuela, was the exchange rate. Currently there are 2: the government rate of 4.3 VEF per US dollar which is found in banks, ATM and official exchange bureaus and the black market rate of 8-8.5 VEF to US dollar.
The guide-book had portrayed the black market as highly illegal and difficult to find willing people to make transactions with; as such we only brought around $120 with us. The truth is that the black market in actual effect is seen as the normal exchange, or so it seems as you can’t go anywhere without people walking past and offering you a great rate for dollars and euros.
This mistake on our part made everything in Venezuela twice the cost, putting Venezuela on par with UK prices and as such our budget was wiped out in just 1 week. If you do travel to Venezuela ensure you have enough dollars/euros to pay for your trip as that way you will find everything to be fairly cheap.
The first thing we did when we landed in Caracas airport was to locate the tourist information booth which is on the departures floor.
We had done some research but were on the whole unprepared for Caracas, largely due to the fact that Central America had been so easy and cheap that we had stopped planning. A stupid mistake to make when arriving here as we had already had our budget sliced in half by the exchange rates.
We had tried to look online for places to stay and couldn’t find any hostal listings for Caracas, plus all the hotels around the airport were on par with London prices. We thought this can’t be right, maybe some places are just not online.
Feeling a little worried but not too concerned we asked at the tourist information about a cheap local hotel as we weren’t sure as to where we would be going next – as in by plane or by bus. To our amazement the “cheapest” hotel for us to stay at, with thankfully a free shuttle service, was going to cost us 500 VEF or in the region of £65 on a room only basis!!
We could not believe it, but it was now nearly 3.00pm and we knew we didn’t want to be out and about in the evening, so we asked about Caracas city centre and were told the journey in would take us over 2 hours and that the prices would not be any cheaper except for one hostel. The catch being that it was apparently not in the best of areas and a trek to get to.
After weighing up the pros and cons we decided to take the nearby hotel, that way at least we would have transport included in the price.
The hotel was like a run-down Holiday Inn, the room smelt of mould and barely had enough space for us to put our backpacks down. There were no nearby shops or small places to eat so we were forced to eat in the restaurant. We nearly had a heart attack when we saw the prices, most of which seemed to be around the £20+ mark per plate! We scoured the menu and found some plain pasta which luckily came with a free basket of bread and water. Needless to say we made sure to finish the lot.
The next day we decided we simply couldn’t afford to stay in or near Caracas and that we should move on. We had wanted to see the Canaima National Park and specifically Angel Falls so we headed back to the airport to enquire about buses as planes are very expensive and the airport taxes added even to internal flights can be steep.
At the airport we were told that there was a bus we could take all the way into Caracas or as far as the Gato Negro metro stop, from where we could take the metro to the bus terminal. The bus leaves from the domestic flight terminal located a short 10 minutes’ walk from the international terminal, heading left when you exit the building.
We took the bus to the metro stop and were surprised to find that the metro was very cheap and clean. If you plan to travel round Caracas take the metro as it will cost you a fraction of the price.
We arrived at the Aeroexpresos bus terminal just before lunchtime and were able to book ourselves on the overnight bus to Ciudad Bolivar, the closest town to Canaima Park, for around £25 per person. The company offers 2 floor coaches with fully reclining seats, however if you sit at the front on the second floor you will not see anything as the front windscreen is blocked off.
Once the tickets were bought we decided to sit down and wait for the bus as there are no locker facilities. The only downside was the bus was at 9.30pm which meant a good 9 hour wait in the terminal…